A friend of mine has recently been thrust into a position in children’s ministry; not a position that she expected to end up serving in but where God is using her at this time. In a recent conversation with her, she shared that the number of kids who attend their church has increased. I was so happy to hear that but then she shared that she is getting increased pressure from many directions to pull kids out of the service and provide an alternate place for them to go during worship time because the kids are “distracting” the adults. Her question, and mine, is simply this, “Is that the best we can do for our kids?”
Before you assume I am “against” children’s ministry, please know, I am not. I am a huge proponent of age-appropriate ministry, with the purpose of meeting kids’ faith needs where they are, partnering with parents as the primary spiritual caregivers and providing intergenerational opportunities for worship and relationships. However, what I am “against” and I will never be for is removing kids from a place of worship simply because they are distracting and unwanted in that space.
Why is our first line of “defense” to dismiss the children from our presence?
What would happen if instead of immediately displacing the kids, we have more conversations like this one:
Hmm, God has blessed our church with a lot of kids. That’s awesome! But obviously the way we are approaching worship right now isn’t meeting their needs. What can we do to adjust our worship to include them? How can we invite them into our service? What avenues could we explore to make our songs, our prayers, our sermons, and our fellowship times more inclusive of them?
Instead, most often I hear, “These kids are just so distracting and loud. Can we find some space to put them for an hour or so? They’re just bored in here anyway.”
It’s just that I can’t see this response lining up with what Jesus tells us to do or models for us in Scripture. This response has the potential to send lasting messages to children about where their proper place is in church (which is…not in church). It can tell parents that their own faith is more important than their kids and undermine the need for them to disciple and mentor their kids at home. It can disintegrate the very community to which we as believers are called to partake in and be a part of.
I realize that not all churches do this.
Please understand that I realize that many churches are intentional and responsive in their ministry to kids.
But I also know that sometimes children are removed from worship simply because they are young and distracting and because that’s what we do.
These little ones, these young people – they are saints, members of Christ’s body, and often ones that the church has committed to walking with at dedication or baptism when they were infants.
So why is our first reaction to their immaturity to remove them from the congregation and relegate them to a far away place?
If Children’s “Ministry” looks like babysitting, if “Kid’s Church” is more like childcare, and “Sunday School” like regular school, then even if we are in a church building, we have effectively removed the kids from church. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things but if all of the above are just a coping mechanism to “deal with” kids, they can hardly be classified as ministry. That is exactly what Jesus told us not to do.
Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the children come, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 9:13,14)
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:2-6)
This message isn’t intended to be a condemnation but rather a contemplation.
Are we responding as Christ would have us or as society has taught us?
Are we exploring all of the best ways to grow and disciple young believers or are we more concerned with feeding and placating the more mature?
If we can’t honestly say that our approach to children in church is one that primarily seeks to help them grow closer to Jesus and His body, then we may need to rethink our practice in the light of our calling to welcome children and thereby to welcome Christ. Our automatic response to remove them from the midst of the corporate worship may not always be the best response. Are we willing to consider other options?
For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more home-focused, intergenerational ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.
About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com, Seedbed, and D6 Family.