The Mystery of Children’s Church

childrens_church2I can understand why evangelicals and others, who do not have a covenantal theology, would exile their children during public worship but I do not understand why so many ostensibly Reformed congregations have adopted the practice of dismissing their covenant children from the service to “children’s church” (or whatever more clever name it may have). From what I see, this appears to be a common practice. Sometimes the bulletin explains that the children are sent out of public worship in order to “prepare them to worship.” Really? This seems like sending one’s child from the dinner table in order to prepare them to eat.

I understand the practical problem. At least some of the same congregations that have this practice also do not set aside time outside of the worship service for Christian instruction or catechism. So, it seems, they’re holding catechism during the worship service. I guess that the reason that there’s no additional time for catechism is that the parents won’t make time and the church won’t make them make time. So, congregations are making due.

It’s hard to know where to start with this complex of problems. Obviously there is a misunderstanding of the nature of the Sabbath. There’s a misunderstanding of the nature of worship. There’s a misunderstanding of the nature of baptismal vows and church membership. There’s a misunderstanding of Christian nurture and there’s a misunderstanding of the nature of Christian parenting. Other than these things, as they say, “it’s all good.”

In such a case, the act of sending children out of the stated service for instruction sends a more powerful message than the instruction is likely to send. It sends the message to the children that they are not really members of the covenant community. It sends the message that the gathering for public worship may be marginalized if something else is deemed more important. It sends the message that it’s acceptable to arrange one’s priorities during the week so as to require this ad hoc solution, that church is something we do but not something we are.

Underneath all of this there is another series of misunderstandings: Of what we are, who Jesus is, what he did, and what the implications are for those who would follow him.

We may look like happy, upwardly mobile suburbanites but we’re not. We’re wretched, horrible people by nature. That manicured lawn covers over a multitude of hell-deserving sins. We’re gossips, murderers, adulterers, and God-haters. If the children’s church-sending parents understood that, if they really believed that about themselves and their children, they would find time during the week to see that their children are instructed. They would be catechizing their children, praying with and for them. Then it wouldn’t be a matter of squeezing a little instructional time into the Sabbath. They would be pleading with the minister to teach their children.

If we saw ourselves for what, but for the grace of God, we really are, then we would understand the grace of God. If we understood the grace of God, we would more and more embrace the consequences of following Jesus. Death to self entails death to the successful suburban lifestyle where that lifestyle marginalizes Christ and his church. Jesus didn’t come to facilitate a happy, upwardly mobile lifestyle, and discipleship calls us to die to the mall and live to Christ.

Yes, having children in church means that it will be slightly less entertaining and possibly less emotionally moving. It’s a little harder to be enraptured by the latest chorus when your child is fidgeting next to you or someone else’s is wailing in your left ear. That’s okay. You might not have the same emotional “high” this week as you did when there was children’s church. That’s okay. Worship isn’t about your experience of religious ecstasy. It’s about hearing God and responding appropriately, according to His Word.

God doesn’t mind that your emotional experience is less intense. He takes the long view. Your children will grow up not segregated from public worship and the means of grace. They’ll grow up a part of the community of the redeemed and watching baptisms (so they can see what happened to them). They’ll see the supper administered and they’ll ask, “When can I have it?” They’ll hear the Law and the Gospel (Dv) and they’ll grow up knowing that this is their identity, that it’s really true, that God said, “I will be your God and your children’s God.”

Church leaders don’t want to challenge parents and parents don’t want to be challenged. The cycle has to end somewhere. It should start with pastors and elders. That’s why they call it leadership. A leader goes first. A leader takes the risk. Elders and pastors need to get over their desire to be popular, to be liked, to be “successful.” Perhaps the reason that parents don’t see any contradiction between their definition of “success” and the Christian life is because their pastors and elders haven’t shown it to them?

Children’s church is a problem but it’s not the problem. It’s a symptom of much larger problems. It’s not too late, because it’s never too late to repent. Grace is free for everyone, pastors and parents alike. God bless those noisy congregations with fidgeting and fussy children. Let the noise of children inhabit all our congregations.

This post first appeared on the HB in 2008.

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  1. Thank you for this post on multiple levels. My wife and I are in the midst of this struggle with our 13-month-old. The looks she gets when he makes noise are enough to make one cringe. Yet we are firm in our conviction that he will be raised “in the church” with all that such a phrase entails.

  2. Unfortunately, the segmentation of age groups seems to be almost a given in churches. As if the marketing technique is the best way for the gospel to be spread.

  3. The post on children in the worship service is excellent. One further aspect is needed to make it complete. You wrote, “it sends the message to the children that they are not really members of the covenant community.” It also sends the message that they are not welcome at the Lord’s Table.

    • After they make profession of faith.

      Baptism is the sign of admission to the covenant community. The Supper is the sign of covenant renewal.

      See Cornel Venema’s book on paedocommunion.

      Sent from my iPhone

  4. a fine essay. one small point- until children are believers, they shouldn’t be welcome at the Lord’s table. Communion is for believers.

    that said, if parents are sensitive to those around them and to the fact that a screaming baby makes it impossible not only for the parents to get nothing out of the service, but everyone within earshot is robbed as well, then they can act accordingly.

    allowing a baby to cry just so one can say ‘we raised him in worship’ is more than a little self serving and perhaps even a little self glorifying.

    • i would question any parent who lets a baby continue to cry…be it in worship or elsewhere. i dont’ see sitting in worship with a screaming baby to be the point of the article. that is very different then the idea of raising your children in the church and in corporate worship. children (infants, toddlers, preschool age, etc) will make some noise during worship. i dont’ believe they should therefore be excluded.

  5. I’ve seen what you describe above and it deserves everything you say. Sadly, some evangelical churches don’t stop with just children’s church, they even have high school students meeting for a separate class during the worship service.

    But your comments also seem to include those (like me) in newer Reformed and Presbyterian churches who are practicing leadership and are intentionally assisting our parents and children with understanding and inhabiting corporate worship. My church has a “Getting Ready” class which meets for six weeks in a row. Our parents and teachers have taken our liturgy and broken it down into six teaching elements to help our children “get ready to worship,” by assisting them in memorizing the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, teaching them about all the elements of the service, and providing a large notebook that becomes a children’s sized bulletin to help them work their way through the worship service when they return after their six weeks of class. Parents have told me how helpful this is in their week-in/week-out training and I love to see my soon to be five year old son holding up his notebook to show me that he’s following along in the service.

    If we’re not sensitive to the fact that most people in Reformed and Presbyterian churches didn’t grow up in churches where children were expected to be present nor do they know how to assist their own children in participating in the service, we’ll erect unnecessary barriers to their joining and learning. It’s because we value our children’s participation in the service that we’re willing to create opportunities to help them and their parents understand and join in the corporate worship of God.

    • Eric,

      I agree that children and others have to be prepared for worship but why must they be prepared during worship? Why can’t they be prepared on thursday or saturday? As I argued above, sending children out of worship is like sending a child away from the dinner table. Catechism, new members instruction, whatever it is, is important but it’s no substitute for public worship. Yes, it needs to be explained carefully, patiently, winsomely but not at the expense of actually doing it.

