the weblog of Alan Knox

But, aren’t the kids a distraction when the church gathers?

Posted by on Dec 3, 2012 in blog links, community, fellowship | 37 comments

But, aren’t the kids a distraction when the church gathers?

Last week, Gavin at “Simple Church Alliance” wrote a great post called “What About The Kids?” Whenever people think about more organice or simple types of church gatherings, they often (eventually) ask the question, “But what do you do with the children?”

The assumption, of course, is that we gather as the church in order to sing together and to listen to someone preach a sermon. If this is the case, then a loud child or a crying baby can be a distraction. If a toddler next to me is moving around, then I may not be paying attention to the words that are being sung. If a baby near me cries, then I may not be able to hear the speaker.

Gavin suggests that children should not be seen as a distraction, but should instead be involved in the church gathering. He provides several suggestions that he’s seen practiced over the last several years, including:

Pray & Prepare
Get A Sitter
Music
Skits
Listening To God
One Anothers
Dance
Kids Focus

Please click over to Gavin’s post for a longer list, and for a description of each item in his list.

Often, children gather with us on Sundays – not to mention the times we get together throughout the week. There are newborns, toddlers, younger children, older children, teenagers… almost every age group.

Guess what? Children are often loud, talkative, fussy, etc. And, I’m talking about well-behaved children. That’s the way children are.

So, what do we do when children “disrupt” our gathering or are a “distraction”? Well, first, we recognize that the children are not a disruption and they are not a distraction. They are children, and they are part of our families. They are welcomed in our gathering – talking, crying, fussing, and all.

That attitude alone solves most of the problems. If we’re honest with ourselves, children are seen as a disruption or a distraction because WE are not able to do what WE want to do because of them. In other words, WE can’t hear, or WE can’t sing, or WE can’t pay attention. In other words, we’re centered on ourselves and our desires. When those desires are not met because of talkative or crying children, we see them as a distraction.

But, think about what would happen if, instead of focusing on us and our desires, we focused on others – including the children (and their parents)?

There are so many different options when a child becomes “disruptive”… play with them… walk with them… color with them… Yes, we love coloring books, stickers, blocks, puzzle. And, yes, we sit right there in the floor with them in the middle of everyone else (or off to the side if there’s room).

Not only do the children understand that they are important, but the parents also understand how much we love them.

I’ve found many times that my worship in a church gathering consisted of sitting in the floor and putting stickers on a piece of paper with a few children. In doing that, I was obeying what God was calling me to do, and I was loving others. What could be better?


37 Comments

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  1. 12-3-2012

    curiously, well-behaved children are a social taboo in pop-cultured places (where there is an assumption that something must be wrong with young children who sit quietly and do as they are asked).
    Yet, for those unbound by such silly thinking…
    A significant number of the home fellowships I’ve visited have the children participating with zero or near-zero distraction. It was enlightening to discover their secret! Why should children have to suffer under their own undisciplined passions? For that matter, why even should adults have to suffer thus?

  2. 12-3-2012

    Thank you for posting this. As someone who is part of a group that is just beginning this journey, it’s encouraging to hear from those who are going before us.

  3. 12-3-2012

    I’ve found over many years, both as a mother & in “children’s ministry” that some of the deepest lessons I’ve learned have been while sharing God’s Word with children. To do so, you have to distill the core message and be able to state it clearly and simply – this is a good exercise for all of us. We remember it better that way — isn’t that the goal of reading the Bible?

  4. 12-3-2012

    I wish more people understood exactly what you shared. We have 9 children (ages twenty-one to one and a half), and while they are well behaved, they can be noisy, even unintentionally .
    Thank you, Alan, for giving voice to what few people give thought to, which is; children are people too!

  5. 12-3-2012

    For generations, adults have exemplified Jesus as only
    fully experienced if we are adults. The subtext, & therefore
    the intuitive message to children is that they don’t
    have ownership in the kingdom. But Jesus contradicts
    that with his unequivocal statement that the kingdom
    is located in child like people, of whom children are
    the chief stakeholders. I don’t think it was arbitrary that
    Joel prophesied that the young would be the dreamers
    & visionaries. Its always been adults who are blind.
    Just because we are in charge doesn’t give us the right
    to prevent them from entering the fullness of Christ right
    from their first awareness. If they are a distraction to adults
    its probably because they are relating to Jesus in the
    way we should, but have forgotten how.

  6. 12-3-2012

    These are very good comments everyone. Thanks for adding to this discussion. I’ve learned so much from children over the years (both about God and about people), and I’m so glad that they’re part of our church gatherings.

