Tag Archives: Sunday School

Should Children be Forced to Attend Church with Adults?

Recently, my pastor decided to provide a “children’s sermon” each week, right before he preaches to the adults. The format will be familiar to many people. As soon as the pastor is ready to preach, he calls the children up to the front of the church. He sits with them on the steps. He usually has a an object or photo to introduce his topic, and he teaches in childrenspeak while the adults wait. This format and practice are believed by many to be a good way to engage children in worship.

I profoundly disagree.

Many try to say that the whole idea of children in the worship service is a big mistake. Children are noisy and fidgety. They don’t understand what is happening, and they get bored. The only way to hold their attention is to entertain them while they learn something without knowing it. People also complain because noisy children and crying babies interrupt and distract. It is better, they say, to eliminate noise sources so the grown-ups can worship in peace.

I profoundly disagree.

I was glad to read a concurring opinion last week. Speaking of the experience of young children in “big church,” the author wrote,

Of course, it is over their head. It is supposed to be over their head. They are beginners. The English language is over their head as soon as they come out of the womb. But we don’t say: Well, let’s put them with other children in their own situations and limitations so they can understand a word or two. No. We immerse them in the English language every day that they don’t understand 90% of in the hope and expectation that they grow up into joyful use of the English language.


Guess what. I remember going to church before I understood it, but those memories all come flooding back frequently in my adult life. Those memories are some of the earliest steps I took toward becoming the person I am today.

As a child, when we sang the Doxology, I thought the “heavenly hosts above” were sitting in the balcony. How I wanted to sit in that elevated company! But when I grew up, I came to understand something very different. Now my memories of worship as a child are even richer than before; the images are not changed, but my comprehension has changed.

I remember sermon content from childhood, too. Don’t doubt me. I learned about the beam in my eye and the splinter in someone else’s eye before I could understand it. I learned that people need to forgive each other over and over long before I could comprehend the math of “seventy times seven.” I heard about the Good Samaritan, and the selfish brothers James and John long before I was “old enough” to understand worship. I learned about the wide gate and the narrow gate, and I knew it was about choices, but I had to grow some before I understood how to make wise choices. Because I remember the settings where I first heard these stories, I know I was nine or younger at the time. When I heard or read the stories later, those new experiences built on the old ones.  I could sing a lot of hymns by heart when I was nine or ten, so I know I heard them frequently and was attentive enough to get the words at a very young age.

I remember hearing about Zaccheus, too. Not just the Sunday School lesson. I heard the sermon, and I absorbed the truth that meeting Jesus can change someone immediately! I can still see my pastor leaning forward and gesturing toward the congregation. That memory returned when I later heard my Sunbeam teacher tell about Zaccheus.

I vividly remember an Indian pastor telling all of us that the ministry of Jesus was “preaching, teaching, and healing.” His sermon shaped my image of missions and mission work profoundly. I was nine years old at the time.

I have these memories, because my parents took me to church with them. They did not give me coloring books to keep me quiet; they told me to be quiet, and I knew the consequences of disobedience. The other parents did the same, and I saw more than one child temporarily removed from the sanctuary for an education in the etiquette and meaning of worship. My parents told me to bow my head and pray when everyone else did. (I knew about praying, because we did it at home.) They told me to stand up when the other people did, and be respectful of God’s house. I was not to scoot right and left, fall in the floor and climb back up into the seat. I was not to wander in the aisle. Bathroom breaks were taken care of before church. During church, we remained in church, and we behaved appropriately. I did not understand why we needed to be respectful of God, but I did not understand why I needed to be respectful of my parents, either. I learned all those things over time, but my early experiences prepared me for the higher level truths.

I remember wondering as a child how the ushers actually delivered God’s money to him, but I had no doubt that He received it. I remember wondering, when I was very small, if God hid in one of the rooms behind the choir loft to hear our prayers and hymns. In the big picture, I doubt my childish misconceptions were a lot farther from the truth than my adult ones. After all, my efforts at visualizing God suffer from warping by my sinful human nature at any age. However, I believe my parents did the right thing by taking me to “big church,” (a term I never even heard as a child–nobody had imagined a separate church service for children then) and I believe my faith is stronger because of it. My appreciation of and my glad participation in worship as an adult has roots in years of worship experiences that poured over me and around me and through me long before I understood any of it.

When Moses gave his farewell address to the Israelites, he spent some time talking about the importance of educating children while they were still children. Inspired by God, the creator of all things, seen and unseen, Moses told the Israelites to talk with their children about what they had learned in the wilderness. He told them to be talking with those kids morning, noon, and night. They were not to have children’s church, but they were to have Everyday School, conversations between parents and their children about God. Moses said children needed to be part of every worship service.

