Children in the Worship Service

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JNoël's picture

Not that I don't agree with having children under the main preaching service as soon as possible, but I fail to see how he comes to that conclusion from those three references. Certainly cannot say God prescribed it.

 

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

TOvermiller's picture

I agree that God neither commands nor prescribes this in what these three verses say. But what I do think is that these verses challenge our thinking to consider what is possible and perhaps what is preferable. Would you agree with that?

BTW, if you're ever in the NYC area on a Sunday or Wednesday, stop by for a service!

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | StudyGodsWord.com
Blog & Podcast | ShepherdThoughts.com

TylerR's picture

Editor

I am very sympathetic to the idea of children in worship services. There was one Reformed church in central Illinois, for example, that had a completely integrated worship. They didn't even have a nursery.

I haven't made a study of this, but in my opinion there are two poles we should probably avoid:

  • Age-segregation gone mad to the point where the entire congregation never actually meets in one place to do anything. You never see the Pastor. You never see the ordinances being observed. You never see the larger picture of corporate worship. Everybody is siloed off into their "little group." Children never see church as it is intended to be.
  • Fully integrated worship services with no nursery or age-appropriate Biblical instruction. You typically see this in more Reformed churches.

I took a middle approach:

  • Nursery (0-4)
  • Sunday School hour, ages 5-12 had their own class
  • During the main worship service, ages 5-12 had their own class and everybody else 13+ was in the main service.  
  • Sunday Afternoon the whole congregation was in the main service
  • Wednesday the entire congregation was in the main service
  • The entire church body (including all children except the nursery) are always in the main service to see and (when applicable) observe baptism and the Lord's Supper.

This is an important discussion to have.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

JNoël's picture

Yes. Definitely a good conversation to have.

Big problem with the manner in which the writer used those passages. That is not exegesis. I would be very cautious of what he preaches. If he is willing to use those verses to make that claim, I wonder what else he does. At least he said "it appears that children participated" and did not go any further than that.

He is getting some publicity by it; perhaps that was his only goal.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

TylerR's picture

Editor

JNoel:

No, I don't think his goal was publicity. I recently had a conversation with a couple from church about family integrated worship. They are strongly Reformed, and were all in favor of it. With this whole issue hovering in my mind, I read Bro. Overmiller's post and thought this might be a fruitful discussion to have - so I posted it as a filing. I'll listen to the podcast later this weekend.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Nord Zootman's picture

I think it is certainly a stretch to see these verses referring to the need to have family integrated worship. I don't believe that 1John 2 is even a reference to physical children, but rather an endearing expression used by John. I think children need to experience worship at least part of the time with adults, but these verses say no such thing.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Surely the fact that children are being directly addressed in NT epistles indicates they were expected to . . . actually be there to hear them read? They can't hear them read if they're busy cutting and pasting crosses in Mrs. Smith's class. That was the point, I think. It seems to indicate that children are expected to be present during the worship service. What do we do with this?

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

I don't know that those verses make a command, but I do think it's safe to assume that ancient church services had a lot of kids in them for a bunch of reasons.  Christ said "let the little children come to Me" in a mostly adult situation, buying milk to feed a baby would have been prohibitively expensive for most poor slaves in the early church, organizing a nursery in a house church would have been a great way to get raided by Roman authorities, and more.

Today, one big consideration is that we all too often tell kids that they're welcome in Sunday School, nursery, children's church, youth group, summer camp....really just about anything except for regular church, and then we get surprised when they grow up and say "we got the hint" by not showing up. Practical, not Biblical, I concede.  But worth contemplating.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I think it's going too far to be completely family integrated:

  • Nursery is important. Mothers want to worship the Lord, free from distractions from their 6-month olds.
  • Children's Sunday School is important. Little kids would perhaps benefit more from age-appropriate systematic Bible instruction than from listening to the Pastor explain OT prophesy in the main service.

Of course, all this assumes the local church actually uses a systematic bible curriculum for Sunday School that has depth. Such may not be the case.

Here is what I did to try to expose little kids to corporate worship while still applying age-specific instruction:

  • Integrated worship in singing
  • Announcements
  • Integrated public Scripture reading and brief application
  • More integrated singing
  • Children (ages 5-12) are dismissed to Junior Church

I will say I believe it is a huge mistake to go "segregation crazy" so the kids never experience corporate worship.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

JNoël's picture

This is all useful conversation, and I am a proponent of maximizing participation in the main worship service.