    -Alan

  7. 12-3-2012

    Being a grandmother, one of several in our gatherings (who are exhorted to be “teachers of goodness” Titus 2:4 Living Bible Paraphrased) , I see our meetings as a grand opportunity to train children in appropriate behavior, including self-restraint and consideration for others and respect for others property, time and activity. We have toddlers to teens…let’s see, usually 10 of them with 2 on the way. Some of them are hyper active and can and have caused damage and injury. As a grandmother, I have just a little leverage and can insist on some settling down, without doing too much harm to relationship. Over time the children have learned to settle down after the meal, we are working on courtesy in the food line, not to run in the house, not to throw balls and other objects in the house, not to touch things that do not belong to them without permission, not to give the babies loud toys, nor stimulate the babies or dogs during the sharing part of the meeting, and for the older ones (all except the toddlers) to engage, which they do and have for the most part from the get go. No one shares anything long and drawn out at these gatherings and on our best nights there is much interaction and spontaneity. When we feel the focused part of the meeting has ended the children (those with toddlers usually have already left to put babies to bed), can get into the craft materials and games we have for them, sitting around a table. Sometimes an adult joins in with them, others engage in further conversation. In one of the homes we meet in there is a room with a ping pong table which gives them a little freedom to be physical within boundaries. I personally think that it is very important to character building for children to learn self-restraint and appropriate behavior relative to different settings…e.g. outdoor/indoor, your own home/other’s homes (how to be a welcome, considerate and respectful guest), and develop awareness and consideration for what others are doing e.g. allowing others to have conversation requires that children not take up all the audio space in the room with loud chatter or laughter. Anyway, I see these gatherings as very valuable opportunities, where there are some common values operating, hence some support for appropriate behavior training by parents so that rather than seeing the children as a distraction, I see it as superbly, Scripturally speaking, (Train up a child…Prov 22:6 …teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting at home, when you are out walking, at bedtime, and before breakfast. Duet 11:19) ideal to have them right there in the midst where training can occur very naturally, consistently and with lots of positive reinforcement and support by the “community”. Of course this includes modeling on the part of all the adults of appropriate behavior, including encouraging parents to take responsibility for the supervision, behavior and training of their children. It can all be done quite gently for the most part in the gatherings where grace doth much more abound! as none of us is perfect (without sin), but in gathering we are benefited by the abundant and lovely luxury of His presence.

  8. 12-3-2012

    I might add here that there is an almost lost art of restraining young children by holding them on their parents lap and later insisting they sit next to their parents where supervision is automatic. This can be and factually is, a very beneficial experience for especially the child, his nervous system, his emotional well being, his character and his ability to garner positive feedback from others who share his circumstances. For many years I attended an institutional church where there was no nursery…there was a crying room for nursing or soothing. But for those many years I watched babies born into families that did not have peaceful habit lives. Those babies got many hours a week of being held on their parents lap and training to entertain themselves with the minimum of quiet objects, including the body parts of their parents, rings and fingers and buttons on blouses and shirts, a book or two and as they got older, a pencil or pen and some scraps of paper or a notebook, eventually being taught to listen for a chosen word and record how many times they heard it in the sermon. At home these children were not held often or for long. Their lives were often filled with drama and trauma. Meetings and Bible studies provided them with several hours a week of required peacefulness, rest and close relating, giving them at the very least a knowledge of what it feels like to be in a environment that contains boundaries and other elements of benefit. Now, they are grown folks and the majority are healthy and successful in life. I attribute a measure of that to being held, restrained and trained to accommodate delayed gratification at an early age.

  9. 12-3-2012

    Amen, Alan (and Gavin)!

  10. 12-3-2012

    Excellent point about children being held. As a WASP,
    my tradition was to park the children at all ‘adult’ functions
    but my Cambodian wife showed me a better, more
    sensitive way to ‘manage’ children. Like most native culture,
    she carries our children in a papoose like device almost
    everywhere. And when she couldn’t, me & our older
    children were conscripted. Now after 25 yrs, I can look back
    & report ZERO behavioral problems in public or at home, &
    Ive had to ‘discipline’ all 4 of them bi more than 4 or 5
    times fir all of them together. The carrying knitted my
    heat to my children deeply, early & without a break, till
    today. I learned with our 1st child that most anger, stubbornness
    or disobedience is rooted somewhere in my wife & I not
    discerning their initial upset or inclination to self will.
    Ive observed many families similar to ours, with similar
    results, & in all cases it is related to childrens hearts being
    knit in a close bond to parents & siblings. Physically carrying
    them for the 1st few yrs of life kickstarted this.
    Incidentally, that practice also knit my heart to my wife
    in a very deep appreciation of her daily sacrificial life
    as a mother.

