the weblog of Alan Knox

What about children?

Posted by on Sep 29, 2009 in community, discipleship, gathering | 20 comments

In my previous post, I asked “What about teenagers?” In that post, I said that it is more important for teenagers to have deep relationships with several more mature believers than for them to have a youth program (regardless of how great the youth program may be).

But, what about children? In general, when someone asks this question, they have one of two questions in mind: 1) How can children be included in the life of the church? 2) How can we make sure that children are not a distraction when the church meets? I’m going to consider these two question separately.

How can children be included in the life of the church?

First, we must realize that children ARE part of the life of the church. Children are not and should not be treated as second class citizens. Even the youngest child has fears and struggles and concerns. Those of us who are older and more mature (including more mature children) have two choices: we can ignore children or we can treat them as important parts of the church.

Just like the teenagers that I talked about yesterday, children need to have relationships with more mature believers. We need to talk with them, get to know them, sit in the floor and draw pictures with them. I would be concerned about any Christian who refuses to relate to children on their own level.

Also, we need to realize that children hear and learn more than we think they do. Sure, perhaps they are coloring pictures or playing or even talking to the person beside them, but they doesn’t mean that they don’t know what is being said or done.

Children (like adults) do not need Bible stories. Children (like adults) need to learn how the stories in the Bible relate to their own lives, and how those stories encourage them to trust God. By the way, when I’m teaching, I try to teach in a way that (at least) older children can understand the main points. There is no reason to use words that children cannot understand – unless, of course, we define those words very carefully. Having a expansive theological vocabulary is neither helpful nor a sign of maturity.

So, how do we include children? By recognizing they are part of the community and treating them as part of the community.

How can we make sure that children are not a distraction when the church meets?

This is one of the questions that I’m asked the most concerning children. The question itself demonstrates a misunderstanding of the church meeting.

We do not attend church meetings primarily in order to be built up ourselves, but instead we meet with the church in order to build up others. When people ask about children causing distractions, they are pointing out the fact that at times it becomes difficult to hear someone speak because the children are being noisy. This assumes that our main goal is to hear that person speak.

What if your reason for being at that meeting is to sit in the floor and play with that child? What if your reason for being at the meeting is to give a tired mother a break for a few minutes? What if your reason for being at that meeting is to love on a young boy or girl by coloring a picture with them? Listening to the person speaking is not always the most important thing to do while the church is meeting.

So, what should we do when children are a distracting us? What should we do when a child is talking or crying such that we can’t hear the person or people speaking? Recognize that we may be focusing on the wrong thing or wrong person. Instead of worrying about missing something that is said, realize that you may be missing an opportunity of service. Consider how God may want you to respond, then act on that.


20 Comments

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  1. 9-29-2009

    we have much the same approach. Our group has had great success with the approach I outline in this post.

    http://www.morethancake.org/2009/06/what-about-children.html

  2. 9-29-2009

    Joe (JR),

    Thanks for the link. Are the children included in your meeting, or are they separated from the meeting?

    -Alan

  3. 9-29-2009

    Alan our church has three adults, four teenagers, and six children. This reality has caused me to completely rethink the assembling of the church. As much as possible I have the kids and teens lead as many things as possible. This helps them learn the most, it requires the adults to equip the “leader”. Having the youngest helping in creative ways keeps them happy and learning. Besides singing and praying we use many creative to study the scriptures and apply them to our lives. The kids have a much better imagination to come up with fun effective ways to learn.

    I believe your focus on the youth is critical to the Kingdom. Blessings!

  4. 9-29-2009

    Alan,

    I know that your post extends beyond simply the church meeting, but I’ve come up with a theory (theorem? law? axiom?) about children’s disruptiveness in the church meeting:

    The disruptiveness of children in the church meeting is INVERSELY PROPORTIONAL to the percentage of the church’s children present in the meeting.

    The fewer children in the meeting, the MORE “disruptive” they are. The fewer the children, the more noticeable the noise. When all the children are present, the noise of the children becomes background noise, and everybody can hear what’s being spoken. Parents don’t feel as embarrassed if their children are making some noise if everybody else’s are too. If just one baby starts to cry in a completely silent room…

    If everybody’s been eating garlic, nobody notices that one person has been eating garlic. I’ve gained this view by personal experience.

  5. 9-29-2009

    Darrell,

    Thanks for adding your example. I appreciate how you are including the children in your meeting. They will learn and grow much more from taking part than they ever would from just listening… even if they were listening to a very dynamic teacher.

    Steve,

    I agree. It is easier when there are several children… especially easier on the parents.

    -Alan

  6. 9-30-2009

    Alan, they are separate.

    I know you are arguing for keeping them in. I am a fan of including kids too. However, half of our group is single moms and quite frankly if these moms could not come and get a break from caring for their kids, they would not show up at all. It is tough for single parents since they do not have a spouse that can give them a break from caring for their kids.

    Do you have many single moms or broken families in our fellowship?

  7. 9-30-2009

    We are meeting with three other families currently. 8 adults, 18 children. Ages 6 months to 15 years.