My argument is with scriptural application. If we use Hennebury's rules of affinity, any scriptural application to this topic is, at best, a C4. That means each congregation is at liberty to decide how they want to do it.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Ron Bean's picture

I found this article by John Piper very beneficial:

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-family-together-in-gods-presence

From my perspective, one of the challenges is the inability of parents to teach their children to sit still for any period of time. My wife and I addressed this in two ways. One was our family worship which was age appropriate and modeled church worship. We'd sing, pray, read scripture, and have a Bible lesson. The second was what we called DEAR time. (Drop Everything And Read) This had a number of forms. When the children were younger, we'd stop what we were doing and read to them for lengthening periods of time. They would even ask for DEAR time sometimes. As they got older, we'd let them read to us. One goal of both of these was to teach them to sit still and listen and then ask and answer questions about what they had heard.

Side note: We tried to avoid providing "stuff for them to do". (i.e. coloring books etc.) Today that would probably be letting them play a game on your phone. Anyway, a few weeks ago our pastor experimented with a children's mini-sermon. As he spoke to the kids I looked around to see a good number of adults checking their phones while the little ones listened.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TOvermiller's picture

Hello Jason. I haven't interacted with you previously, but I can assure you that publicity was not my only goal. In fact, it wasn't my goal at all.

I use the www.shepherdthoughts.com website primarily for the purpose of providing resources for the congregation of Faith Baptist Church. In recent generations, pastors often provided a booklet rack in the church lobby to share written materials for their people; this is my "booklet rack" :)  I use it secondly to help improve SEO for our church website. And I also use it to provide helpful materials for anyone else who discovers the site and reads or listens to the resources provided there. As an aside, I didn't forward this post link to anyone at Sharper Iron for posting. Tyler posted it on his own.

If you read the three references I cited and reflect on their actual historical setting, it seems most reasonable to conclude that children were in the audience during corporate worship. This observation is not prescriptive, but it is a very reasonable observation. In the corresponding podcast, I think I mention that churches will handle this matter in various ways. For instance, Tyler described his "middle" approach. Here's what we do, which I would also consider a "middle" approach:

  1. All children (minus infants) participate in the initial worship service. Children 5 yrs. and down dismiss to separate S.S. classes. This class rotates through systematic, foundational teaching of the biblical narrative.
  2. During the worship service, I do things to include our young people. I provide children's note sheets, and often correlate the sermon slides with the kids' note sheets as well as the adults' note sheets. To distribute the children's note sheets, I use junior ushers (junior high/elementary boys assigned to this role).
  3. Sometimes I include a "children's moment" early in the service. I invite all children to the front to sit around me (or around another man in the congregation). I use an object lesson, brown bag lesson, etc. to teach a Bible truth. The adults like this as much as the kids!
  4. As Ephesians and Colossians illustrate, I also work hard to speak to all cross-sections of the congregation in the message. I speak to adults, teens and children in various ways (directly, through illustrations, and in applications). I speak to fathers/mothers, wealthy/poor, employers/employees, various occupations, various stages of life, etc.
  5. I remind children that they can pray in times of open corporate prayer. They also can participate in the Lord's Table if they have professed faith in Christ, parents' consent, and their conscience is clean before God.
  6. Our second "service" during the school year features a 90-min. FrontLine children's program devoted Bible instruction for all children 6th grade and younger.
  7. Our second "service" during the late-Spring and then summer months features a 90-min. children's program that provides systematic instruction at a higher level on the biblical narrative.

In addition to these core features, we provide other miscellaneous opportunities for children to receive necessary biblical instruction, etc.

As you can see, I am not advocating for an all or nothing approach that places all children of any age in every corporate gathering of our church. But we do work hard to include as many children as possible in the Lord's Day AM worship service (the main church gathering) each week. And in doing so, I work hard to speak to them and involve them in that service.

