When I started going to my church in May of 2005, we had about 75 people regularly attending, and almost all of them were single. These days, our church is much larger, thanks in part to the folks who are now married and have kids — lots of them.
At Church of the Resurrection in Washington D.C., the kids are present during the music and communion each week, which sometimes makes for a rambunctious worship experience. Kids have been known to dance during the songs, bolt across the room during the Lord’s Supper, and one time, my daughter walked right onto the stage and into my arms while I was leading worship.
I imagine it’s hard for some of the folks at our church — Lord knows it’s hard for me to keep focused on Jesus when my kids are loudly trying to whisper their Sunday School lesson to me. That’s why I appreciate this message my pastor sent to our church's congregants email list:
Little kids keep coming to church!!! What are we to do?
It’s easy to fall into an entertainment mindset when you come to Sunday worship. After all, we rightly expect theater-goers to silence their phones and conversations so that everyone might enjoy the show. Why not at church? Isn’t it thoughtless and rude for parents to bring their crying babies and rambunctious kids into our worship services?
Not at all.
While liturgical worship can be beautiful and transcendent, we mustn’t come expecting to be entertained. Instead, we ought to gather for worship expecting first to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and then to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We should expect neighbors of different ethnicities in worship. Expect neighbors in all different circumstances and moods and spiritual conditions. Expect neighbors of different ages, with varying levels of control over their bodies. Expect neighbors with different aesthetic sensibilities, especially in terms of hands clapping, arms raising, and booties shaking. Love all these neighbors as yourself. They’re God’s children and your brothers and sisters. Instead of expecting to be entertained, expect a family gathering — God’s family gathering (which often can be quite entertaining).
Believe it or not, many of us were young children once. Young children need instruction in the Lord. This entails Sunday School lessons and "Jesus Loves Me" songs. It also means hours and hours of time in worship, watching their older brothers and sisters model what it means to love God and neighbor.
Teaching kids joy and reverence and kindness in worship is everyone’s responsibility. Children are a blessing, not only to their parents, but to all of us, because of what they teach us about our Father, and what they require of us as older brothers and sisters.
Trust me. Parents with young children are very aware — often painfully so — when their kids aren’t behaving like adults. In fact, some parents are so anxious about their kids’ behavior that they stop coming to church at all. This is a terrible shame, because it deprives us all of the blessing of kids in worship. Rarely is a rambunctious kid a sign of “deeper problems at home.” Usually it’s completely normal, as kids are simply not being adults.
Teaching kids to worship (rather than just sit still and “behave”) is hard work. Please love the families around you (especially the parents of noisy or rambunctious kids!) and encourage them in this. A smile can do a lot to let them know of your support and thankfulness for them.
Each Sunday, remember Jesus’ words: “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:14.
If you’ve got kids in your church, be encouraged! They may be distracting at times, but they’re our next generation of believers, so let's give them room to grow into that role.