By Israel Steinmetz
I baptized my three oldest kids in 2015. It’s incredible to watch them worship together with the local body of Christ they’ve become a part of. I love worshipping with my kids. Whether at home or with our church, there’s something awesome about joining them in song to our Creator and Redeemer.
Last week in service I held my four year old’s hand as we sang together. I looked across the aisle at three of my other children as they praised alongside their friends. My middle school daughter stays through the entire service, taking copious sermon notes and we often discuss it afterwards. But, after a few songs, my younger children are prayed over along with the other kids in our congregation. Then they’re dismissed to age-segregated classes outside of the main service.
Children are valued members of our families and church communities. It’s a beautiful thing when they can fully participate in our services. However, some who’ve embraced this idea believe that children of all ages should remain in the main worship service. Even if parts of it are mostly meaningless to them or designed entirely for adults. Some believers—particularly within the “Family-Driven/Integrated Ministry” movement—object to children having age-based classes or services.
IT’S OKAY FOR KIDS TO BE BORED IN CHURCH?
In a popular blog post entitled, “It’s Okay For Kids to Be Bored in Church”, the author praised the idea of kids sitting quietly and coloring during the sermon. The author had confidence that God was able to translate the adult messages into meaningful content for the kids. Her basic argument was that kids will likely be entertained or bored at church. Thus, it’s okay for them to be bored so they learn to sit quietly and get more than entertainment.
But the truth is it’s not “okay” for kids to be bored in church.
It’s true that children—and adults—benefit at times from the experience of kids participating in adult-oriented church services. It’s true that God, in His gracious and powerful way, can communicate truth to children through vocabulary they don’t understand. But we must avoid the idea that the only options for children in church are being bored or being entertained. From this standpoint we could be content with children being bored in church. Because, after all, the purpose of church isn’t to entertain us.
ENTERTAINMENT OR BOREDOM ARE NOT THE ONLY OPTIONS.
We know that church does not exist simply for our viewing pleasure. So it sounds compelling at face value to say that it’s okay for kids to be bored. However, this view fails by not acknowledging why church exists and considering options other than “entertainment” and “boredom”. Just as it’s true that church should not be designed strictly to entertain children (or adults!), it’s also true that it shouldn’t be designed to bore them either.
Corporate gatherings of the church exist to give believers an opportunity to worship and fellowship together and be discipled for acts of service to one another and evangelism to the world. Children are under-served as members of the church when they are forced to sit quietly and color in gatherings designed exclusively for adults to participate in.
Just imagine the outcry if the tables were turned! Can you imagine anyone suggesting that it’s “okay” for adults to be bored in church? Of course not. Everyone would easily recognize that our options are not limited to being bored or being mindlessly entertained. When we come together as the church, boredom and entertainment may be incidental to some of what we do. But neither should it be accepted as the status quo.
CHURCH GATHERINGS ARE FOR ALL AGES.
If we value what happens at church, we should value it for all members – even our children.CLICK TO TWEETIf we value what happens at church gatherings we should value it for all members of the church. Even our children. We should design services that allow children to worship, fellowship and be discipled for acts of service and evangelism. And this is unlikely to happen in services designed exclusively to fulfill these goals with adults.
It’s ironic to me that for some, the solution to children thinking that church service design revolves around them is to expose them to the harsh reality that it actually revolves around their parents! Shouldn’t Christian children and adults both be invited into corporate gatherings of the church which revolve around God and lovingly accommodate the uniqueness of all those in attendance? Many churches say “yes” to this question, and this is why they choose to design separate, age-segregated services. The notion that children should be “seen and not heard” in services designed exclusively for their adult counterparts seems lacking in Christian love. And it stands in direct opposition to Christ’s instruction not to place obstacles between Him and children.
AGE-APPROPRIATE CLASSES AND SERVICES ARE AN OPTION.
I’m thankful to be a part of a local church that values our children enough to intentionally design age-appropriate classes and services for them, ministering to them in a way that allows them to fully embrace their identity and mission as members of the church.
My seven children—ranging in age from six months to twelve years—all require different approaches, teaching methodologies, and instruction in order to be ministered to effectively. Simply throwing them all into a service designed exclusively for adults and expecting them to pick up the occasional random piece of truth doesn’t strike me as an intentional way to disciple children.
To illustrate my point, consider a parallel situation. Imagine a group of people all committed to education for their entire family. Now imagine they all assemble in a college classroom and receive instruction from a college professor, designed for college students. Does it make sense for the children in these families to be thrown into this classroom and expected to sit quietly and pick up on the occasional item that they can grasp?
Of course not.
We’d all insist that those children should be schooled at developmentally appropriate levels so that they can gradually build up to and master the ideas being taught at the college level. We wouldn’t be satisfied with them being “bored” by a college lecture. We wouldn’t assume the only alternative is for them to be “entertained” by something that does nothing to educate them. We’d say they need to be educated in an age appropriate way.
Shouldn’t it be just as easy to say this about children in churches?
DISCIPLE BELIEVERS OF ALL AGES.
It is our divine commission to disciple believers—both young and old—in our corporate gatherings.CLICK TO TWEETThis is not a matter of choosing entertainment over boredom. It is a matter of choosing to treat children like valued members of families and church communities. Not like second-class citizens who can be neglected while the parents enjoy their custom-made grown-up service. It’s not “okay” for kids to be bored in church. It is our divine commission to disciple believers—both young and old—in our corporate gatherings. This is not a process that cultivates boredom or mindless entertainment. It is one that engages the heart, soul, mind and strength of all those involved.