      • Not to be overly pragmatic, but that’s when the kids and their parents are there. My concern is that we quick to construct our “perfect” vision and then get bitter when no one conforms to it. Why not meet them where they are and train them to where they need to be?

        • My concern is that sending kids out of church is not pragmatic enough. It says, “Look, worship isn’t that important. After all, the church says it’s okay to miss worship for instruction.” It says, “You don’t have to re-arrange your priorities, we’ll accommodate you, even if it contradicts what we confess about the nature of the covenant community, worship etc.”

          That message will be received. It would be more pragmatic not to send the message so that we don’t have to reap the harvest years down the road.

          If parents aren’t willing to meet the pastor on Sunday afternoon or Thursday evening or some other time, then do they really want to be Christians? It’s not a matter of setting up an unrealistic ideal at all. We’re not asking anyone to literally pick up their cross — just metaphorically. I think we have warrant for that.

        • Eric, having been in several different churches as I have moved during the last 20 years I have yet to see a church move beyond that mindset. Once the precedent is set that instruction is scheduled for a particular group during worship (Sunday School, children’s church, etc) it never seems to change even when a new pastor comes along. We have a generation of parents who were never in worship as children and for whom attendance at worship is not necessarily a priority.

          As Dr. Clark says, children’s church is a symptom, not the main cause. It is related to Sabbath keeping which we do quite poorly.

      • I think you hit the nail. Public Worship is the priority for believers and pastors and church boards get caught up in the “what must we do to get people to come in the door?” rather than educate the people who are already there about the importance of worship. I am distracted by my hyper-preschooler. (My husband said the pastor did a double-take last week because our youngest was looking at the pastor through her rolled up bulletin-telescope. I missed that and thought my husband was crazy for telling her to put it down because she was being QUIET for once. A lot of credit must be given to our pastor, I have never seen him be distracted by kids walking the isle, etc. A few weeks ago our pastor asked a rhetorical question during a sermon about Moses, “Who has ever seen God and lived?” and out 3 yo piped up and said in her loud voice (the only voice she has), “I have!” Pastor never even giggled until after worship concluded and we all had a good laugh.

        It is never the meek and mild children shooed away from worship but ones like our #4 described above that try the patience.

  6. Very nice. It’s a shame that we have so many forbidding the little children to come and sit at the feet of Jesus.

  7. Dr. Clark,

    I resonate with all your points and concerns coming from this kind of a background. That being said, what would you suggest to churches that have to deal with language issues barriers between the older and younger generation? Would you rather have covenant worship even if the children would not understand much of the preached message? Or would it be better to split it up if it meant that both groups could hear the gospel preached more clearly? Just wondering what your thoughts were on this, I’ve flipped back and forth on this issue.

    • Sam,

      Perhaps the minister could be asked (privately, humbly) to keep the vocabulary and knowledge of the children in mind as he prepares and preaches his sermons.

      As a pastor, I sometimes find it challenging — in a very good way! — to make sure that my messages are understandable to the kids in kindergarden. Generally, the illustrations I aim at them are the illustrations that the adults get most clearly, as well.

      Of course, sometimes pastors have to use “theological” language, because the Bible does. That’s a wonderful time to say: “Children, that’s a big word, isn’t it? But you know, it’s not a difficult word to understand. It simply means … ” Every time I do that, I see about a dozen little faces pop up at full attention. Wonderful!

    • I think that provides an excellent way for parents to get involved with the instruction of their children. At home, we can discuss the main points of the sermon in a way that is appropriate for the ages of our children.

    • I think Sam is referring to the problem that is found, for example, in Korean churches in America where the older generation speaks Korean and the younger generation speaks English.

      • children understand far more then we give them credit for. and their vocabularly and knowledge is not increased by hearing what they already know. i strongly support children of all ages participating in corporate worship with the entire church body. teaching and instruction may happen outside, above and beyond the sermon to explain teh concepts to them but i think it a great fallocey to exclude them on the basis of their inability to understand.

  8. I am so grateful my husband and I are members of a congregation that believes in the means of grace (right preaching of the Word, sacraments administered) and lets the little children come to Him as we worship corporately. I can’t tell you how many times my six, four, and even two year old will glance up at me knowingly during the service as they recognize something that was sung or preached. Plus, my children participate during the parts of the liturgy that are repeated each week. And yes they love to watch the baptisms and regularly ask for the Lord’s Supper. I think the problem of children’s church lies in a low view or ignorance of public worship.

    • yes…i very much agree Amy! i will never forget the sunday morning my then 15 month old daughter started saying “baa, baa, baa, baa” during the sermon. it took me a minute to realize the pastor was preaching on the sheep and the Great Shepherd!

  9. Scott,

    Excellent article, concise and clear. It is troublesome that so many churches, even some Reformed churches practice “children’s church.” In our congregation, we have designated the last three rows primarily for families with young children as to cut down on distraction, but when the children are better at sitting still, it is nice to see them in the front where it may be easier to pay attention.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    In Christ,

  10. Great post! A couple other points to consider: 1. Who else goes out with these children during “children’s church?” isn’t it an adult? So, aren’t they also missing the primary means of grace? 2. You could even substitute “children’s sermons” for this, as if sermons are geared towards any one particular group!

  11. Sam brings up a good question over the practical issues between the 1st and 2nd generations of immigrant churches where the children don’t speak the parents’ language sufficiently; they may as well go to a Latin mass. It makes me think that we need to rethink the whole project of planting immigrant churches, or at least ask harder questions about it.

    Another difficulty in many Chinese churches is that there are a whole slew of children who get dropped off at church by parents who view it as day-care. Indeed, these are parents who don’t really care to be Christians, but now we have to deal with the kids.

    I’d seek to implement covenant worship at any church I plant from ground up. Too often, however, we have to deal with realities where the damage is done. Assumptions of the church culture need to be carefully addressed. And usually, there are too few of us to be able to do much about it.

  12. Thanks for this post, Dr. Clark. It is encouraging to hear others hold this view of worship and children.

  13. As was noted above, I think one problem is that often sermons, especially of the RH variety go right over the head of half the adults in congregation, much less the four and five year olds.

    • Adam – it’s not the fault of Redemptive Historical preaching – properly done, RH preaching actually helps little Jimmy and Sally understand the organic connections between what they’re reading in their kids bibles and what the preacher is speaking about as he brings Christ to the flock.
      When preaching goes over the heads of half of the adults… well that’s just about as bad as when preaching hits everyone in the shins … it is quite plausibly either a problem with the preacher’s own grasp of his congregation or a problem with the church’s efforts to educate the laity in the general outlines of Christian thought.

  14. You hit a rather large nail on the head with this post – I’d like to see a follow-up post on the ways in which preaching can be rhetorically nimble enough to reach the children and communicate the gospel in appropriate language for all hearers.

    On a side note, was the Escondido URC in the practice of dismissing children from the service before the sermon for “Little Lambs” (ages 3-5) while you served as an elder there? It appears to be the case that this is precisely what is happening right now and it was troublesome to see it occur. Children ‘fleeing’ church before the sermon…

  15. Dr. Clark,

    Great post! This is a great reminder for me and my wife. We have agreed with this view for a long time, but have failed to impliment it. We are going to work towards this. My son is 4 and I should have been training him and will begin today. I have found some practical ideas in the Appendix of Noel Piper’s book “Treasuring God in our Traditions”. If any one is interested you can download the the whole book from Desiring God under resources, online books.

