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Crying in ChurchI am strongly opposed to providing our kids with alternate worship experiences all the way through high school. They ought to be worshiping with adults, with their families, in “big” church, not having a special service tailored to their teen demographic.

I am a believer in parents bringing their children, even young children, with them into worship. Our kids can pick up more than we know. And even if the content is beyond them, they will learn some songs, pick up some liturgy, and see their parents worshiping Christ.

I’m a proponent of families worshiping together.

I’m not a proponent, however, of taking a good principle and making it an absolute rule. Moreover, I’m not in favor of making other Christians feel like the truly biblical (or Truly Reformed) position is to have your kids of all ages with you in church at all times.

This is where history helps put things in perspective.

In sixteenth century post-Reformation Scotland, church attendance was mandatory. Kirk sessions took their responsibility seriously to see that the Sabbath was observed and the people attended the preaching of God’s word. And yet, they were not absolutists.

One significant portion of the congregation was systematically excluded everywhere from Sunday sermons. While sermons were central, the elders knew that they had to be audible to be effective, and so they barred babies and very young children from attendance lest they disturb the adult hearers—a factor that must be borne in mind when trying to gauge actual church attendance in early modern Scotland.

The Glasgow sessions designated eight as the cut-off age; Aberdeen prohibited “young bairns [children]…not at the school and not of such age and disposition as they can take themselves to a seat when they come to the kirk, but vague [wander] through the same here and there in time of sermon and make perturbance and disorder.” These children were to be ‘kept at home, for eschewing of clamour and disorder in the kirk.’

Kingsbarns’s session ordered them not only to be kept away from the kirk, but also to be shut up indoors lest parishioners be troubled by the “running up and down of little ones and young children on the Lord’s day in the time of sermon.”

Perth’s session in 1582 actually ordered warding (gaoling) and a 6s 8d fine for ‘bairns that perturb the kirk in time of preaching’ instead of being kept at home. Such rulings would obviously have reduced church attendance quite considerably, since the adult caretakers would have had to stay at home with their young charges. Sessions routinely excused absenteeism by parents, nurses, and other servants for this reason. (Margo Todd, The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland)

Do I think children under eight should be barred from attending worship? No. A sixteenth century Scottish provision does not need to be our rule (and there is evidence that some Scottish parents disregarded the rules and were fined for bringing their naughty children to church!). But it does suggest we should not make it seem like bringing every child into the service is the only responsible choice for theologically serious people. Just as important, it suggests parents of small children should cut themselves some slack–and we should do the same–if church is interrupted for them or even made impossible at times because of the demands of little ones.

And while we’re at it, we should thank the Lord for nursery workers.


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28 thoughts on “History Helps Put Things in Perspective”

  1. Joshua Nuckols says:

    I was put in the nursery once my entire childhood, I drove the nursery worker insane (my brother and I, 3 and 5,) couldn’t think of anything other than escaping…) Our parents stuck with big church for us :)

  2. Arline Erven says:

    Thank you for this.

  3. Wayne Comer says:

    I’m a grandfather and every chance I get to bring my granddaughter (4) to church, I am thankful f the opportunity for her to worship with me and my wife. She is a delight to observe as she freely worships God. To me, she sets the example of the way we should all worship. She’s not worried about what others think of her style of worship. She’s there expressing pure joy in her heart. Every now and then I will look down at her and tears of joy flow down my cheeks. Thank You, Lord!

  4. Daniel Bell says:

    I greatly appreciate your last line, nursery workers are a blessing! I too agree that teens should not have separate services on Sundays and be engaged, but I also believe in age appropriate teaching. At our church we have a thriving Kid’s ministry on Sunday mornings up to Grade 5, where they spend the whole service in the program. This allows for the kids to get a message and activities that have application to their own lives, and to learn Biblical truths and foundations. Our situation for Jr. Highs is unique. The Jr. Highs join the adults for all of the service apart from the sermon. They get to worship, and share in offering with the adults, but for the message we take them to the youth room and preach the same message the parents are hearing, but at an age appropriate level. By age appropriate I do not mean we take out truths, but rather that the illustrations are more relatable to their world. It also gives the opportunity for the Jr. Highs to engage with the message and ask questions, which I love. That is just our way, and it works great for us.

  5. LClark says:

    Thanks for this! My husband and I had three boys under 3. Without the ministry of the church nursery we probably wouldn’t have a clue what’s going on during the church service. :-) It still is very important to us that they be with us in the service from early on. We’ve used Nehemiah’s guideline; he read the law to those “who were able to understand”. Our 3yo sits with us now and we’re amazed at all he picks up from the songs/sermon. I’m working with our 2yo at home to sit quietly through Bible story books to help get him ready for coming into “big church” soon. It’s important to remember that each family/child is different. Let’s be willing to show grace to the smallest ones too!