  11. 12-3-2012

    Yes Greg it is a sacrificial life for mothers of young children and thank you for appreciating your wife for her willingness. I wanted to mention the point you made, but felt I was being long winded here already…however, that is probably the most important benefit from restraining a young child on your lap…building a bond that makes the child and the parent so sensitive to needs and commands that later on it can take little more than eye contact and a raised eyebrow to get a whole lot across to them, even from a distance.

  12. 12-3-2012

    One word …. AMEN!

  13. 12-3-2012

    Thank you [and Gavin] for such a rare post in today’s churchianity world. I grew up in a small church where lots of children were just part of the congregation. When our kids were small, we once visited a large church where they had a separate building to leave the kids. Though they seemed to expect it of us, I would have never done such a thing to our kids. A couple in the pew in front of us graciously thanked us. They were so grateful to see kids in church.
    Now, 30 years later, I am again in a small, country church where it is simply normal to have your kids sit in the pew with you.

  14. 12-4-2012

    I continue to learn alot from all of you. Thank you again!

    -Alan

  15. 12-5-2012

    We must go far beyond well behaved children in adult dominated meetings. We must train the children in full participation in meetings dominated by no human being of any gender, gift, specialty, title, age, etc. . This is where training children to be full participants in scripture reading, commenting on the scripture, expressing about the Lords table, praying, song selection, playing instruments, caring for infants, and an endless list of serving opportunities is a key part of parenting and body life. Of course If any gathering is pulpit driven, most of this is impossible. Every Sunday I see children leading in all these areas. That’s right – leading. It is phenomenal.
    Example: A 10 year old girl picks her seat right next to a couple with a 7 month old child with epilepsy problems. The husband knows what’s she is there for because she has asked to care for his son. He places his son in her lap and she loves on him the whole meeting. What a stunning illustration of washing one another’s feet. Some adults noticed this act of servanthood, some did not. I will never forget this. This is only one of many unforgettable demonstrations of Christ flowing from children participating – not just behaving.

  16. 12-8-2012

    From my aged perch…in my observation, well-behaved children will rather naturally learn all of the things Tim has mentioned, sooner and more thoroughly (than children left at the mercy of their natures), in a very organic process if those things are being modeled in a consistent way that proves out by bearing good fruit in the community of believers. Just as the Bible gives us as adults much exhortation to seek wisdom and live circumspect lives, how much more capable might our children be if their behavior is lovingly tempered and made appropriate so that their spirits are teachable and their innate ability to absorb is immersed in Christ centered community life.

  17. 12-8-2012

    “He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”
    [Proverbs 13:24]

    There is more to children denied nurtured discipline than the difficulties that those kids may be having today. Hate (distance) between parent and child may be addressed in love, though not all parents will be able to receive admonition or encouragements in this regard. Yet, for the sake of the children, we press on.

  18. 12-11-2012

    Again, thank you everyone for continuing this discussion. This has been very beneficial for me, and I hope it as been to my readers as well.

    -Alan

  19. 1-5-2013

    Children can be a disruption. I remember being one in my grandfather’s tiny country church. My grandmother couldn’t draw a rabbit to suit me, so I started crying. My grandfather put me in his truck, spanked me with one finger, drove me the quarter of a mile to his house, left me in the truck while he went inside. He brought me a baby aspirin so the spanking wouldn’t hurt! Bless him.

    Children need to be in “big” church some of the time, but I also believe children’s church has value. Children learn differently from adults, and they can learn better when they are taught from a children’s point of view. I think there needs to be a balance, “big” church some and children’s church some.

  20. 2-5-2013

    I think there’s a time and place for everything. What my church does is, during the summer, the children, starting with school age, go to service with the parents. The pastoral staff believes that it’s a good time for kids to worship with their parents. During the normal school semester, however, children go to their Sunday School. Kids are welcome to come to the main service, and I’d like to think people at my church are nice enough not to scowl at parents who bring their kids to church. Some bring kids to worship, then take them to Sunday School.

    I agree with Jean Brunson. Children’s SS isn’t just for parents, it’s for kids too. When I was a kid, I thought grownup church was boring.

    But you are right; children shouldn’t be seen as a burden. And I believe children should be part of “big” church every once in a while.

    It’s like a date night. Sometimes my wife and I want time to ourselves without the kids. It doesn’t mean we are selfish people and never want to be with our kids, it’s just that we need time for just us. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to sometimes want time with just us and a church sermon.

    So I think it’s not either-or. Like going out to dinner, it’s good to do sometimes with the kids, sometimes it’s nice to do so without.