    This post has pierced me! Thank you.

  16. “Underneath all of this there is another series of misunderstandings: Of what we are, who Jesus is, what he did, and what the implications are for those who would follow him.”
    This statement tells me that you think I am not a believer because I let my children attend childrens church. What arrogance of you to judge my salvation without even know me. Unbelievable.

    • Dawn,

      I’m sorry that you drew that conclusion. Let me be clear. It is not a mortal sin to be confused. It happens to me all the time. We’re all sinners. We all get confused. To refuse to be clarified, now that’s another thing.

      If I’m reading your response correctly, you’re offended. I’m sorry about that. I hoped that this piece would make you think and reconsider.

      Please accept my assurance that I’m not calling you an unbeliever.

  17. @Doug Barnes,

    Dr. Baugh recently preached during our worship service and I was reminded of his uncanny ability to draw the kids in while still spanning the theological depths. Fantastic stuff.

    We recently encountered at young 20 year old gal who had never participated in “adult” worship, as she put it. She grew up going to children’s church, then teen’s, then college-age church, then young adult’s church; but never where “the big people” go. It was very sad to hear this.

    • Yes, Baugh is excellent at that — I still remember a sermon he preached at my church on Eph 6, way back in 2006 — in fact audio can be found here

      (And while I’m linking, here’s another excellent sermon by Baugh on Eph 1)

  18. When I moved away from home and went on to college, I was shocked that there was such a thing as children church. Furthermore, I was shocked by a lot of things when I went to college, but I’ve always felt that it is important to have our children in the service, and Dr. Clark, I agree. We are definitely sending them a message that they are not part of the covenant community by doing so. Thank you for posting this.

  19. Hi Dr. Clark. What do you think of immigrant churches who do this because of language barriers.

    • Hi Keedai,

      I sympathize. Earlier immigrant churches (e.g., the Germans and the Dutch) faced the problem too. In some cases they struggled for decades over the question whether they should even learn to speak English! It’s a difficult problem. We have a number of students who serve as JDS each Lord’s Day.

      There is a clear biblical mandate to preach to people in a way that they can understand (1 Cor 14). If things are being done well (orderly, under the supervision of the elders), if the Word is being preached faithfully, even if it requires practically two congregations, I understand. Of course this essay had in mind congregations where language isn’t a barrier. Every effort, however, should be made to overcome the bifurcation as quickly as possible.

  20. I don’t understand why being part of the covenant community requires that the children stay in with the adults during service. Where in the OT do we see a mandate for this?

    Why couldn’t this be inverted? I.e. the adults go with the children to “children’s church?” If we are going to follow this “covenantal logical.”

    • How about

      Deuteronomy 31:12, 13 “12 “Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the LORD your God and carefully observe all the words of this law, 13 “and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess.””

    • Exodus 19:9b-11: “When Moses told the words of the people (except the children) to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to the people, except the children, and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people, except the children.'”

      • Romans 12:1-3 – opps sorry that would have us understand that all of life is worship. My mistake.

        • Neil,

          All of life IS worship, in the broad sense. Rom 12:1ff is one of the reasons that proposition is true. That’s the point of distinguishing between “broad” and “narrow.” Did you miss that?

  21. My wife and I regularly thank God that our congregation has been spared this (self-inflicted) plague (aka “children’s church”, aka “Little Lambs”, etc.).

    In response to Bobby Grow: We ALL belong in church together, as we meet with the Triune God to receive His greeting, to sing His praise, to hear His Word proclaimed, to give our tithes, to offer up prayers, and to receive His parting benediction.

    “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” No less true today than when penned by Solomon. It is commonly argued that children don’t get anything out the sermon anyway, so better that they be shuttled off to the annex for crafts and Veggie Tales. Hogwash!

    Children learn LOTS in church: they learn reverence; they learn obedience; they learn patience; they learn to listen; they learn to sing (the songs of the church); they learn to recite (creeds); they learn to read along as the minister reads God’s Word; they learn what sacraments look like; they learn to sit quietly for 30 minutes without being entertained and without interrupting the Lord’s servant; they learn to be with their family. In sum, they learn to be a living member of Christ’s Body, and they learn that their presence among the assembly is no less important than any other member’s. Conversely, the congregation (perhaps especially the parents) may learn patience and a little humility as well.

    When God calls His children to assemble (as congregation), He expects them to be there — all of them.

    • Shawn,

      You’re reading what you want into those passages, they don’t explicitly say that the children need to be in the church service. This seems ad hoc or even eisogetic. I do agree that there is value for children to be in the church service with adults, but I also see value for children to be in a situation wherein they are trained up in a way that is understandable and geared for them.

      Like I said, there is no mandate, even covenantally for children to be in the adult service. This is a cultural mandate not a scriptural one. You haven’t provided any examples from scripture where there is an explicit mandate given; all you’ve done is provide an assumption and read that into “congregation” etc.

      I don’t see, even following the logic of the arguement, how children’s church separates children from the congregation — they are just congregating somewhere else (spatially). They are still surrounded by covenant people (who just happen to be younger than older). I realize this is an intra-discussion, amongst Covenant theology folks, I just don’t see any scriptural mandate for such assertions (I think it’s fine, but just cultural or denominational, but not a mandate from scripture).

      • Bobby,

        Actually, the adults should go to children’s church…
        And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 18:3)
        Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt 19:14)

        … where children’s church is the only church there is!

        On the flip side, where do we see the Scriptural mandate to segregate the church by age group? It seems to me that in many churches, the directives to those older and those younger in 1Tim 5 cannot be meaningfully practiced. Those older have been taught to find relief from the youngsters by putting them away for baby-sitting. Those younger have not learned maturity, but learn “coolness” because that’s all the peer group has to offer. And in my church experience, cool and mature don’t mix. I’ve seen too many kids become too cool for church. I’m in the midst of such a situation now. Maybe adolescence is a problem of our own making.

        I’ve been active in multiple churches both where the children stay with the parents for worship, and those where they are separated out. And I have to say, in every instance (with one exception) the quality of the kids between the two practices are worlds apart.

        • Darren,

          Like I said to Susan, I don’t have a problem with either/or; I don’t see any scriptural mandates either way.

          And so far the arguements offered here are culturally and consequentially driven (i.e. subjectivist); i.e. your statement: “And I have to say, in every instance (with one exception) the quality of the kids between the two practices are worlds apart.” This isn’t a substantial point relative to biblical mandates, it’s an experiential observation that may or may not be true (i.e. it’s a sweeping generalization). And as far as I’ve seen this is only representative of most of the other points being made here.

          I think the problem with kids being too cool for church syndrome is reflective of the leadership, and not whether or not they are or are not in the “adult service.”

          • Well, that’s kinda funny because I thought I did provide a substantial point relative to Biblical mandates in my comment.