  6. JNuckolls says:

    Legalism=bad

    Pragmatism=bad

    Formalism=bad

    Formalism –> pragmatism or legalism = bad

    Perhaps we could consider removing the formalism from our “services” then we wouldn’t need the pragmatism of age segregation?

  7. NJ says:

    Mr. DeYoung, I normally don’t read your blog here; I only found it courtesy of the Aquila Report. I want to say thankyou for your post. I am the mother of 5 kids, including one son with autism. One of the reasons we had to leave our previous PCA church, which was also a defacto family integrated one, was this very issue. The pressure to keep all one’s children in the entire church service was significant, and there was no formal nursery yet in the new building they had purchased. Even in our new church we’ve still had problems with our dear son’s behavior becoming a distraction to others, especially his very active 4 year old brother. My husband and I have struggled with whether the time has or will come when we must simply keep him at home. Our current church is a small one with a few women who rotate in the nursery, and that’s it. Churches like Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia are sadly the exception when it comes to an array of ministries to people like our son, that give the parents a break. I suspect that in the late 16th century, such people were simply not brought to church at all. Again, thankyou for this post.

  8. Jim says:

    NJ,

    The autistic and those with intellectual disabilities truly are an unreached people group for the church. I feel for you and pray you can find a group of believers that can minister to your son. Grace and peace to you.

    Jim

  9. Susan says:

    It’s good to hear some perspective on this! I think the age when a child can reliably sit still varies more than some folks want to admit. I also greatly appreciate the congregations who aren’t bothered by wiggles and whispers. (Our current pastor had the entire volunteer fire department in his first church, so he isn’t disturbed by anything, and we’ve seen him cuddle a wandering toddler without missing a word.)

  10. Kate says:

    At my church, we have kids ministry (2-8) and will only be starting a nursery in a few weeks (we now have more people able to serve). I have the privilege of serving in kids under someone who takes kids and their faith seriously, but also tries to equip parents to help their kids be out in big service. Pick up from kids min starts right when the sermon ends so that families can come to the communion table together and worship with the body in song. There are aome Sundays that are family style, which means all the kids are out with us. Is it noisier? You bet! But they’re our family. We’re in this together.

  11. Scott I. says:

    Wow! I must confess that I did not know that about the church in Scotland in the 16th century. I thank God that times have changed. I’m also very thankful for nursery workers. They are troopers. But I must respectfully disagree with you about kids being in Big Church. At my church we have a special children’s church for ages 3yrs to 5th grade. They have songs offering prayer just like the adult service. However, they are taught age appropriate lessons from the Bible. Young adults from 6th grade and up are a part of the adult service. I found early on in my ministry that younger kids were more of a distraction than anything else. I have heard nothing but positive feedback from not only the congregation but also the parents. While a few families choose to keep their kids with them in big church most allow them to go to Children’s church. It’s a family decision and not the church’s decision.

  12. Josh Soto says:

    I think this is a great point especially as we seek to welcome those who are yet to believe in our services!

  13. Nick says:

    Thanks for your article. In our church, our goal is to have a balance between the priority of preaching and the responsibilities of parents raising their children to know and love Christ and His church.

    Children’s ministries have two goals. First, reach the next generation for Christ. Those serving should be regularly encouraged and equipped by the leadership to do so. The leadership should also select age appropriate, Christ-centered curriculum for them to use.

    The other purpose for children’s ministry is to give parents the much needed opportunity to worship with the saints and listen to the sermon without distraction. We want moms and dads to, as much as possible, enjoy a spiritual feast on Sundays so they are spiritually strong for the other 6 days of the week. Young moms especially need that time to be encouraged in Christ as so much of their waking moments are consumed with the needs of children and the home.

    If families have trained their younger children to sit quietly in the service, listen and learn that is great. If they cannot, then they need to either avail themselves of the cry room where the sermon can be heard via speaker or take junior to the nursery/classroom.

    We recognize the importance of the children hearing the Word preached also and only provide classes during the main worship service up to age 6. Parents know this and are encouraged to work on training there kids to sit quietly for an hour.

    Overall, this balance of priorities has worked well for our families.

  14. Rob Rash says:

    Although I’m not opposed to children in worship with their families, as a worship pastor, with 5 kids from 2-7 years old, having them in the service just isn’t possible. My wife is badicay a single mother on Sunday’s and having our kids in worship, completely robs my wife of the ability to worship. I think this is a bigger issue as well. It’s not about what we do or don’t do, but about the leadership of the church and how we are teaching and serving our congregations. Great post.