  21. 2-5-2013

    That being said. My church strongly encourages parental involvement. They ask every parent to volunteer once a month in their child’s class. That way SS is more than a babysitter.

  22. 2-5-2013

    Being a mother of small children I know I felt very unwelcome and offended when I was asked to leave a church service because my baby was disrupting others. But after I got over myself and after raising 4 babies in a church I have come to appreciate and respect women, who out of love and respect for the lost souls who maybe are desperately seeking to understand the things of God, who will graciously exist the sanctuary and allow others to be ministered to. I love our children’s ministry because they meet children at their level and teach them God’s word according to their appropriate age and level of understanding. Children have ample opportunity to be apart of other church functions such as potlucks and family nights or other church celebrations. We ask people in movie theaters to please silence your cell phones why wouldn’t we ask a God fearing God loving woman to kindly care for her loud child?
    I would however say this, I believe we as the body of Christ should be able to distinguish between a woman who is a new mom or is feeling overwhelmed and bestow her grace and offer our help and support to calm the child or whatever that particular situation may require.

  23. 2-5-2013

    Traditional church settings often are less child-friendly. Format, acoustics, seating, music… all tending contrary to the children being alongside their parents. Not that adults do so well sitting through a “service”, but that grownups are better able to recognize what is required within the arrangement, and make adjustment (if just for an hour or so).
    To a smaller gathering, where we come together anticipating to hear from children and adults alike… we wish not to do without them! Acoustics of a smaller room, the seating arrangement, even the closer proximity of bathroom & kitchen, all more akin to family gathering. Home fellowships can tend to go longer while hosting less boredom.

  24. 2-5-2013

    Thanks for the continued comments and discussions. When we get together with the church, if our purpose is to pay attention to something that is going (singing, teaching, praying, etc.) then children will disrupt that purpose. If our purpose is to relate to one another as family, then children will be part of that.

    -Alan

  25. 2-9-2013

    Good post and comments. Thanks!

    A few more thoughts . . .

    “But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven'” (Matt. 19:14).

    It is interesting how the preceding verse has been used to support opposing arguments:

    • Don’t hinder the children by keeping them out of the main meeting with the adults.
    • Don’t hinder the children by including them in the main meeting with the adults.

    Perhaps the best balance I’ve seen and come to believe in is when children stay with the parents for everything but the teaching or sermon portion.

    Children can watch and hear their parents pray, sing and participate in other ways, including the Lord’s Supper as a meal (when churches practice it this way) where family-like conversation and discussion inclusive of the children can take place. Otherwise, very little children seem to get more out of the instruction when they can be excused to go to an age-integrated Bible class for their learning level.

    As a former home school parent (before all my kids became adults), I considered the ‘family-integrated’ arguments and saw Eph. 6:3 and similar verses quoted a number of times. “Oh, you just gotta keep the kids with the parents, otherwise you’re usurping the parents’ authority and responsibility in instructing their children in the Lord!”

    Really? . . . For one hour? . . . Don’t think so. Parents have all week to teach their children. And children’s Bible classes should be under the collective oversight of the parents and the elders in the church anyway. Parents can also take turns teaching their own and other people’s children. This actually helps adults and children among families get to know and understand each other, learn from one another, empathize with the relationship dynamics within different families, and collectively ‘integrate’ even more.

    Some families want to keep their babies and toddlers with them anyway. Most churches I’ve been in permit this, including our current fellowship. But most parents prefer to let their children attend separate Bible classes during the sermon or adult discussions until a certain age (5, 6, 7, 8 . . .) depending on the maturity of the child and the parents’ convictions. From what I’ve seen over the years, this combination seems to work best for the majority of parents and children, as well as the assembly as a whole.

  26. 2-12-2013

    Rick,

    If we only think about the gathering of the church as a one hour thing, then I think we’ve got bigger problems than whether or not the children gather with us. But, if church meetings are not just a once per week 1-2 hours thing, then the adults also have many, many other opportunities for exhorting both children and adults in Christ.

    -Alan

  27. 2-12-2013

    Alan,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I agree. Our fellowship meets 4+ hours each week and there’s not a rigid schedule. But we do try to provide a baseline of teaching consistently as a fundamental and foundational staple. I suppose most churches — which generally fall outside of the more open-participatory, homestyle groups like you and I enjoy — have a segment of teaching or preaching too. This specific ‘slice’ was what I meant to reflect on regarding very young children.

  28. 2-12-2013

    I think that some different cultural and generational core values influence the views on this topic. Two that come to my mind immediately are:

    The younger generation’s embrace and trust of daycare and pre-school (read children’s church and nursery or children’s Sunday school) as better or at least more normal or desirable than the sovereignty of the family unit and the process of osmosis.