            I may be extending my experience with over a dozen churches into a sweeping generalization, but can we acknowledge at least a statistical pattern? Anecdotes might not conclusively prove anything, but boy do I hear a lot of anecdotes from every corner which goes in one direction. If you won’t buy the notion of a Biblical command, can you at least see the wisdom issues involved, so as not to leave this in purely neutral territory?

            Perhaps you are right about kids too cool for church being reflective of leadership, but I think it would be helpful if you presented a positive model of how a separate children’s service is to be practiced in such a way that the children are learning to worship God in such a way where they will be well-adjusted into so-called “adult” church. Otherwise, your argument against the preference of covenant worship feels remarkably weightless.

            I’ve never seen a case of children’s church producing as a rule and not an exception people who will transition to “adult” church without difficulty — or even the will to try (and even the one case I’ve seen where the children were remarkably mature could not integrate into “adult” church as they went to college and even after graduation). Isn’t it still counter-productive if the generations merely stare at each other across a divide with minimal interaction, and if the kids grow up, only capable of going to a church where their own peer group is dominant? What causes that? Somehow, I don’t think it’s the Reformed doctrine and Biblical theology I’ve been teaching these kids.

      • Bobby: I’m sorry I wasn’t explicit. I was interacting with your statement, not with the texts cited by others — as Susan observed, you offered no biblical grounds for an “adults-only” worship service. My purpose in referencing the well-known (yet increasingly disregarded) proverb was to point out that we are not smarter than God. His plan for gathering His Church through the generations — you sound intelligent enough to root out all the “proof texts” for yourself — is far superior to any pre-packaged kit being hawked by the local “Family Bookstore”. In other words, shepherd your family in the tried-and-true old paths (Word and Sacraments) clearly prescribed by God Himself in His Word. As was remarked in another (unrelated) post: “What you lead them with is what you lead them to”. It’s not that complicated.

      • A quick exercise to demonstrate the folly of Bobby’s argumentation/interpretation method. Imagine this post was about abortion. Using Bobby’s logic people could say,

        “I don’t understand why being [pregnant] requires that the children stay in [the womb] during [pregnancy]. Where in the OT do we see a mandate for this?”

        “You’re reading what you want into those passages, they don’t explicitly say that the children need to [remain in the womb]. This seems ad hoc or even eisogetic. I do agree that there is value for children to be [carried full term and given birth to], but I also see value for children to be [given up before birth].
        Like I said, there is no mandate, even covenantally for children to be [carried full term and given birth to]. This is a cultural mandate not a scriptural one. You haven’t provided any examples from scripture where there is an explicit mandate given; all you’ve done is provide an assumption and read that into “[murder]” etc.

        Bobby asks for the bible to speak explicitly to a 20th & 21st phenomenon. He needs a verse that says, “thou shalt not send your children to children’s church.” Bobby, do you need a verse that says, “thou shalt not have an abortion,” since you can’t make logical conclusions?

        • Well if you are going to compare children’s church to abortion – dialogue is over. What else can we say?

          • Didn’t compare it to abortion. Just illustrated the ridiculousness of Bobby’s argument by showing that you can insert anything the bible doesn’t explicitly mention in the place of children’s church. Bobby’s argument is folly.

  22. Mr. Grow,
    You have already shown that you assume the public corporate worship service is for adults only: “the adult service.” Will you please show us the scriptural mandate for this assumption?

    • Susan,

      You can call me, Bobby 😉 ; you make my point, there is no “mandate” either way, there is freedom in this regard. The only way this conversation starts is if the Covenantal framework is assumed, and then even within that framework I don’t see the parallels — from the Old Cov — that are being pressed relative to the passages some of the brothers above referenced.

      Btw, I never said that I assumed an “adult service,” reread what I said carefully. My contention has to do with the notion that children *have* to be in the adult service in order to be true participants with the “Covenant people of God.” I don’t have a problem with kids being in the adult service, at all; but I also don’t have a problem with kids being in “children’s church.” There is no mandate. Covenant assumptions have to be assumed, and then even then I don’t see any explicit parallels from the OC — even with the passages mentioned.

      • Then why do you keep calling it “the adult service”? Are you aware that you are doing that?

        • Because I see a distinction between a service geared towards adults and geared for children. But if it makes you more comfortable lets just call it “service.”

      • Bobby,
        “There is no mandate…”
        Didn’t you catch the imperative, in Dt.31:12? (ref. above)

        No, wait, you asked specifically for an OT reference that requires children to remain with parents in a (worship?) service. So, a meeting with God probably doesn’t qualify in your book?

        Besides, that was just for one meeting, right? No reason to take it as normative or anything, since so many other places God [advises/ recommends/ commands?] children NOT come at his summons. (references, please?)

        Romper Room for Bobbyz Kidz?
        Jesus in a big purple dinosaur suit?
        Why not?
        How would you set the standards for that ecclesiastical ministry? When do children get well-enough to endure the means of grace?

        What sort of religion can we predict for a set of youth raised on Nebuchadnezzar’s fare? News flash–the data is already in!

        In about 30 years, tell us how it worked out for ya, with your own brood.

        • A meeting with God can take place in Children’s church as readily as it can for the adults in their service.

          You need to study what was normative as far as mediation between God and the people a bit further, start in the book of Leviticus.

          Again, the thrust of your thought, I won’t call it an argument, is simply cultural and subjective (your dinosaur suit). The means of grace is immediate by the Holy Spirit, I don’t see it necessarily mediated through things like “sacraments;” we have different understandings on what “grace” is, it seems. I don’t see grace as a “thing” but a “person”; so whether a kid is in with you or in children’s church poses no problem from my perspective as far as ‘receiving grace’.

          I’m not a “sacramentalist” per se, but then again that’s because I don’t see grace framed through Thomist/substance terms as you do.

          Your emotion is laudable, just not substantial.

  23. Rev. Phil Vos at Escondido has said a couple times in sermons that children belong with the parents.

    • @ Dave Bonnema:
      With the Escondido URC in view, if the pastor is preaching from the pulpit that children belong with their parents, then how is it that the practice of “Little Lambs” continues?

      • You would have to ask the Escondido elders this, if it’s even being done there. Phil is not the one who rules the church, but the elders. And are you absolutely sure this practice is continuing?

        • And the better person to ask this is Phil Vos himself. Ask him why the Little Lambs practice is continuing—if it is.

  24. The arguments for a “Children’s church” during the sermon usually center around Nehemiah 8:1-3.

    Nehemiah 8:1-3

    1 Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. 3 Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.

    • I don’t know how children as young as three and as old as 17 will not “understand.” Some of them actually have more understanding than “adults.”

      • thank you for the reference to Nehemiah. it is very helpful. i agree with dvopilgrim, children as young as 3 and perhaps even younger could easily fit that description. and even the chldrens church in question does not mandate the removal or separation of infants from their mothers during worship.

  25. In my former PCUSA church, “children’s church” is listening to a 10-minute humorous speech by the youth “pastor” while seated on beach chairs, playing video games, and eating cookies and drinking juice.

  26. “Children’s church” is also one of the big reasons why our children’s attendance at “church” ends on the day they finish high school.