    From my past traditions, we don’t have enough adult teachers to meet the requisite age segregations for “sunday school”, but we see a better way in keeping the entire body together – not removing part of it like a prosthetic limb we only want part of the time.

    Scripture teaches us that the older is to instruct the younger and that we are to prefer one another in honor. Joe’s desire to help the struggling mother is well-founded. If we are following the command in Hebrews 10 and considering one another to provoke unto love and good works, that may not mean encourage them to “serve in the nursery” or send their children there, but to really engage with that family that has a need so they can share in the same fellowship. I held a brother’s 3-year old in my lap Sunday. Partly because I have relationship with their children, and partly because I miss holding a 3-year old (my youngest is 7), but it was the 3-year old that initiated the contact Sunday – because we are friends. I would rather be there than “serving in the nursery”, if that makes sense.

    I can also encourage you to seek out a large family and just observe how they function. Most of us from the average 1.8 children family (I only have three) cannot appreciate the dynamic that happens when the mom and dad cannot possibly “do it all”. In our minds, that is what we see as impossible, because that is how we often (incorrectly) work with only 2 or 3. We cannot imagine having 6 or 7 or 10 children and “doing family” our way. That’s because it can’t be done. It requires all of the older members of the family to help in the ways they can, according to their maturity. This has helped me greatly in seeing the church as a body/family and how the entire body is required to function according to scripture.

  8. 9-30-2009

    Joe (JR),

    While we do not have single moms meeting with us now, we do have a few families with many children. The moms and dads in those families are also usually very tired when they meet with us. I’ve personally helped some of these parents with their children during our church meeting.

    By the way, I was simply asking for clarification. I’m not judging your decisions to separate the children. I would hope that there are other ways that you are including children in the life of the church.

    Eric,

    Yes, we’ve decided to do something similar to what you’ve described. To be honest, I don’t see as many in the church helping with one another’s children as I would like… especially when the church is meeting.

    -Alan

  9. 9-30-2009

    Don’t get me wrong. Babies still cry and little ones still fidget – (and yes, it is embarrassing when they are yours), but there is a value in having the younger ones there. They can see the participatory meeting and participate themselves. They can see their father receiving the teaching of another brother and maybe in turn their father speaking to the assembly about what he has learned. They may see their mother looking to an older woman for a teaching.

    When we begin to see these children as little brothers and sisters (as God’s adopted sons and daughters should) then we must be ensamples to the flock and care for them – even considering how to provoke them to love and good works.

  10. 9-30-2009

    Hey Eric,

    What if those children are nonbelievers as they get older are they still able to participate in the gathering? And do you allow adult nonbelievers to be involved in paticapatory meetings? I am curious about this as it is an issue we may be facing. Thanks. Whats your thoughts Alan?

  11. 9-30-2009

    Lionel,

    We’ve had unbelievers in our meeting. Some even made comments and asked questions. I don’t think this was a distraction to the church. Perhaps it even helped.

    -Alan

  12. 10-1-2009

    Lionel,

    Well, I do know some have not made a public profession of faith (including my youngest), but can still be very well “behaved” (not always including my youngest ;o)) and so may have the appearance of nice, well-behaved, believers. If they are quiet, it may suffice for a meeting, but you see the fruit the rest of the time. Our children are younger, so they mostly will only voice a prayer request or request a song to be sung. I believe if the younger ones speak improperly or offer a false teaching, that you treat them with some grace, remembering their age and maturity, but they are corrected. Childishness is expected, but foolishness should not be encouraged. If it is my child, then I feel obliged to steer them back in the meeting, but if I didn’t, would expect the other brothers to do so. I would speak with them later to offer instruction, what the scripture says regarding this(if this wasn’t already presented, which would be unusual), how it should be done next time, etc. I do not know how to manufacture this action in others except to encourage them to read the word and do what it says – and set an example for them.

    We do not currently have adult non-believers meeting with us on a regular basis, but I would expect them to be treated the same as when we have a difference over a teaching amongst ourselves.
    “Elders who rule well”….mature men should be able to make a wise ruling, holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. We had a brother visit us a couple of weeks ago who felt freedom to share during the meeting (along with most of the men) and then over lunch argued with us for about 3 more hours about “who is the pastor” in our group. He could not deny that he was among brethren because of our example and encouragement in the word, but the fact that none of us was declared as ‘the leader’ was a real stumbling block. In the end we prayed together, exchanged hugs, and left in peace because the debate didn’t have to be “won” in an afternoon. I am sure we encouraged each other to continue to search the scriptures to evaluate what we believe, are we being obedient. I think that is iron sharpening iron. Not offering pearls to swine. There is a difference. Stay out of Titus 3:9-11 territory.

    I’m not sure I have answered your question. I believe the church is only made of believers. Scripture does give us a few examples of behavior that we are to separate from. If those are present in the meeting, then yes, I do believe they should be reproved and if a change is not seen, or at least peace is kept, then removed.

  13. 10-2-2009

    Eric,

    Thanks brother for the wisdom this is very encouraging. Thanks a bunch.

  14. 10-2-2009

    Hi Eric-

    Excellent observations and wisdom in your comments above.