  15. Helen says:

    I think our church has a good balance, the children/young people are in for the first half of the service which is the worship bit and then they go out for age appropriate teaching while the adults listen to the sermon. Lets face it, the adult sermons will go over the childrens head and they won’t get much out of it, if anything.
    So they listen and get involved with a story in Sunday School and then fill in their age graded worksheets and do colouring etc and they have a blast. The children’s teaching material follows a plan to cover all the major stories in the old and new testament. I think you have got to be practical with these things and this works for us.
    blessings

  16. ST says:

    I appreciate this article, especially the statement, “I’m not a proponent, however, of taking a good principle and making it an absolute rule.” As someone who has been part of a family integrated church for 12 years and very involved with the family integrated movement as a whole, this is one my greatest concerns. Many good principles (having lots of children, homeschooling, courtship, small children in church, etc.) are elevated to absolute rule, and when for one reason or another a family is not able to keep them, they are made to feel excluded. These good principles become the standard for fellowship instead of faith in Christ. Many in this movement limit their fellowship to “like-minded families” and will not fellowship with others who are not exactly like them. As someone who keeps my children in the worship service, this article was a breath of fresh air, as it is very easy in such an environment to slip into a works-based mentality to maintain fellowship. The phrase “sufficiency of Scripture” has been used in a way that elevates good principles to biblical law, therefore creating a lot of confusion, for who can argue with the term “sufficiency of Scripture”? This article, however, helps clear the air.

  17. ryan says:

    Biblical justification for nurseries: “we will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed.” 1 Cor 15:51

  18. David says:

    I agree with you about opposing alternate worship experiences for older children – once they reach a certain age (8 sounds about right) they need to be in the main worship service. However, I am strongly opposed to keeping younger children (particularly those who can’t yet read) for the entire service. They don’t have the cognitive development to engage with the entire service, particularly the sermon. What inevitably happens is that they are given something to color which keeps them quiet. But, it also teaches them to ignore the service. They then continue that behavior into high school far past the age when they can engage with the service.

    A far better approach is for young children (say ages 3-7) to be with their families for part of the service, but during the sermon have separate programming that teaches them the liturgy and how to “do church.” That way once they are cognitively ready to engage in worship with the rest of the congregation they have the tools to do so.

  19. Karen Andrews says:

    As someone who was in church from a very early age because my dad was the preacher, I agree with having the kids in church early. But over the past 15 or so years I have worked in the nursery (birth – 5 year olds) and started a toddler Sunday School class about 6 years ago. Toddlers are in the class from age 1 up until 2 years old. All Sunday School classes in the preschool area beginning with the toddlers begin laying a foundation of learning. At the end of their year in Toddler class, they have the knowledge of what they should do during church time when they get to the 2 year old class and the 2 year old class lays the foundation for the 3 year old class, etc. all the way through Kid’s Worship time (up to 3rd grade) during Church services. Little ones don’t know when to listen unless they are shown how to a little at a time. By the way, the little guys and gals that are toddler age (in or outside a church) learn MUCH more than people think they can! Why not let them learn what to do while at church, to worship God and learn about Jesus!

  20. Basil Foster says:

    At Grace Life Church of Dallas, we encourage intergenerational relationship and the inclusion of all children in our services. We expect that the heads of households will be practicing family worship in their homes and so introducing their children to what they will encounter “at church”. We provide separate areas where children who are not yet able to remain still and/or attentive may be taken while the caregivers can still hear the service.
    This is not something we planned. It is the result of having more children than could be accommodated in more traditional nursery/children’s ministry setups.
    While it disappoints both those who prefer that traditional way as well as the “family integrated” folks, we have found it to be a great blessing.
    Older children assist with the care of younger family members and even younger children of other families.
    None of this is enforced, it is simply how we have found it best for our congregation to “do church”.

  21. Phil Carroll says:

    JNuckolls–I believe a portion of your premise is a sweeping generalization (“Formalism=bad”) making your conclusion faulty. Culturally that may be accepted as truth by some but scripturally and historically I see no evidence to support that position. I’m not a fan of higher liturgical “services” but also realize that some structure and order (some “form”) is necessary and proper (1Co 14:3).

  22. Phil Carroll says:

    1Co 14:33

  23. Karen says:

    I have 4 kids, age 9 and under. I have thought about this issue A LOT. I went from being a person that dropped my kids off as soon as we got to church to keeping them all throughout the service. I’m convinced it’s good for them to be in church. But what concerns me are the new people, visitors and unbelievers and new Christians, who aren’t used to being in church with their kids. How do we convince them as soon as they walk in the door that this is really going to be the best thing for them? Shouldn’t we have a nursery for those who don’t feel like they can handle squirmy, loud kids for the whole service? I’ve thought about going to a family-integrated church. But then, I wonder about this question and how well such a church can reach out to those who aren’t already serious Christians.

