I know there are all sorts of opinions about what age this ought to start happening, and I don't want to be dogmatic or legalistic about it. At my church, we've come up with what I think is a reasonable plan. We have two worship services, at 9:00 and 10:45 a.m. We offer Sunday School for all ages during the early service, but during the late service we provide a children's program only for kids in Grade 2 and younger. It's our feeling that kids in Grade 3 and up (if not before) ought to go to Sunday School at 9:00 and attend the full worship service at 10:45.
Some of the people who oppose this approach have said:
- "Kids that young can't understand the sermon."
- "I'm always with my children. I need a break!"
- "Forcing children to stay in church is going to turn them away from God."
- "I don't get anything out of the sermon when I'm trying to keep my kids quiet."
- "Children are distracting to other adults."
- "The people you're trying to reach don't want to bring their kids to worship."
- "My kids are bored out of their minds in the worship service.
And I don't blame them for having these misunderstandings.
Over the years, we church leaders have taught people that corporate worship is an experience to be enjoyed rather than an offering to be given to God. We've trained people to think worship should be entertaining, or moving, or challenging, or instructive, or some other subjective quality. We evaluate worship services by how well (or how poorly) they benefit us, rather than seeing them as an opportunity to delight God.
How many times have you asked a fellow church member, "How was the worship service today?"? Wasn't the answer something like this: "I didn't really like the music so much," or "The sermon was great!" or "I was brought to tears," or "I couldn't follow the preacher," or something like that? We've raised generations of worship consumers rather than worship givers. We've forgotten that worship is work (it's called a worship service for a reason).
Also, I fear we're rapidly dismantling the Biblical model of a diverse covenant family united in worshiping God. You can now find separate services and programs for children, youth, singles, the elderly, those who like traditional music, those who like contemporary music, etc. When we splinter the church family like this we lose important parts of Christ's body. We've adopted pragmatic solutions to valid questions like how to reach the unchurched, how to appeal to different learning styles, and how to keep young people engaged - instead of believing that God's Word and God's Spirit are more than capable of meeting the diverse needs of the church.
So here's my plea: Let's believe that children both CAN and SHOULD be participative members of the worshiping family. We expect young children to practice piano, to compete in sports, to listen as we read books above their reading level, to sit through a 90-minute movie, and to do all sorts of boring things like brush their teeth, listen to Grandma tell the same story all over again, clean their bedroom, and wake up early to be on time for school. What is so different about the discipline of worship?