Children need to be in church. There is no other way for them to absorb the meaning of worship. There is no other way for them to grow up in the faith. Children need to be in church, and they need to recognize that they will need to grow up in order to understand it. That is what it means to grow up. Too many adults today never did grow up in their faith, because nobody let them be exposed to the necessity of growing up. They do not know that growing up is necessary. They still think that God has failed them if they ask for self-serving gain and don’t get it.

If children need the instruction and language of “children’s church,” then they need to receive it in Sunday School. When they go to church, worship is what they should be doing. They will not do it “right” the first time. They may have trouble singing the songs and following the hymnal, but just like the discipline of courtesy to adults and obedience to authority, they will learn to worship. God spoke to Samuel when he was just a child, and even though Samuel did not likely understand what it was all about, he did what God told him to do, and he never forgot the experience. Your children should not be led to think of church as something to tolerate while the grownups do their secret thing with God.


What Did Moses Know About Childhood Education?

Moses and Ten Commandments

It turns out Moses was right.

Most Christians, those who believe that the Bible is God’s revelation of himself to humans, know that Moses was a man who spoke face to face with God. He led the Israelites out of Egypt, and he carried two huge stones down from Sinai after God wrote commandments on them with his finger. At the end of his life he preached a sermon to the Israelites and told them that they absolutely, positively, without fail must teach their children everything they had learned about God in the wilderness. Moses said,

These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

Because Moses spoke these words, people who use the Bible as a guide to faith and life dutifully teach their children about God. They read the Bible. They take the children to Sunday School. They pray with their children and for their children. They introduce their children to Jesus, and they teach their children how God wants them to live. They teach children that human beings are born sinful, and they teach their children to repent of their sins, confess them and turn away from them.

I bring this up, because secular thinkers accuse Christian parents of being child abusers, because Christian parents tell children that they are born sinful. Yet Christian parents say these things, because Moses admonished parents to do so. Moses, the man who spoke with God face to face, said these things, because the things children learn when they are young stick with them all their lives. Whoever teaches children what to believe teaches them the way they will live. The Catholic Church used to say, “Give us a child till he is seven years old, and you can do what you will after that.” They said that, because they had learned through millennia of childhood education that what little children learn is crucial.

Secular thinkers, however, try to tell Christians that they should not interfere with the minds and hearts of children while they are small. Secularists tell Christians that it is wrong to “impose” religion on children when they are so small and vulnerable. Of course they say that, because they do not want children to be Christians; they want children to grow up secular and believe secular teaching.

How do I know that this is their objective? I know it, because of what secular teachers are doing. A recent online article reports the work of a lesbian teacher whose mission is to “help” children learn to accept homosexuality as a normal way of life. Pam Strong says that in many years of teaching children about homosexuality, she finds that they are most willing to accept the teaching in kindergarten. If they learn about homosexuals in kindergarten, they pretty much accept it as the norm by fifth grade, according to Ms. Strong.

This is exactly what Moses told the Israelites, many thousands of years ago. This is what generations of Christian parents have learned, too. Five-year-olds are ready and willing to be taught by adults. They want to know what adults know, and they want to please adults, so they try to be obedient. Kindergarten is a good time to teach children to know and love God.

What did the Israelites do about the instructions Moses gave them? The book of Judges chronicles 400 years of history after the Israelites heard Moses speak, 400 years during which they entered and partly conquered the Promised Land, 400 years during which it is said of the moral climate in Israel,

In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Judges 21:25

The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him. Judges 10:6

As you notice in the first passage, the writer tries to blame Israel’s misbehavior on the lack of a king, but Israel’s history proved that kings were no guarantee of obedience to God. In the second passage, the writer lists gods of the people they were supposed to defeat and drive out, but instead of defeating those gods, the Israelites found them attractive. Before long, they were serving the gods of their enemies. They forsook God. Clearly, they were not talking of God when they lay down, when they got up, and when they were with their children. They were listening to someone else, not God, not God’s priests, not God’s judges. If every generation of Israelites had heard about God from the day they were born, they would have known him and served him, and history would be different.

The same thing is happening in the US. In ancient Israel, the parents were surrounded by the people of Canaan, whom God had told them to drive out. Those people served gods for whom an orgy could be an act of worship. Those gods could be manipulated with sacrifices, rituals, and magic words. Instead of turning to God who had brought them out of Egypt, the Israelites and their children worshiped gods that were more appealing. In the US today, the more appealing god is yourself. Do things for yourself. Satisfy yourself. Experiment with your sexuality and decide what makes you happy.