  27. While our family is not part of a “Covenental” church, I have some experience in what your blog posting addresses. Some churches we attended in the past separated children completely only to teach them “fluff.” In those cases, we kept our children in the main service – to the consternation of the “leadership.” It was a battle. Our current church has the young children (under age 12) in for most of the service (the children are welcome to stay if the parents so wish). Then they may go to their own class where the same topic as the sermon is taught at their level. I find this to be a suitable situation that works well. Our church Elders are well aware of the problems described in the recent book by Ken Ham, Already Gone. They have and are addressing this phenomenon.

  28. Great post, Dr. Clark! I always hated Children’s Church as a child because it seemed so condescending. Now we’ve had our first kid in the service with us since he was and infant and plan to do that with the rest of them.

    Gratefully our congregation has consciously encouraged parents to do so from the beginning (we don’t have children’s church), and this is questioned regularly.

    I’m also grateful because our church regularly has some of the rich and ancient forms (Gloria Patri, Doxology, Lord’s Prayer). From infancy we have sung and said these as a family, so that there is not a Sunday that goes by in which our 2.5 year old cannot participate in the service (he’s been able to participate in all these forms from about the time he began speaking).

    Sadly, with many of the attempts to make worship “relevant” and “contemporary” we not only cut ourselves off from the rich history of the church, but also excise the very portions of worship that can most easily and readily be learned by our children. Oh, and our kids don’t mind that it may be repetitive…that’s how they learn!


  29. Their use of Nehemiah 8 justifying the exclusion of children from worship is pretty weak. I’m sure we’ve all come across a number of adults that don’t hear with understanding. I’ve seen children grasp simple truths better than adults.

      • Ooops, sorry about that. I fixed it in my WordPress profile page. That information was being captured for any comments to the Heidelblog.

  30. I’m persuaded, that in spite of some well meant intentions, Children’s Church is effective for all the wrong results. It presupposes that worship needs to be exciting, engaging, even titillating in order for it to be really worship. It encourages and fosters such appetites.

    Is is an wonder that when they’re able to choose for themselves, covenant children raised on such abandon the reformed churches of their parents for churches with “exciting” worship and a shallo gospel at best?

  31. I think it’d also be useful to point out the generation gap currently existing in many Reformed and/or evangelical churches. Many folks in my parents generation (and yours, Dr.C) turned to a doctrinally-reductionist unity as their response to the decline in the church’s cultural influence in America. Via the instrument of unity, they oriented themselves around “take-away points” and evangelistic strategies. In turn, they often abandoned children (like myself) to moralistic Sunday School lessons and youth groups that replaced, rather than supplemented, corporate worship.

    In turn, my generation (mostly “millenials”) has either left the church or is reacting against our parents’ indifferentism with a hunger for confessions and holistic instruction and exhortation that addresses our fallen minds as well as hearts. Hence the rise of the “Young, Restless, and Reformed.”

    As I told fellow Army chaplain candidates when I asked them to explain justification if it appears in a passage rather than skipping over it: Don’t underestimate our soldiers. In the same way, I would encourage folks to not underestimate our children. They can comprehend, especially with the help of their parents. Not to mention that such an underestimation (as my young cohorts experienced) often includes an underestimation of the sovereign grace of God and an overestimation in their own autonomous expertise on these matters.

  32. “All things are permisible but not all things are benefical. I think you can be covenatal, reformed, evangelical and still have separate worship. We offer separate worship at an age appropiate level. There are all the same aspects of teaching, singing, offering etc. This is for birth through fifth grade. I would rather trust my children to gifted people that love God and little children than bore them in adult worship or expose them to teaching about God’s call to repentance for the homosexual, adulterer, gossip, etc. I find it funny that people’s defense for children in adult worship is to learn to behave or sit still. I am so glad we offer a worship for children and for parents where than can concentrate on God.

    • “I find it funny that people’s defense for children in adult worship is to learn to behave or sit still. ” Just curious – why do you find that funny?

      • Susan, funny was probably not the right word. I could have used the word curious or interesting.

    • When you say “I would rather trust my children to gifted people that love God and little children . . . ” do you hear what you are saying about God’s ordained servant — who, by the way, is the congregation’s pastor, not the adults’ pastor.

      As for Susan’s question: the reason people think it’s funny that grown-ups would be concerned about training children to be patient, respectful, reverent, attentive, obedient, humble, etc. is that such grown-ups generally operate on the premise that children are by nature pure and innocent (Bob may read “authentic” if that fits his template better) — only to be corrupted by observing hypocritical adults . . . except, of course, for those few gifted children’s church leaders “who love God and little children”. My sympathies to Bob’s elders and pastor.

    • I find it funny that people’s defense for children in adult worship is to learn to behave or sit still. I am so glad we offer a worship for children and for parents where than can concentrate on God.

      It seems to me that what much of this turns on is understanding the difference between adolescent piety versus an adult piety, as in “When I was a child, I talked like a child, felt like a child, reasoned like a child: when I became a man, I put from me childish ways.”

      Those who think Christian piety is Pauline might sound like they think children in worship means simply nurturing manners, etc. But what we really mean is that there is something to be said for growing into something not naturally understood, which when you think of it, is much like how the gospel itself works in sinners. From my experience, the irony is that those who understand this best seem to have the greatest patience with distracting children and think it quite odd to shoo away those who are slowly learning what it means to become a believer. Besides, if Christian piety is also about self-sacrifice, the quest to be uninterrupted as one “concentrates on God” seems not a little self-important.

    • “I would rather trust my children to gifted people that love God and little children than bore them in adult worship or expose them to teaching about God’s call to repentance for the homosexual, adulterer, gossip, etc. I find it funny that people’s defense for children in adult worship is to learn to behave or sit still. I am so glad we offer a worship for children and for parents where than can concentrate on God.”

      i find this quite sad….for the implications and insight it gives into the poster’s view of his/her pastor and session.

      i also find it sad that the poster assumes the reason for children in coorporate worship is to learn to sit still. did you miss the part about worshiping the Lord as a body of believers, of learning the sacrements and studying scripture from before you can speak?

      so glad to know you prize your own ability to concentrate over the importance of teaching your children to lvoe the Lord alongside other believers.

  33. svandyken,

    I think you may be reding too much into Bob’s comments. I don’t think he was saying he doesn’t trust the pastor with the children, but that he would rather have people gifted specifically to teach that age group. I have to say, that even though we don’t have childen’s church, I don’t see a problem with excusing them before the sermon for age-appropriate teaching. Like Bob, I think it is a matter of Christian liberty and wisdom. Why can’t that teaching time for children be looked upon as a preparation to hear and understand the preaching in the service when they are a bit older?

    • Todd:

      Please re-read Dr. Clark’s original post. Your response demonstrates that childrens church is not the problem — it’s a symptom. Your (and Bob’s) underlying assumptions appear to be: 1. Christ’s body is not a unit, but rather an amalgam of various peer groups; 2. Heeding God’s call to assemble for worship is optional (at my discretion, based upon what I perceive the potential benefits/outcome to be); 3. The worship service is primarily a “teaching time”; 4. The few hours/week my family is summoned by God to attend to His holy worship as congregation is just too much; and 5. I am a better judge of how to use that (worship) time than is He. Astounding.

