An article I read recently reported that many people with young children allege that they choose not to attend worship, even though they claim that they love the Lord, because the church they want to attend does not offer babysitting during worship.
I have observed for a long time that the statistics are climbing for young people turning away from Christian faith, or claiming no connection with religion, and I think I know the reason. These young people truly have no connection, because their parents did not give them any reason to make a connection with Jesus.
The claim that a church should have babysitting for small children during church is completely at odds with the way the Bible teaches us to rear our children. Moses said that children should be part of our faith in action from the time they are born. We ought to be talking with them night and day about what God has said and done in our lives. If that is God’s teaching, then we certainly ought to be taking them with us to church.
Several years ago we visited a large Catholic church in a heartland state as guests of my sister-in-law. This church was filled with children, and some were babes in arms. During the worship, there was some minor scuffling in pews where there were numerous children. We heard a baby cry during the sermon and also during the words of institution. There were children everywhere and they were both seen and heard from time to time. It hurt nothing. In fact, my husband and I both remarked how good it was to have children in church.
Our own church at that time had a program to occupy children to age 12 with other activities during worship. The children never attended worship, although some were brought in for communion, and the adults never attended Sunday School. In the hour between two worship services attended by more than 500 adults, it would be unusual to have more than twenty in the adult Bible class.
When we Christians publicly lament the falling away of the current generation of young people, we might ask why they make this choice. Why do the young people not continue in the faith of their fathers? I believe the answer is that their fathers and mothers have not taught them the faith of their fathers or modeled before them what it means to have faith in Christ. Their parents have not sat with them in church and helped them to understand what worship is, starting in the cradle. It is a very secular notion that children should not be exposed to religion or asked to process the teachings of religion “until they are old enough to decide for themselves.” God’s way is to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
It is interesting to observe that the same secular thinkers who allege that people of faith have no right to teach their very young children about Jesus certainly believe that it is best to teach those same children about gender fluidity and the experimental way to determine sexual orientation at the vulnerable age of four or five. Secular thinkers validate the teaching Moses gave several thousand years ago, recorded in the Bible, a book secular thinkers and so-called progressive Christians consider to be a relic, not a guide. Contemporary culture leads contemporary parents astray by luring them to believe that children do not need, cannot handle, and suffer risk when exposed to religion in early childhood. Yet contemporary culture knows very well that in order to assure that a child lives a certain way, it is essential to start teaching him to live that way when he is very young.
Churches vary widely in the “services” available to protect parents from the discomfort of dealing with their children during worship services. My proposal: stop offering any such services. Children ought to remember that they cannot remember not going to church as a family. If they are in worship with their parents from the cradle, as babes in arms, then their early memories will be drenched in hymns, Scripture and the fellowship of the faithful. They certainly won’t understand everything as children, but being in worship with their parents provides all sorts of opportunities for parents to talk with their children about Jesus and to explain why we do various things as acts of worship. The things children learn in the context of the family relationship will serve them well when they learn to read and discover the same truths in the Bible for themselves.
As for the parental complaint that “I can’t worship when the children are fidgeting,” please remember that you take fidgety children to movies, ball games, and other activities where attention is required. Parents accept the obligation of rearing children when they bring children into the world. Teaching children to be quiet when told and to do other things when told is simply part of the process. Frankly, it seems to me that rearing children to learn how to meet God in worship is a very fundamental part of one’s own worship during the parenting years.
The author of Hebrews wrote, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” Hebrews 1:1-2. The author of Hebrews knew Jesus and had a living relationship with him. In the context of that relationship, he knew God even more richly than through the revelation recorded in Scripture. Our children learn through relationship, too. In relationship with their parents, they learn that God is real, he loves them, and he deserves their worship. People certainly do pick up Bibles, read them, and meet Jesus in those pages, but children can meet Jesus in the lives of their parents long before they are able to read anything. If my relationship with Jesus means anything to me, why would I not share it with my baby in my arms?
The best thing churches could all do is to invite babies and small children to worship. Make sure parents know that children are wanted and welcome. Instead of bag with coloring pages, give parents small guides for worshiping with children. The guides can include ways to prepare the children for worship ahead of time and encouragement in the discipline and self-discipline that makes worship possible. It is a win-win when a child learns something about both obedience to parents and obedience to God in the space of one hour. That accomplishment is surely more valuable than coloring a few pages to be taken home and trashed.
Christian parents need to be filling their children’s minds and hearts with Jesus, because the secular thinkers of the world are aggressively using early childhood to teach Satan’s agenda in kindergarten and grade school. Christians dare not wait to tell children about Jesus until they are “old enough to decide for themselves.” If Christians hold back and do not fill their children up with Jesus when they are young, secular educators will fill those vulnerable little hearts up with broad knowledge of gender fluidity and sexual experimentation to find out “what makes you happy.” There won’t be any room for Jesus after the secular educators have done their work.
The evidence is all around us. Children who were shuttled off to nursery and children’s church during worship believe that adult worship is a boring and unpleasant obligation. It isn’t fun, like the fun of nursery and children’s activities. Christian parents need to teach their children that being a Christian isn’t about fun; it is about knowing Jesus. Knowing Jesus can be fun, but there actually are more important aspects to life than having fun. If Christians want their children to know Jesus, they have the obligation to introduce their children to him at the earliest opportunity, and they must not let anyone tell them to wait till the child is “old enough to decide for himself.” Children do not get to decide much for themselves. Somebody will set the agenda for a child’s life. If the parent does not do it, secular educators will. Christian parents must bring their children of all ages with them into worship services.
By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.
Photo: artist not known