Yes, every church will handle this differently for various legitimate reasons. But I do think that the verses I've mentioned are relevant, though not dogmatically prescriptive.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | StudyGodsWord.com
Blog & Podcast | ShepherdThoughts.com

TOvermiller's picture

For the purpose of focusing this conversation, let me mention that I do not advocate for family integrated worship, if you mean that every child (infant and beyond) should participate in every church gathering, and that no age segregated ministry should occur. The only purpose for my post was to explain why in our church we include our children (1st grade and older) in the AM Lord's Day worship service. You can read my response to Jason to see how we minister to our children in various other ways that a family-integrated church would not do.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | StudyGodsWord.com
Blog & Podcast | ShepherdThoughts.com

Bert Perry's picture

Although I greatly and dearly love worshipping as a family, one of the things I noted with the old "Vision Forum" view (which I think was aligned to FIW nationally) was that they argued that there are no Biblical examples of age or sex segregated ministries--OK, argument from silence, to be sure, but then I remembered that our Lord's Disciples were all young or middle aged men, and then there were companies of the prophets with about that description, too.

Well, I guess there goes that silence, doesn't it?   

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TOvermiller's picture

Jason writes:

each congregation is at liberty to decide how they want to do it

I agree. My post (which I did not write for Sharper Iron, but for my church) simply explains why we include children 1st grade and older in our AM Lord's Day worship service. You may not find the verses I mentioned helpful (and there is certainly room for discussion on the 1 John reference, though the fact that John addresses young men and fathers along with little children seems to indicate to me that in that specific spot, he is referring to cross sections of the church, not Christians in general - as he does elsewhere).

My purpose is to demonstrate that my study of Scripture, as a primary reference, has informed our church practice on this point, even though these verses do not issue commands. And definitely yes; "each congregation is at liberty to decide how they want to do it."

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | StudyGodsWord.com
Blog & Podcast | ShepherdThoughts.com

TOvermiller's picture

Though the verses I've mentioned (and yes, 1 John is more debatable, while the observations about Eph. and Col. are more apparent) do not issue a prescriptive command, they do provide valuable insight to consider when we consult Scripture as our guide to church administration. Before developing a children's ministry approach, it is very prudent to give attention to these verses. Furthermore, let me be clear that I am not advocating for family integrated worship. I view the family integrated worship movement as a pendulum swing extreme that has swung too far the other way in reaction to churches that segregate everything in the church. If this discussion string turns into a discussion about the family integrated worship movement, then count me in as one who does not support the movement.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | StudyGodsWord.com
Blog & Podcast | ShepherdThoughts.com

Ron Bean's picture

When my son was 3 or 4, we were touring the historical churches of Boston. As we walked through the church building my son seemed to be looking for something. When I asked him what he was looking for he asked, "Where's the nursery?"

Does anyone know what we did with children before the advent of nurseries and children's church?

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

Editor

Bro. Overmiller wrote:

I view the family integrated worship movement as a pendulum swing extreme that has swung too far the other way in reaction to churches that segregate everything in the church

This has been my opinion, too.

Looking back on it now, I am not happy with the idea of "Junior Church." I had been making tentative steps towards integrating children into the main worship service. I issued a call for baptized older children who were church members (i.e. teens) who wanted to volunteer to do the public Scripture reading, for example. I was also considering asking teens to begin sharing ushering duties.

If I had stayed at my church longer, I probably would have eventually transitioned away from "Junior Church" and just had everybody (minus nursery) in the main service together. At the church where we attend now, this is precisely what they do. The children have a Q&A handout to follow along in the sermon and keep engaged.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

JNoël's picture

Brother Overmiller,

Please forgive my remarks about publicity - bad form on my part.

And thank you for the follow-up, as well. Much appreciated.

 

Sincerely,

JN

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

TOvermiller's picture

JNoël wrote:

Please forgive my remarks about publicity - bad form on my part.

No worries at all, Jason. Your comments provided a helpful springboard for some beneficial clarification and some very useful conversation. The FIW movement has exasperated many of us and used the verses I've mentioned to prescribe that all churches should include all children in all gatherings, with no segregation whatsoever. If I have expressed ideas like this, please forgive me as well. I have no desire to associate with the FIW movement and its agenda.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | StudyGodsWord.com
Blog & Podcast | ShepherdThoughts.com

Bert Perry's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

When my son was 3 or 4, we were touring the historical churches of Boston. As we walked through the church building my son seemed to be looking for something. When I asked him what he was looking for he asked, "Where's the nursery?"