      Expecting adults to excuse themselves from corporate worship in order to train your children (“to prepare them to hear and understand the preaching in the service when they are a bit older”)? That’s the task of parenting — and you have six days and nights to work on that prior to each Sunday. It’s called taking your vows seriously — assuming one made vows at one’s child’s baptism.

      • svandyken,

        I think whenever we talk about children strong emotions are evoked, so I know I am treading on thin ice debating this, but I don’t see how excusing the children during the sermon (I would be uncomfortable with them out the whole service) denies Christ’s body is a unit, any more than having a nursery with nursery workers denies the unity of the body. And the children usually are in the services up until the sermon so I don’t see how that denies God’s call to assemble. # 3 I don’t get. # 4, It is not that is is too much, the question is, if two-year olds cannot understand the sermon, is there another mode of teaching them until they are ready to understand the sermon. And # 5, that again is an emotional statement, but only if Scripture is clear that two-year olds must be present during the sermon would that argument be valid, and I don’t see that in Scripture.

        As for the second paragraph, I don’t think it is necessary to take such a dig at Christian parents who appreciate the ministry of children’s church. As for teachers excusing themselves from worship, that can be a problem, but most churches with childen’s church have two services, or the responsibility, like nursery duty, can be split up enough that a teacher would not miss the sermon often, but it is a valid concern if they were missing the preaching most Sundays.

      • I also think this debate often assumes two-parent households with parents expected to know the faith well enough to be training their children all week. But a visiting single mother with three rambunctious small children usually will not be able to pay attention to the sermon. To have an option for those situations can greatly benefit the adults to hear the Word and then influence the children with the Word

        • The assumption that a parent attending church is married to the other parent of one’s children is a reasonable, biblical, civilized assumption.

          As for the exceptional case you describe, I can imagine a kindly grandmother sliding into the pew and offering to sit with the young mother — to help, if needed supervise the three young children.

          I can also imagine an usher and/or greeter taking notice and discreetly steering the young mother into a pew near the rear of the nave — so that it would be less disruptive to the congregation should the mother need to step out for a moment with an unruly child.

          I can also imagine that the person who invited the young mother to church would have already thought ahead and made suitable arrangements (such as mentioned) so that the young mother — together with her children — would feel welcome when they arrived at church on Sunday.

          In other words, within the Body of Christ, we step up to help brothers and sisters fulfill their obligations — we do not hatch schemes (e.g., childrens church) to help brothers and sisters shirk their obligations.

          • RE: svandyken, on April 2, 2010 at 3:18 pm Said:

            Discussing the “exceptional case” of single-parent with rambunctious kids.

            I would say (with a grin and a wink) that’s quite some imagination you’ve got there…

            Everyone try substituting “I can imagine” with “I would hope…” and re-read that post.

            Everyone try substituting “I can imagine” with “we should teach our people to …” and re-read that post.

            So how will that happen or begin to happen? Family visitation. Recall the role of elders (ruling as well as teaching) is to shepherd, to pastor God’s people. A part of that is teaching and guiding all concerning corporate worship during family visitation. Family visits are a time to guide and direct your people. Don’t assume major points of doctrine and practice will occur or grow without discussing them with your flock during visits. Don’t consider major changes within your church without discussing it during family visits. Don’t try to go from quarterly to monthly Lord’s Supper (or monthly to weekly, etc) with out a round or two ( a year or two) of instructing and clarifying things during family visits.

            A side benefit, if you focus on corporate worship in family visits, both elders and congregation don’t need to fear visitation as snooping into “private devotions.”

            Thanks for your thoughts, svandyken.


  34. I think the pastor is specifically gifted and specifically called to teach God’s people no matter what age they are. God’s word preached IS age-appropriate for children. What they learn is how to worship, by witnessing their parents and other people of all ages worshiping as they all listen to the sermon, sing the hymns and psalms, pray together, look up the passages of scripture as the preacher directs, etc. They will not see this if they are separated from the rest of the congregation in ‘children’s church’. They will not learn what they need to learn to become worshiping adults.

    Children do need to learn to behave and sit still. Church is only one of the places where they can learn this, but parents still have that training task. Why would that be funny, in any context? Training for adulthood starts in childhood – would anyone disagree?

  35. And I am not saying that Sunday school for younger children is a bad thing, especially if it is reinforcing catechism instruction (my own belief on that is that catechism is the parents’ job, which should only be wholly delegated if there is something preventing the parents from doing it at home, which would be a rare circumstance). But Sunday school is not worship, should not take the place of worship, and should not take place at the same time as worship.

  36. “The assumption that a parent attending church is married to the other parent of one’s children is a reasonable, biblical, civilized assumption. ”

    Not in my neighborhood. Maybe reformed churches need more visitors from the world where the divorce rate is about 50%.

    • ” . . . from the world where the divorce rate is about 50%”: This urban myth (half of all marriages end in divorce) has been floating around long enough to be believed by many. But it is not anywhere close to being statistically accurate — not on a national, state, or regional basis, though perhaps it may be true in your neighborhood.

      “Maybe reformed churches need more visitors from the world . . . ” No doubt about that. What the world needs is what Reformed churches are proclaiming every week, year after year: the Gospel of God’s free grace in Jesus Christ (for children of all ages).

      • Even if it were true, some of those marriages would be between people already divorced. So the figure for the number of divorced *people*, which is what matters at the end of the day, would be much lower.

      • My understanding is that it is a myth if you count marriages over five years old. In other words, among all married people, even those married for the last 40 years, the divorce rate is much lower. But among all marriages who were married in the last five years or less, it is up around 50%. Either way, at least half the visitors to our church with children are single parents, so for us it is a reality.

        • “Either way, at least half the visitors to our church with children are single parents, so for us it is a reality.” Todd: What an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Jesus for little children AMONG the congregation — as opposed to shuffling them out of sight and out-of-the-way. Your visitors will definitely see the difference between your church and the other “churches” (with “childrens’ programs” during corporate worship) they may have visited.

          When you say “all are welcome” to worship, it impresses visitors when they realize you mean it. I wish you patience and understanding as you seek to welcome ALL who would be gathered under the proclamation of God’s Word.

          As a sidebar, the last thing children of single parents need is another “daycare” experience on Sunday (i.e., time spent apart from the only parent they know).

          • svandyken,

            If you look back you’d see that we do not have a children’s church in our church so the exhortation is unneccessary. I probably see more negatives to the idea than positives, but I just think the emotional rhetoric against those who do is overdone and unfortunate. It assumes the worst of Chistian parents who use it to help train their children, and it uses strange and emotive argumentation to make this a law issue instead of a wisdom issue. (The Israelites didn’t have children’s church, you don’t really believe in God’s covenant, you don’t really train your children in the Lord, you don’t really believe in the means of grace, you should be ashamed, it’s the same argument against seeing abortion as a clear sin, etc…) Reminds me an awful lot of the way theonomists argue against Christian parents who send their children to public school.

            • …I just think the emotional rhetoric against those who do is overdone and unfortunate. It assumes the worst of Chistian parents who use it to help train their children, and it uses strange and emotive argumentation to make this a law issue instead of a wisdom issue…Reminds me an awful lot of the way theonomists argue against Christian parents who send their children to public school.