  24. Julie says:

    I actually appreciate this. We keep our kids in church with us as much as possible. Usually they sleep as newborns and then as toddlers we might have to take them out for a bit. I don’t often sit through a sermon, but it’s ok, because I don’t go to church to be “fed”. I have a daily time of worship at home and listen to the sermon from the week before as well as teachings from other pastors throughout the week. I believe teaching my kids to worship (and to have self control, which is always a good thing) for the 30-45m of preaching once a week is a form of worship and obedience to God. My husband and I searched the scriptures and sought God on this before we started doing it at a church where it was unheard of. We’ve since moved to a more family worship styled church and love it. Our children are now ages 17, 14, 13, 11, 8, 4, and 1 and all but the 1 year old can make it through the whole sermon with minimal distraction. Yes, our 8 and 4yo color, but that does not mean they are ignoring the sermon. As I’ve learned in our home school experience sometimes having something to do can help you focus on what you are hearing better. We have a nursery area where the moms take the littles who are having trouble. It’s mostly babies and young toddlers. The sermon is piped through. I love being together as much as possible, but as I’ve told many of our critics I don’t think it’s necessary, it’s just something we’ve decided on for our family. I will have lots of time when the kids are grown and gone to sit through a full Sunday sermon. Sometimes my 1 year old will fall asleep and I truly appreciate being able to sit and listen, but I don’t resent a minute of training my children up in the way they should go. Sunday discussions in our house are fun and never cease to amaze me with what the children have picked up all the way down to my 4yo. Don’t underestimate what little children are capable of hearing and don’t underestimate the Word of God which will not return void. Family worship time during the week is a wonderful time to bring in Bible stories for the younger children to help them understand more of the Bible. I also use time during our home school for Bible teaching at different age levels. I too believe making it accessible to little ones is a wonderful thing, but I don’t think it’s wrong to make Sunday morning worship something the whole family participates in together. Every family must decide for themselves!

  25. Timothy Keene says:

    To offer an alternative, I worshipped at a church with a completely different pattern. It no longer does this; this is what they did until the 1980s. It is an Anglican Church. Therefore it has a written liturgy. The age groups 7-11 were in Children’s Church and 12-13 in Young People’s Church. These met at the same time as the adult morning service. As the service was liturgical, the children and young people could run the service themselves. What this meant is that the ‘owned’ the service. They seemed to find the experience very helpful. This seemed to work extremely well although as I never went to church until I went to university and never experienced this approach myself. I cannot quite see what is wrong with this. The younger people really worshipped as it was their service to God and not the adult’s service to which they could feel guests, mere add-ons. Teaching was obviously done by adults.
    This pattern depends upon having a liturgy which now that I am a Baptist is missing from my current church experience.
    At age 14-16 and16+ the youth met in the evening after the adult evening service which had attended. So the youth attended throughout the adult service and did not withdraw to their own thing midway through the service. This treats them as adultds which they seemed to appreciate.

  26. The situation in the 16th century church would have been that of a large proportion of the population coming to church, whereas today we don’t have that situation in Scotland. Some families can bring all their children to church and take them out to another room as soon as they start to become noisy. In some cases if this is done from birth children can cope from a very young age with being in a 1¼ hour service with the only concession to modernity being a short children’s teaching address.

  27. Troy McComas says:

    Kevin,

    Thank you for such an informative post. I am guessing that the arbitrary age requirements set fourth by Scottish churches during the 16th century were probably tied to the idea of an age of accountability?

    I tend to lean more towards the family-equipping model, and do believe that children such as infants, through toddlerhood, can become a distraction and even a deterrent in worship.

    As a parent, I find it difficult to focus and participate in worship if I have to tend to my little one. Sure, they are my responsibility, but the aim of attending worship services is to worship God, with the people of God. If I can’t listen intently to, and in reverence of, the rightful preaching of God’s Word, there’s a problem.

    I am thankful for a balance that recognizes the point in which the family-integrated model can become unhealthy.

    Thanks again for your service to His church!

    in Christ,

    – Troy

  28. Brian says:

    Jesus Christ had no sound system and spoke to 5,000 which included children; yet, today we can’t muster the idea of having children in a church of only 500 with a state of the art sound system. Aside from children with learning disabilities, if you discipline your children and practice sitting still and quietly they will learn it (Proverbs 22:6)–it will be of great value to you to have faith in that scripture. If you decide to have your children in nursery it would be kind of you if you would watch them–if you can’t keep them disciplined why make someone else suffer. If churches aren’t teaching parents how to raise their children then they are neglecting part of their job. If you think that the sole purpose of the sermon is that the pastor be heard and you be able to hear him then 1) Maybe your pastor is arrogant and 2) maybe you are selfish. If you allow your children to cry out during the sermon and do not remove them so others cannot hear you are a stumbling block. If you’re wondering why so many emergent churches are popping up that look like youth groups maybe the answer lies behind the fact that the emergent leaders are only doing what they were taught.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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