    The concept of teachings and sermons vs conversation and spontaneous sharing as the function of gathering as families.

    I suppose these differences are endless…but I will stop there and just say that I think flexibility is the strength of any group and wish all gatherers the grace and wisdom to find what works best for them.

  29. 2-12-2013

    Great discussion… why didn’t I see this before!?

    I loved your comment, Alan:

    “When we get together with the church, if our purpose is to pay attention to something that is going (singing, teaching, praying, etc.) then children will disrupt that purpose. If our purpose is to relate to one another as family, then children will be part of that.”

    I agree.

    I think that the bottom line as far my experience goes is that there is no formula or right way to do anything…because every family is different…. and every gathering is different too…and ages are always changing, new challenges always come and as soon as you have it figured out – a new family or baby joins or whatever.

    Sometimes when we gather with family, the adults get into a serious discussion that needs focused attention because people are needing validation & attention. So if children or anybody are distracting from us loving on that person, then the children & or whatever adults that want to, can break away out of love for whoever is needing to be heard. Children need to learn to put others first sometimes.

    Adults, too, need to learn to put others first sometimes – even loud whiny somebodies that need attention. and that happens frequently, too.

    Also, I would say that it is different for every family — because our church family is still so young and still building the foundation of our relationship – it is going to take awhile before other adults can step in & help with discipline or correction.

    And it’s also going to take a while for the parents to not feel guilty, shame, uncomfortable when the kids do act up or misbehave.

    The amount it takes for every family to be able to be honest with each other & share what they are going through and what is/isn’t working differs from family to family.

    We still have a long way to go before our kids can sit through an hour long anything so they do a lot of wandering, coloring, moving around, going upstairs…. we mostly have church at our house so that’s a big help. I am loving the fact that when we go other places with the church, the other adults are being able to help us more so it’s not just my husband & I trying to corral and correct.

    I SO appreciated that when we met with your church Alan. We felt so loved & such a weight lifted seeing others love on us & our kids. It was very touching and impactful.

    Everything is always so much more work & takes SOO much more time than I desire :) Experiencing church as a family is so much more difficult than dropping my kids at the “kid zone” once a week. For somebody who has a lot of pride, parenting insecurities, perfectionism tendencies – it’s a constant battle to allow God to use this family setting to change me and let go! I know it’s worth how tough this is sometimes!! “The hard is what makes it good”

  30. 2-12-2013

    Randi,

    That closely resembles our experience here in northern VA. Especially the part about our fellowship being young and the challenges of one another parenting. We actually separated into two groups over the issue of how to handle this, but each group is now doing well.

    Tim

  31. 2-12-2013

    Tim,
    can you elaborate or share some of your experiences? :) email if not here? thanks

  32. 2-12-2013

    Randi,

    You can leave a message for me over at my blog http://synerchomai.org.

    In brief, we were meeting as a large group and had come together for a variety of reasons. All of us had previously been part of institutional church.

    Some wanted the children to remain with them during our meeting and others wanted to hire a babysitter. Roughly along the same lines, some were more comfortable with less organization and others wanted a little more structured time.

    We ended up recognizing that we were really two different groups and decided to start meeting separately. We still maintain relationship with one another and a few of us go to both groups, or either.

    I think we were trying to hard to recapture something large and smoothly running. The full post on how we did this is here: http://synerchomai.org/2013/02/endings-and-beginnings/

    My family is meeting with the children-included group and meeting together like that definitely highlights where our theory of church differs from our conditioned expectation of church. It can be difficult but there are moments of awesomeness.

    Hope that helps…

  33. 2-14-2013

    Thanks for continuing this discussion (while I was busy with other things). While we currently keep our children with us when we come together weekly (and at most other times), we recognize there are times for more “adult” conversation, if you will. We tend to have this kind of discussions or discipleship one-on-one or in smaller groups throughout the week. We also love to get children and teenagers together often to play games, study together, or serve other together. Of course, adults take part in these gatherings as well.

    -Alan

  34. 2-16-2013

    Tim,
    I added your blog to my reader, thanks for the comment & explanation back!! :)
    randi :)

  35. 2-16-2013

    Alan –

    In reply to your last comment:

    That is ideal & great. When we grow up, we want to be like yall :)

  36. 2-17-2013

    Randi,

    I appreciate the kind words, but, trust me, there is nothing ideal about us. We are a work in progress.

    -Alan

  37. 2-17-2013

    Understood :)

    but it is encouraging to see a church that is ‘older’ than our very young church. Love seeing what God has done in established relationships.