    I have a question.

    You said: who felt freedom to share during the meeting (along with most of the men)

    Do the women in your local assembly feel free to share?

    Just curious.

  15. 10-2-2009

    You know what’s funny? I thought the previous article on teenagers would get more discussion than this one. But, I’ve enjoyed the discussion here. Thanks everyone, and feel free to continue the discussion.

    -Alan

  16. 10-2-2009

    Hello Hutch –

    Share, testify, request prayer or offer a song? yes. Col. 3:16

    Teach/preach to the children or other women? yes. Titus 2

    Teach/preach to the whole assembly? no. 1 Timothy 2

    Question a teaching in the assembly? probably not. 1 Cor. 14:34-35

    Openly discuss, teach, share with their husband outside the meeting? absolutely.

    Wear pants? Only until they figure out none of the other ladies do ;o) All things are lawful, but not all are expedient….

    This is one I still wrestle with. I know that some of the scripture passages above are debated, but they cannot be ignored. There must be a way to resolve them (I have a problem with the last two scriptures above seeming to conflict with Col. 3 and 1 Cor. 14:26. I can’t find the “law” mentioned in v. 34 and can’t see that “each of you” only means the men). Frank Viola’s theory that 1 Cor. 14:34-35 could be inside quotation marks, as if Paul is quoting what the Corinthians are teaching, and then responds with surprise with “WHAT?” makes sense to me. I have discussed a few of these with other brothers to see where they stand. I can say that for the men, it is not a power grab, they are trying to be obedient. It does force the men to lead. The ladies submitting to their husbands is beautiful but I think we may be missing something. It may be revisited, but for now I am content (as is my wife) to be at peace.

  17. 10-2-2009

    Eric-

    Thanks for clarifying.

  18. 10-4-2009

    Hi Alan,
    I know you were not passing any judgments brother. Sorry I gave that impression in my answer.

    I know two-parent get tired too (I have 3 sons). But there is a dynamic I never imagined when 50% of your group is single parents, parents who do not have a believing spouse, and another large percentage are people who are brand new Christians who have never had any instruction on parenting. We have some parents who thought it was wrong to correct their children. Big difference in parenting styles from those who grew up in the church or around more stable role models.

    I agree that children are often relegated to the “sidelines” of church and that is not a good thing. When I planted Reunion, I never thought we would have the kids as separate as we do, but circumstances have shown me, that the ideal is not always reality in a world with fractured families.

    As of now, we have the kids separate, but we have done a lot with trying to teach parents about things like being disciple makers for their kids, how to discipline (which was a HUGE issue leading to the post I linked to above). My goal is, like you Alan, to have the kids more engaged in the life of the church and not separate. Getting there, is a bit of a journey though for us.

  19. 10-5-2009

    Joe,

    I have a suggestion for you to take the “list” to the next level at home. We have used the “If Then”, “Blessings” and “Brother Offended” charts from Doorposts. I like them because they use scripture to address the issues and you can still fill in the consequence/reward blanks as you deem appropriate. Helps with showing the children these are scriptural principles, not just something mommy and daddy want, and also helps to keep consistency with punishment/reward (although this still may vary from child to child depending on age, knowledge and other factors).

    I think these can help your parents be disciple-makers at home.

    http://www.doorposts.com/details.aspx?id=3

  20. 12-27-2011

    Years ago, when I was a pastor, we had an unusual staff requirement. Each senior staff member (pastor, associate pastor, youth pastor, worship leader, etc.) was required to visit a different children’s Sunday school department once each month (by assignment). We were to walk in and sit down in one of the small children’s chairs. The teacher would ask the children, “Who is this?” They would answer. “Why is he/she here?” she would ask. They would cry, “He came so we can pray for him.” Then they would place their tiny hands on our shoulders, backs, foreheads, etc. and pray for us.

    One mother told me, “My five-year-old son heard me say that I had a ‘splitting headache.’ To which he immediately said, ‘Mother, sit down. I’ll pray for you.’ He placed his hand on my forehead and prayed. To my surprise–my headache instantly disappeared.”

    What was the staff doing? Without a word we were communicating to the children their importance and the importance of their prayer.

    On occasion we “prayed on site with insight.” Once we went to the parking lots of the gentlemen’s clubs (strip joints) to pray. In one of the vans was three of our elders and 6-year-old Cole. Neither of his parents were with them. After a couple of the men had prayed, one said, “Cole, why don’t you pray now.” Cole bowed his head, folded his hands and prayed. He had no idea what a “gentleman’s club” was. But he prayed sincerely, “Lord, I pray that the next man that comes to this bad place won’t even be able to go inside.” To their surprise, a Cadillac pulled up and a man in an expensive business suit crawled out. He went to the entrance of the club, place his hand on the door handle, then froze. He scratched his head, looked both ways, then returned to his car and drove away. No one had to “teach” Cole that God answers prayer. He saw God answer his prayer. What was our tactic? Treat the children as as if they were adults. Include them. There is no “children’s gospel.” They are much more capable than most people would think. Oh, and today Cole is a fine young twenty-something who loves and serves God. ;)