              As a strong proponent of including children in the stated service, I hear you on the emotional rhetoric. And I think you make a good point about this being more wisdom than law. I have heard some of us try to draw straight lines from children’s church to apostasy later. And as a public education advocate (like you), I have also heard this tactic used when it comes to day schooling. Unfortunately, apostasy is a bit more mysterious than linking it to this or that practice. Unless we want to believe that apostasy never happens where children are included in the stated service and go to Christian day schools.

              That said, I do think wisdom compels us to include children in the stated service. I also think it compels us to weekly communion (nudge-nudge).

  37. It’s been said that young children have three ways of learning:
    1. Example
    2. Example
    3. Example

  38. I struggle with the force of some of the comments. Is there a difference between biblical absolutes and personel preferences? I respect those of you who see children in adult worship as your preference but to make it an absolute, I can not agree. I see good points on the other side but I see the covenant wider, to include the worship for children at their age. We have multiple services so the adults can lead the children in worship and worship themselves at another. I just don’t see the biblical absoluteness to having to have children in adult worship. I grew up going to church with my parents, my children grew up in children worship through 5th grade. God’s grace was all over both. The only difference I can reflect on is to say that there was more joy and desire in my children towards church and more focus in worship in the parents with less distractions. I offer this humbly and willing to continue to liste and learn.

    • Bob,

      The problem is, is the Covenanter’s view of grace, they see it as a substance; and the only means of grace is available with the congregation (meaning under the teaching of pastor — or with the adults).

      The problem is, is that the Bible presents grace in personal terms, thus there is not problem with grace being immediately available whether that’s in the adult service or children’s church. The congregation is not spatially limited in this view — but ultimately I have no problem with kids being in children’s church or with the adults (so called).

      And your right, the arguements here, for the most part reflect sentiment and not arguement.

    • Of course there is a difference between what God says and what I prefer. Your argument is not with me, it is with God’s covenant made with believers and their seed. Children in worship together with their families is not my preference, it is God’s ordinance (e.g., throughout the book of Deuteronomy, but especially chapters 4, 5, 12). In Deuteronomy 23, God specifically calls out who shall NOT enter the assembly of the LORD; note that children are not exempt from gathering with the congregation. Read Deuteronomy 28 – 30. Yes, God deals with individual persons — but His plan of salvation happens (normally) within the context of His chosen people. Matthew 21: 14-16. Mark 10: 13-16. Luke 18:15-17.

      It seems so obvious that when God calls us to worship, He calls all of us — not some of us, based on age, maturity, income, social standing, mental acuity, education, etc. — to assemble as His chosen congregation (a unit) to hear His Word proclaimed, to sing His praise, to offer up prayers, to give alms and tithes, to receive His greeting, and to receive His benediction. Why, oh why, would anyone send their children away from the very means of grace ordained by God Himself.

  39. I ‘m wrestling with the expanse of “assembly”. When I read those text in Deut. and the N.T. church, I see a larger body of Christ in the covenant. I would not put such strong limits to the assembly to be a four walled gathering,in time and space but rather a body, which would or could include a children’s worship. Just wrestling, please recieve these thoughts with grace.

    • I guess I’ve been presuming a few things — sorry if that added to your confusion. I was assuming you consider public worship (yes, in your local congregation) to be the time and place that the Maker of Heaven and earth has called His congregation to meet with Him around His Divine Word and His Holy Sacraments (aka “the means of grace”). This presumes you understand what is actually “happening” (yes, in time and space, not just in theory). It presumes a knowledge of what Reformed Christians confess in the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism concerning worship and congregation, the Word and Sacraments, etc.

      I’m also presuming you reside in either Canada or the United States. So at the end of the day, you are in fact free to do whatever is right in your own eyes. I pray your grandchildren will one day recover the heritage you apparently do not appreciate. If you think I am being uncharitable, go back and re-read your earlier post about your own upbringing: how you did a much better job raising your children in the faith than did your parents, your grandparents, your great-grandparents, et al.

      • I did re-read it and spoke how God’s grace was in both. I also showed my Mom the post and she said in no way did she feel I was saying they were wrong and I did better. She also stated that she wishes that options were available when she raised us. I am not saying I’m right or your wrong. I am saying both are right options, and both can be covered under biblical, reformed and evangelical underpinings. I respect your understanding of this subject. I have to admit, I have been taken back by the some of the aggressiveness and lack of “seasoned with grace” thoughts and comments. I will try to do the same as well, God being my helper. Blessing, Bob

  40. svandyken,

    Of course most of the assemblies in Deuteronomy were attended by the heads of households, and they brought back the message to their families, so I’m not sure we want to use the Israeli OT assemblies as models the way you are using them. The question is not, should the children hear the preached Word, the answer is, yes, but, the questions are; what about children not old enough to understand the preached Word, or, can the Word preached be mediated through the parents or helpers to the children in a way they can understand? I think those are open questions that call for wisdom session to session.

    • Reread the posts written by parents who do their duty by their children. Children belong with the congregation — of which they are full (though not necessarily communicant) members. If they cannot understand the preached Word, their parents can explain to them after the service (at dinner, in the car, before bedtime, etc.). Even if they are not able to understand the preached Word, they are able to understand that they belong to and with God’s congregation — especially when the congregation is busy with its most important, vital activity: public worship of the Triune God, Who has called His congregation to meet with Him.

  41. I think one of the main reasons for children’s church in many reformed churches is the assumption that children from ages 4-6 aren’t able to sit through a sermon without causing excessive distraction. Shame on us for becoming so like the world that we use this as an excuse for our own unwillinginess (laziness?) to train and discipline our children.

  42. I appreciate Dr. Clark’s/Scott’s/Richard’s/whichever he prefers post. I think he does a great job of pointing out some aspects of ‘children’s church’ as symptomatic of a much deeper problem which I would describe as an anemic understanding among professing ‘Christians’ of how God would have us to order our lives as His people, His body, His family…i.e. the Church.

    With that said, I am afraid that much of what I see and understand about the ‘Reformed’ approach to ‘church’ only exacerbates the problem by speaking of ‘church’ as an institution rather than a body…by speaking of ‘worship’ as an event rather than a living speaking of ‘grace’ almost as a material substance (much like the name-it-and-claim-it folks refer to ‘faith’) rather than a supernatural work of God…and by over-intellectualizing things that God has said even a child can understand.

    So while I too am not a huge fan of ‘children’s church’ and ‘youth groups’, believing that they all too often serve as enablers–actually making it easier for parents not to be what God has called them to be (ie the primary instructors and imparters of Truth to their children), I also find it difficult to see how the rigid Reformed ecclesiology, as I understand it, necessarily does any more than help create good little church-goers who say all the right things and do their best to act properly, but lack the kind of spiritual fervor that will move them beyond academic discussions/arguments into the kind of self-denying, hands-on living that Jesus demands of His children.

