In a recent article, I pointed out why the local church should not overlook or undervalue the elderly. Today, I want to address another group that can be overlooked or in some cases the basis of frustration within the local church. Interestingly enough, it’s the young ones—sometimes even the youngest of all.
We are living in a time in history where children are undervalued and often avoided. “When Virgin Voyages debuts its first ship in 2020, it will sail without a key market component for most cruise lines: young families.” While cruise ships and restaurants want to avoid young families and young children—the church of Jesus Christ should be the exact opposite.
Perhaps you’ve attended a service recently where young children distracted you. The more baby noises you heard, the more you found yourself not listening to the sermon. Perhaps the baby a few feet from you caused you a great deal of frustration. Why should we value the babies in the room and the young children among us?
Perhaps the foundational reason for children to be among the church and among adults often within the life of the church is so that they can look, see, hear, and observe the way the church functions on a normative basis. This is essential in their formation. If they are sequestered away on every occasion to a special “fun” place for children each time they arrive on the church campus—they will likely find “big church” quite stale, boring, and unattractive once they graduate from kid church.
Although I’m not one to draw a hard line in the sand on children’s ministries, I do believe we must place a great value upon the children among us. I do think churches that offer special classes for young children on the Lord’s Day can still put value on the gathered church with intentionality—especially if you have an evening service. To be frank—children need to hear the gospel boldly preached and they need to interact with adults other than their parents as they observe faithful men and women persevering in the faith to the very end. When Jim who greets families at the front door of the church dies, the children in the church should know that he’s more than a kind man who opens the door. He’s a member. He’s actively involved in weekly worship. He’s a man that loved Jesus. He’s a man who was in some way involved in influencing the children in the church and for that reason—children should hear of his faithfulness and perseverance at his funeral.
Was Jesus Frustrated with Children?
I remember when I went to pastor a small country church as a seminary student. The church body was small. The church building was small, and there was no special ministries for our children. I had been accustomed to the main worship service being a somewhat controlled environment. My first Sunday proved to be anything but a controlled environment. A couple of young mothers were on the back row with their children who were making all sorts of noises, crawling beneath the pews, and there were numerous attempts to keep them quiet. I recall being a bit distracted. However, soon enough, I became accustomed to the sounds of children and it was not a source of frustration for me.
Consider how Jesus approached children. Although the disciples believed that the parents and their children who were coming to Jesus would be an added burden or perhaps a distraction—Jesus insisted on giving the children attention. We find the following account in Matthew:
Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away (Matthew 19:13–15).
Notice that Jesus was not frustrated by the presence of the children. He was not distracted by them. He made it very clear to his disciples that they were important and he demonstrated that by how he gave time and attention to them. Consider the important lesson we can learn from Jesus.
Striking a Good Balance
In every church, there will be various different unique circumstances. For instance, we are experiencing a baby boom in our church presently. With such a boom, there’s a need for both service and patience with the young families. As we consider the life of the church and how the church functions—it’s important to strike a good balance among the parents of the young children and the church who is covenanting to care for them properly.
Balance as a Parent: Sure, the church should welcome you and your children into the church or discipleship class, but keep in mind baby noises are different than lengthy crying spells that could endure for 10-15 minutes at a time. For the church to hear and for the time to be profitable—there might be a time where you need to excuse yourself from the church or class in order to settle your child. But, if that’s the case, don’t be shamed into staying away!
Balance as a Church Member: Expect wiggles, potty breaks, and the occasional outburst of a young child. It happens in your home (or did once upon a time), so you can expect it to happen on the church campus too. It may not be your conviction to have your children with you during the worship service or small group discipleship class. Some churches may offer various discipleship classes or nurseries for younger children and you may choose to use such resources for your children. However, don’t look down upon mothers who have different convictions. Furthermore, don’t become frustrated with children and babies near you during a worship service. Consider the sound of babies among your church as a sign of health and the blessing of God.
In short, the church must learn to show love and patience toward one another within the family of faith. To become frustrated and divisive over non-essential matters in the church is one quick way to divide a church and stiffen spiritual growth among the members. Make sure your church values young families, young mothers, and young children. In a culture where young families are often shamed into sitting in the corner of a restaurant away from the normal customers and during a time where cruise ships view children as problematic and unprofitable—we as the church must follow in the footsteps of Jesus and demonstrate a great care and affection for the little ones among us.