This is what secular thinkers are now teaching Christian children in kindergarten. Secular thinkers know the deep truth of what Moses said, and they are making sure they get their message for children engraved in their minds early. They say, “With these big ideas there are also very big words that are very hard to understand. I find that whether it’s kindergarten . . . [or] grade six, visuals help a lot.” The secularists who say that sex is for personal gratification, and teach that everyone should experiment and figure out what sort of sex is fun, think they are teaching big ideas with big words that require pictures for enhanced understanding.

They are right. They are right on all points. Small children are highly impressionable. Small children readily learn anything that is taught in appealing way. They love pictures and learn a lot from pictures. They want to please their teachers, and to please their teachers, they will act out behaviors encouraged by teachers. They do it when they are taught to think homosexuality is normal, and they do it when they are taught that Jesus loves them.

The problem for Christians is this: Secular thinkers are promoting the idea that teaching children that Jesus loves them is brainwashing. To teach a child to sing “Jesus Love Me” is brainwashing according to the secular worldview. The same secularist says that teaching children that homosexuality is normal makes the nation a better place. Jesus is a danger. Homosexuality is a good thing. Secular thinkers are turning the minds of children upside down.

Would it be so easy if the children already knew Jesus? Of course not. The question is—do the little children of Christian parents know Jesus? The answer lies in surveys by Barna and Pew, which reveal that the number of adults in the US who claim never to have had any religious connection at all is increasing side by side with the number of adults in the US who were exposed to religion as children but abandoned it at adulthood. I use the word exposed, because children who were dropped off at Sunday School as children, whenever Sunday School did not conflict with soccer, clearly do not get the morning, noon and night immersion in a life of faith that Moses imagined. On the other hand, children who hear about homosexuality in kindergarten, and ever thereafter, are immersed in news, books and public conversations that admire homosexuals and belittle Christians.

Christians must start teaching their children about Jesus in the cradle, and they must follow the admonition of Moses to live their faith night and day. That really should not be a problem. That is what Christians should be doing anyway. This is what Jesus told us to do—deny self and follow him. If Christians do this, they will be bringing up their children to know Jesus and the teachings of Jesus. Parents will pray in the sight of their children when life gets tough. Parents will pray with their children to give thanks for good things and ask for strength to endure bad things. The name of Jesus will be spoken reverently by parents and children alike, and the children will figure out for themselves that “omg” is not a respectful attitude toward God. Statistics tell us that fewer and fewer parents are doing these things. If Christians in the US want a different fate than that of the Israelites, a fate that was a natural consequence of their rejection of God, then Christians in the US need to stop acting like the Israelites. Statistics say that Christians are falling away from faithful worship, rejecting the Bible as a guide for faith and life, and engaging in mind-melds with various religions in what secularists celebrate as “interfaith dialogue.” Instead of standing as bright lights of truth before their children, Christian parents are chasing after the same fool’s gold and self-serving lies that attract their children. The children learn from the parents that it is important to “fit in” and “get along” and “don’t make waves.”

In public school, the children will inevitably hear all the secular teachings. Secularism dominates the public schools. If nobody has ever told them different, they will be vulnerable little children who want their teacher to praise them, and they will go along to get along. If they do not learn any different from their parents, they will do what their parents do—blend in with the surroundings. Do Christians want their children to grow up knowing how to stand strong for their faith, or do they want their children to fit in with secular culture?

Was Moses right? I say he was. What do you think?

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Image: “Paris cimetière Montparnasse716” by GFreihalter – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paris_cimeti%C3%A8re_Montparnasse716.JPG#/media/File:Paris_cimeti%C3%A8re_Montparnasse716.jpg



Blogging through the Book The Selfless Way of Christ by Henri Nouwen


English: Chanting the Gospel lesson during Div...
English: Chanting the Gospel lesson during Divine Liturgy in an Orthodox church Русский: Литургия в русском храме Покрова Пресвятой Богородицы, Дюссельдорф, Германия, 21 сентября 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter 3, A Self-Emptied Heart

The discipline of the Christian disciple is not to master anything, but rather to be mastered by the Spirit.

 It is completely counter-intuitive to “work” toward discipline and achievement by submitting. We think we must work hard, and then harder. We think we must do certain things over and over until we get them right. The truth is that our most important lesson is to learn that we never will get it right. We can only get the Spirit. If we are where the Spirit leads, if we are doing what the Spirit asks, our weakness, our failure, our inability to do anything but fail becomes immaterial. We do the obedience; the Spirit does the accomplishment.

Nouwen speaks of three disciplines that lead us to empty our hearts in order that Christ may fill them. 

