“Word and Table” (as a concept) is about gathering with God’s people and hearing the written word read and proclaimed (Bible reading and preaching/teaching) and responding to that word by coming to the table to share life together, both the Lord’s table and the table of everyday life (i.e. lunch, the lounge, the break room, etc.). All of this is done in the presence of the Living Word, Jesus Christ. Why wouldn’t we involve our children in this? They can hear. They can eat. They can talk about what they have experienced. Even my three year old can review the sermon, complete with his own sound effects and all!
I’m writing this as I am at an all-day home-school seminar. I am surrounded by parents who firmly believe that they are the best teachers for their children. I have no idea what everyone here believes about Jesus but there are Christian parents here. They believe they are the best teachers for their children when it comes to math, science, history, spelling, creative writing, etc. However, they insist that when they go to church someone else is best for teaching their kids how to hear God’s word, respond to God’s word, and live as a follower of God’s Word. Why?
Why are we so insistent upon sending our children away during gathered worship? Here are some of the answers I have heard:
- I want my children to have fun.
- I want my children to learn at their level.
- Sunday morning is my only opportunity to have time to myself.
- I want to be fed on Sunday morning.
- I don’t want my children to bother anyone else.
- I don’t want my children to hate church.
Here are some thoughts I have on these excuses:
I want my children to have fun. – Do you have fun in church? If not, why? If so, why can’t your kids join you in that fun? Also, is church really all about fun? Do we really want to teach our children that the epitome of being a follower of Jesus is entertainment?
I want my children to learn at their level. – This is actually a valid argument. There are some topics in scripture that are not appropriate for children (Song of Songs is not rated G people!) and some concepts that are hard to grasp. Since I can’t argue with the parents on this one I’ll address the pastors. Why not have “age appropriate” learning opportunities at another time (i.e. Sunday School or mid-week or community groups, etc.)? This allows gathered worship to be more flexible.
Sunday morning is my only opportunity to have time to myself. – Okay, this might be pretty valid, too. We have six kids and I know that it can be hard for my wife to find time for herself. Instead of compromising this amazing opportunity to disciple our children in the act of worship perhaps churches should regularly schedule opportunities for parents to get away for short breaks. Family home groups can do this really well.
I want to be fed on Sunday morning. – Actually, you should be feeding on the Bread of Life throughout the week. You should have regular time in the word, in prayer and with God’s people. Sunday is not about what we get out of it but what we bring to God as our act of worship. In reality, the Holy Spirit can feed us whenever we are open and available, even if our two-year-old is sitting on our lap.
I don’t want my children to bother anyone else. – “It takes a village to raise a child.” – African Proverb (I think.) Jesus wasn’t bothered by children and as his followers we should imitate him. The truth is, our children bother us far more than they bother any one else. Give your kids the same grace you give other kids. You can also begin training them by practicing at home with family devotions and prayer time.
I don’t want my children to hate church. – Do we really think that by keeping kids out of church until they are adults they will learn to like church? Why do we think there are so many 20 and 30 year olds not in church? They were kicked out as young children is my guess.
Now, time for some honest confessions. We have tried this at our church for the last year with children preschool age and up. We have some great successes and faced some challenges. Our children have been awesome at joining us, but we as adults haven’t been as awesome as we could be at welcoming them. Some basic questions:
- What is the purpose of keeping our children in with us?
- What does keeping our children with us mean about our liturgy? (every church has liturgy, most just don’t know that is what the “order of service” is called)
- Does our church calendar allow us to do this?
- Where do we begin?
What is the purpose of keeping our children in with us? – I suppose Deuteronomy 6 has the best answer,
1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you. 4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:1–9 TNIV)
It is our job – our God given ministry as parents – to disciple our children. Gathered worship is the one time a week we bring in all the aspects of the life of a follower of Jesus and we should capitalize on this as we disciple our children.
What does keeping our children with us mean about our liturgy? (every church has liturgy, most just don’t know that is what the “order of service” is called) – Do we sing kid songs? Do we sing songs that are highly repetitive? Do we sing scripture based songs? Does the pastor address and engage the children during the sermon? Do we allow the kids to move around? Do they get to play an active part in serving the body through ushering, reading scripture, greeting, sharing testimonies, communion servers, etc.
Does our church calendar allow us to do this? – Some churches follow the civic calendar – Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, etc. These built-in days allow the church (if they choose) to celebrate and educate their people, including children. The Church Calendar follows the liturgical seasons – Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost and Ordinary Time – with changing themes and colors. There are also the God-ordained festivals explained through the Old Testament that can be followed – Rosh Hoshana, Passover, Feast of Booths, Purim, etc. that can be used in the same way for celebration and education.
Where do we begin? – It probably doesn’t matter as long as you begin. But, perhaps the best place to begin is “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
What do you do to train your children?