My husband and I love visiting other churches when we travel. We find it helps us connect with and understand other believers in this vast and varied body of Christ. Each congregation, as they seek to honor and obey God in their worship, teaches us a little bit more of our Creator, maybe giving a different perspective or a new challenge to old ways of thinking. As long as it doesn’t contradict scripture, we’re open and eager to share and learn.
This weekend we were in St. Louis, visiting family and excited to take my mother to see a Cardinals/Cubbies game. Sunday morning found us pouring over websites, trying to find an early service to attend. The week just isn’t complete without a chance to worship with other Christians.
We sat amid a large group of people in a glorious old building. Stained glass windows hid the clouds that lingered outdoors, while the dramatic dark wood beams against the stone architecture drew the mind skyward, past this place where we sat and we could imagine sitting at the feet of God’s throne. The hymns were familiar as we rose to sing together, even if the faces around us were not. Like one who has arrived at a family reunion with extended members I’d never met, I glanced around, curious, yet knowing I belonged.
It was a good-sized congregation, comprised mostly of silver-haired people, with a few younger and even fewer children.
Coming from a church home that is blessed with an abundance of young folk, I missed the random small cries of infants interrupting the service, and the high pitched voices of the very young singing without shame along with each of the songs. All was so proper and quiet.
After the call to worship and songs were sung, they announced that children’s church was now open, and a handful of young people rose and left the sanctuary. My heart sank as I watched.
I have long been convicted that separating our children from us for worship also denies them feeling like they are part of us, the church. By trying to “entertain” them elsewhere, by not wanting to bother with the work of having children at our side—and it is work for quite a few years—might we be feeding their itch to be elsewhere when they grow older? Are we telling them they don’t belong now, but will later? What if, later, they choose not to be there because they still don’t feel like they belong? Or they dislike not being catered to. What if by remaining and being included in the full worship service, we can teach them they are not irrelevant? They are important but not the center. They are a part of something greater than themselves.
I don’t find any place in the Bible where the children were removed from their adult counterparts for any worship, events, or ceremonies. Instead, I see whole families gathered together. “Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.” Deuteronomy 4:10.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them. For to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14.
An excellent sermon was preached while we sat there, meaningful and relevant to a Christian walk. Only us old folks heard it.
My children are grown and are now raising children of their own. There are Sundays when my kids hear nothing of the sermon. Their hands are full simply trying to maintain control over their wiggly little persons. But a congregation full of many wiggly persons, soon learns to overlook the minor interruptions, and parents and congregation alike rejoice when those tiny voices rise with the rest of us to praise God—even if their timing is not quite right or they suspend a note just a little too long.
I am not a theologian, and wouldn’t burn at the stake for this belief (or maybe I would?) and It’s not my place to criticize people who believe differently. Still, next time your young ones are asked to leave the service, think about it carefully. Ask yourself, is this really what God would have me do for these, the youngest of His family? Keeping them with you is a lot more work initially. But in my experience, the payoff is great.
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Together.
By the way, I am not a baseball fan (gasp!), but I went to the game because my almost 90-year-old mother is. We sat through two hours of drizzling, miserable rain before the game finally started. I wanted to quit and go home, but kept my mouth shut because Mom wanted to stay right where she was. Eight innings in. Not a single run, and barely any hits. I was bored to death, but kept my mouth shut. If Mom was happy, I was happy. My mom was thrilled at how closely matched the two teams were.
Then the moment happened that made all the rain and boredom worth the wait. They brought in Albert Pujols. The crowd stood, cheering when they saw Pujols was batter up.
The batter before him made it to base.
The Cubs clustered together, probably trying to decide whether or not to walk him.
The crowd boo-ed.
The Cubs took their places. Pujol’s took his. The energy from the stadium filled the air.
The stadium grew silent, but no less excited.
The next powerful swing did what Pujols is known for. His bat connected with the ball and the trajectory shot that tiny sphere straight over and past second base and it kept going into the outstretched hands of a fan in the farthest bleachers.
Pujols stood for a moment, watching. Then a smile spread across his face and he strode from base to base.
A double home run.
The crowd went wild. Even non-baseball me was swept up in the moment, knowing I’d been witness to something amazing and extraordinary. That rare power won the game.
Pujols didn’t develop that kind of strength by sitting on the sidelines watching. It came from years and years of practice. His skill began when he was a very young child, when he was immersed in playing ball with a father who also played the game.
Funny how things happen that way.
Paul compares the Christian life to running a race. Let’s take our children with us as we run the race set before us.
And don’t forget to smile along the way.