Does anyone know what we did with children before the advent of nurseries and children's church?

I don't know about all churches way back, but this suggests that men above age 16 sat on one side, women and children on the other, more or less about the same way they do in Orthodox Judiasm, I believe, at Plimoth Plantation.  I have also heard of family pews and pew rentals--that appears to be more or less the system that Richard Llewellyn describes in (and John Ford shows) in How Green was My Valley.    It is worth noting as one goes through the old churches of Europe that few of them have a nursery/Sunday School wing, either.  I am guessing that that although I disagree with some of the claims of FIW, that historically children have been allowed and encouraged to be in church services.  

Strengths and weaknesses to that, of course, as we remember that one of the great triumphs of 19th century Christianity was to teach poor children to read through the Sunday School.  But our history nonetheless, it seems.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jim's picture

News: Target removes kids' shopping carts because kids have run wild in the stores with them

http://www.startribune.com/target-removes-kids-shopping-carts-after-lita...

The Minneapolis-based retailer pulled the plug on the test earlier this week, just a few weeks into it, after receiving an earful of complaints as customers vented on social media about bruised ankles and shins and the difficulty of managing their children who often got carried away with the carts. They described shopping cart collisions and meltdowns that resulted from parents not wanting to buy all of the items they put in the carts. 

My own take is that a 6 year old should be able to sit quietly for an hour. 5 & below in the nursery or children's church: 6 & up in with the adults

G. N. Barkman's picture

In some of the Family Integrated Churches I have observed, the distraction level from fussy children was enormous.  The level of the service was "dumbed down" to make it more helpful to young children.  In Great Britain, it is common for mothers of young children to stay home from church until their children are older, since there is no nursery (creche, as it is called), and the services are not suitable for young children.  Sunday School is often held in the afternoon, and only children attend, not adults.  I don't know if any of these situations is superior to American customs.

G. N. Barkman

pvawter's picture

At EBC we have all ages in our regular services, for practical rather than philosophical reasons, and the children generally do very well. It's amazing what kids can learn by listening to an "adult" sermon.

josh p's picture

 Good discussion here. Also a lot of generalizations here. I attend a family integrated church (for less than a year now and the first we have ever even visited). By my experience most of the distraction concerns are not really valid. We have a family with two Down Syndrome children that are probably louder than the "average" child. I don't even hear them anymore. I get the impression that is true in general about the whole church. The concerns that some have raised about parents not being able to worship because they are being distracted by their own children puzzle me. It is their own children. Teach them to be quiet and sit still and bear with them until they learn it. 

I don't personally buy in to all the exegetical arguments to support family integrated worship but the opposite view doesn't have any either. My concern is more along the lines of promoting the immaturity of young people. It's more clear to me with things like youth group where a young man, who in one year could be the spiritual leader of a home, can't sit in on adult Bible study. That to me is absurd. I don't believe that our services are "dumbed down" for the children. However, since the average American has a reading level of around fifth grade that may not be such a bad idea. 

Rob Fall's picture

Hamilton Square has a nursery, children's church, junior church, and a mothers' room (a glassed in room off the balcony).  We only have the nursery for the Sunday pm and Wednesday night services.  There is no firm rule on the matter.  So, you'll see children of various ages in the main Sunday morning service.  Junior High and aboves are in the main service, with two or three of them rotating through the ushers crew of five.

The Evangelical Christian-Baptist meetings I've attended have all ages in the services.  Mind you, EC-B services run +/- two hours.  If the congregation is large enough, men are on one side; women are on the other.  Families sit together towards the rear.  Junior boys and girls sit in the front rows on their respective sides.  For the most part, the children are fairly quiet.  Cryers are taken out as needed and the movement is ignored.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

TOvermiller's picture

josh p wrote:

I don't believe that our services are "dumbed down" for the children.

If children were present in the Ephesian and Colossian church assemblies (Eph. 6:1-3, Col. 3:20), then it doesn't appear that Paul "dumbed down" anything to accomodate them. But what he did do was speak to the children. A pastor should speak to whatever groups of people are present in congregation. If that includes children, then he should provide applications for children, etc.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | StudyGodsWord.com
Blog & Podcast | ShepherdThoughts.com

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