The Discipline of the Church is so much more than the phrase “go to church” ever implies. When I was a little girl, “go to church” was a very important weekly event. I had special “church” clothes. We had special Sunday dinner on that day. I vividly remember my red patent leather purse in which Mother put my special church handkerchief with a nickel tied up in the corner for my Sunday School offering. To a six-year-old, those were the important things about “going to church,” but that is not what the discipline of the church is.

The discipline of the church, says Nouwen, “is the discipline by which we as a people represent the living Christ in time and space.” This is what the liturgy is all about. I did not grow up with the liturgy. In the churches of my childhood, worship services had little that would remind anyone of the liturgy I enjoy so much today. Nouwen writes of liturgical worship as “the celebration by the people of God of the Christ-event.” That certainly fits my experience. As we progress through the seasons, certain elements are changeless, timeless, while others morph from season to season telling the story of the Christ event, reliving the Christ event, bringing the Christ event to life for us each week. As Nouwen points out, “Christ is God acting in human history” and in the liturgy, we celebrate and live that work every week. We empty our lives of self and fill our selves up with Christ. 

In the secular world, such discipline is not respected. In fact, churches are seen as hierarchies and rule-makers, not focal points for personal transformation. Nouwen does not try to deal with that issue, his focus being those who are faithful and trying to grow in faith. Nevertheless, those who are faithful must live in the midst of people who either dismiss or actually attack the idea of church or the liturgy. To those who do not know Christ and who do not enter into the liturgy as the discipline Nouwen describes, the liturgy becomes an empty ritual of repetitive phrases whose only redeeming feature is an occasional poetic or musical mountaintop. 

The discipline of the book is the way the Word of God continues to become flesh in us. That idea is overwhelming. Yet, anyone who reads the Word of God with heart and soul fully engaged has this experience. By means of meditation, which Henri Nouwen defines as, “the discipline of inner attentiveness to the Word,” we take in the Spirit and the power of the Word, and we are “formed into living Christs.” It is a sacramental experience, and it is world-changing. When we engage in this discipline, it is easy to be distracted by Satan’s whispers that we should be relevant, spectacular and powerful. Instead of learning from what we read, we must allow the reading of the Book shape our lives. Our temptation to learn draws us back to the temptation to upward mobility. The discipline of being shaped takes us downward with Christ to lives of service. We empty ourselves of accomplishments and fill ourselves up with Christ. 

Even within the church, however, the discipline of the book is falling into disrepute. Some Christian scholars treat the Bible as the expression of human beings at a specific stage in the evolution of human beings. They interpret ancient texts as if the words and situations must be reframed by contemporary ideas. The revelation of absolute truth is melted down in a crucible of human reason in order to arrive at a new thing on the earth, a human telling God what truth is. These scholars say things like, “The Bible does not address things that we know today, so we must act on our new knowledge without being limited by the Bible’s old ideas.” It is hard for faithful Christians to share the faith with secular thinkers, but it is even harder when church leaders keep changing the message. Nouwen would undoubtedly find that situation to be yet another example of Satan’s temptation to be relevant. 

Who among us can go empty-handed into the place of solitude? Yet this is the deepest discipline, the discipline of the heart, the discipline that leads us away from a heart that “ought” and “must” be busy about church work to the very heart of God. This is the sort of prayer that leads us to take up burdens we would prefer not to bear. In the heart of God, those burdens are lightened. If we cannot escape our own needs, then the burdens of others will be too heavy. 

This discipline puts people of faith in the most stark contrast to secular thinkers. Secular thinking requires that each person recognize that this world is all there is. Secular thinkers cannot empty themselves. Secular thinkers dare not empty themselves. There is nothing else. They must do it all themselves. They must choose and work and advance entirely on their own. Secular thinks believe that if we fail, we fail on our own. Unlike secular thinker, people of faith need only be faithful, not successful. Obedience is our part; success is the work of the Spirit. 

Nouwen recommends something many people will find troubling. He recommends a spiritual director. This person will have the obligation to inquire about, and we would have the obligation to report, the status of our prayer life. Who wants that? Does anyone voluntarily give someone else the right to ask, “So, why didn’t you take time to pray this morning?” Yet without some external force, someone to monitor our days, it may not be possible for us to let go of self and let go of our own needs enough to empty self and be filled with Christ. 

How do we go downward with Christ into complete servitude? We empty our selves and let self be filled up with Christ. The three disciplines – the church, the book and the heart – it sounds quite simple. Yet anyone who is honest will not find it so simple. To empty self and be mastered by the Spirit is to descend from the heights of self-fulfillment to the depths of service and self-effacement. It is an essential path, but few find it.