    • Jason,

      I appreciate the dangers you are trying to point out (intellectualism and experientialism are two sides of the same skewed coin), but you seem also to be presuming something about the Reformed that I don’t think is true, namely that there is an either/or dilemma (“by speaking of X rather than Y”). We don’t make the institution mutually exclusive to the body anymore than we set union against justification (another common charge). It’s that we believe there is a necessary priority to these things, sort of like the priority of a marriage before for a man to be able to relate to a woman as his wife.

      And, in point of fact, unless you are casting your lot with the all-of-life-is-worship-neo-Kuyperians, worship is an event. Some have said that is all is grace then nothing is. In the same way, if all of life is worship then nothing is. The other presumption you seem to have on behalf of the Reformed is that worship and life are somehow at loggerheads (obedient church going versus spiritual fervor). Have you considered that worship is the principle good work of both individual believers and the corporate church? If that’s true then getting worship right is an indication of spiritual fervor. But if you are working with worship-is-all-of-life categories maybe you are flattening out Sabbath worship and six-day activities. But, again, older Reformed outlooks think in terms of the necessary priority of things, as in right Sabbath worship begets six-day covenant keeping.

      • Thanks for the thoughtful reply Zrim and for helping me better understand the Reformed position. I’m going to read over it again when I get a little more peace and quiet.

  43. Opinions opinions opinions

    Why are so few of you not referring to the Bible and what God says?

    Let the little children come unto me and forbid them not.

    P.S. Modern sermons are “dumbed-down” enough. Do not think that because the children are present the sermon should not be the best it can be. We’ve lost
    our sense of history and forgotten how smart we were as small children.
    The children heard ” Sinners in the Hand…”

  44. Robbie Castleman’s “Parenting in the Pew” (she’s a pastors wife who, due to having her husband in the pulpit, functionally had to do the work of a single parent on Sunday mornings) book was helpful to our family in decided to keep our kids in the service from the get go. Yes, we had times they spent in nursery or times we had to walk/rock the baby in the hall when it was a crying-baby morning.

    I don’t recall all of the details of the book at this point, so see this as a general recommendation of a work that aims toward parents training and accompanying their children in corporate worship. Might some things in there that could help for those who are interested.

  45. I’m avoiding writing my my dad’s eulogy….

    here! here! The part about being a leader and taking a stand is a must.

    The most beautiful thing that happened to me this week was my son repeating the Lords’ Prayer, and also singing along. Everyone around us was blessed to see a four year old so enjoying his worship of our Lord. Our pastor often smiles after the prayer for others as my son’s “AMEN” can be heard throughout the sanctuary.

    I needed for myself to hear that the worship is not about my feeling excstacy.

    Thanks for the post….Back to the Eulogy.

    Ginger Zagnoli

  46. I appreciate all the comments on this blog, even those that I disagree with because it seems like we are all wanting God to get the glory through us. Amen to that. So, that being said, I offer this to the discussion.

    Before I came to the church I attend now, I had never seen children’s church (or whatever fancy name churches would like to call it) in action. I was an elementary teacher, so I naturally served in this experience once I came to this church. Seeing children worship at their level changed my perspective. It is not instruction. It was not babysitting. It was worship. Children were not being exiled, they were being invited to worship at their level for God’s glory.

    I now have three children. 6, 4 and not yet one. They wake us up to worship on Sundays. They know church is for them, too, and they have a responsibility to follow God in their life. Simply allowing children to worship at their level in a way they can understand God’s love, God’s call on their life, and have a biblical perspective on God’s world has been life giving to me and my family. My daughter understands her worship experience, my son understands his worship experience. And at home, we continue in worship as we follow God’s call on our life.

    Honestly, the Bible is clear that what happens in my home in more important than what happens at church. So, whether I am worshipping with my children, or my children are worshipping at their level, our home will shine for Jesus through our brokeness to reach God’s world. I have seen the fruit of the spirit grow in my children as a result of volunteers that put the time, energy, prayer, and hard work of allowing children to worship at their level.

    And, my children are very well behaved, which is another topic, but still very important. Thank you for reading.

  47. Sometimes it just takes one brave family. When our almost 6 year old was born, children were almost unheard of at services. New people with small children were informed that we had a nursery ‘for their convenience’ as they walked in the door. The first thing in the service folder a notice about the nursery–it was even before the ‘please turn off your phone’.
    I was raised in a church where all ages were expected and my husband very much regrets not being raised with a church. We also attachment parent. There was no way we were going to ditch our baby for such an important hour of our week. We were perfectly capable of going to the narthex if she fussed or the lounge if she was loud. At first we got many disaproving looks from other parents and we had to sit in the back so the old people would pay attention to the pastor instead of playing with her. When she got big enough to notice what was going on, we moved to the balcony so she could see without blocking other’s view.
    By the time our second daughter was born last fall, they have trouble getting enough kids to open the nursery. A baby fussing occasionally is expected at services and there is a special talk for kids every week. I don’t know how much of that is because we were willing to put up with a few dirty looks and how much would have happened anyway, but it makes me feel good to know my children will be valued by their faith community before they are old enough to vote.

  48. My experiences have been very much like yours Sally! We are so thankful our children are (now) welcome in corporate worship every sunday morning.

    one question I have is, why the need to “teach” children during the worship service? dont’ most churches also have a sunday school hour, with small group teaching segregated by age? this seems amuch better time to teach both ‘at a child’s level” and also teach the necessary parts of the worship service.

  49. I’ve been going back and reading old Heidelblog posts, and wanted to comment on this one even though it is old.

    Anyone who knows the Dutch Reformed world knows that what evangelicals are now calling “family-integrated worship” has been assumed by the Dutch virtually forever. Most of my time in Grand Rapids, even when visiting liberal churches, I saw children expected to attend church with their parents. “Children’s church” simply was not on the radar screen. I am in full agreement with the arguments being advocated here for covenantal worship.

    However, we need to understand just how difficult a challenge that poses for churches that are reaching beyond a conservative Reformed culture and trying to bring in people who have a non-Reformed or non-Christian background. I’ve worked in inner-city churches and rural poverty congregations where it was rare to find a stable two-parent family with young children in the church, and we minimize those issues at our peril. To say, as some here did, that “The assumption that a parent attending church is married to the other parent of one’s children is a reasonable, biblical, civilized assumption” simply does not deal with the reality that churches often must face today.

    However, an even worse problem is faced by immigrant congregations where the large majority of adults including most of the elders and many of the deacons speak a language which their children do not understand, or do not understand very well. We need to give some serious consideration to the questions raised by Keedai, Sam Lee, Darren, and others — especially since the largest and the only growing segment of the Reformed church world today is the Korean Presbyterian family of denominations.

    My wife is Korean, and is a “jondosa.” She had never seen or heard of children going to church with their parents until coming to the United States, and here, she has almost never seen it outside the Dutch Reformed world.

    It doesn’t take much to look at the history of the Dutch Reformed, German Lutheran, and other immigrant Protestant churches in the United States to see that huge fights over language issues characterized the immigrant church experience. That was not good.

    However, given the massive exodus of young people out of Korean churches in the United States, I’m not sure maintaining the Korean expectation of worship divided into children’s church, youth church, college/young adult church, and other categories separate from the main “adult” worship service has necessarily helped very much, either.

    I frankly don’t have a solution.

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