Sunday mornings

We are the family who files into church a couple of minutes early, greeting those around us with smiles and hugs. We make our way to some seats, usually in the center section, close to the middle but a bit further back. Our arms are laden with children and bags. Bags that have been carefully packed at home, filled with children's Bibles, notebooks, and a few crayons. My purse contains the snacks and drinks that we'll pull out later, after worship. Daddy ushers in the oldest two, I carry our youngest. Little coats or sweaters are removed and tucked near the bags that have been placed under the chairs in front of us. We purposefully situate the seating: child, daddy, child, mama with child on lap.

During worship we stand, daddy holding one boy, mama holding the other. Our daughter stands on her chair. Voices and hands are raised in praise. Ah, yes. My favorite part, these songs of worship.

The sermon begins and the bag is unpacked. Here, son, here's your Bible. And here's yours, honey. Color crayons? Yes, here. And here's your notebook. Shh. Please whisper, okay? Don't kick the chair in front of you. Please sit still. Turn around and sit on your bum, honey. Legs forward. Sweetheart, don't forget to keep your dress down, okay? Remember to be modest. Shh, shh... quiet. No, no snacks yet. Just wait a bit for those.

Daddy holds a child and some crayons, aiming to keep noise and distraction to a minimum. He motions for drinks. Okay. Here. Please be quiet, buddy. A few moments of peace while drinks are downed. Boys are gazing up at the ceiling vents and lighting, sitting fairly still. Cups are passed, now empty, to mama, who is trying, in vain, to take notes. Yes, I see that. Good coloring, sweetheart. Our youngest points out the animals in his picture Bible and begins offering up their sounds for my approval. Yes, honey. But please remember to whisper. Crayons are dropped, falling into the row behind us, out of reach. They're passed back over a moment later, a grateful whispered thank you from my lips.

I lean over to Mark. Maybe see if this one needs to the bathroom? A little shuffling ensues as daddy gets up and quietly slips out with our second-born. Bibles are set down, mama reaches over to catch them from falling, too, as children wriggle about. Shhh. No, honey. You can't go with. Sit here with mommy. They will be right back.

Back from the bathroom come daddy and son. Time for snacks. I wonder for the millionth time exactly what snack I could bring that would be noiseless. Little fingers are greedily reaching for more. Handfuls now taken, and the snack is spilling onto laps and the floor. Mama bends to still a hand and whisper a reminder: Only take a couple at a time, okay? At this reprimand a pout forms on one child's reddening face. Mama freezes. Please, no. Shh, buddy. But it's too late. Someone does not like to be told no, and he belts out a loud, angry cry. He is whisked up into my arms and hurried down the aisle. I am vaguely aware of the pastors voice and a blur of faces, but VERY aware of this wailing child and my own flushed face. Shh, shh. Quiet, please. I am embarrassed, rushing out. And then, safely out of the sanctuary, through the foyer, and into the bathroom. Child is set down. Mama takes a deep breath. Trying not to discipline in anger. I kneel down, speaking firmly but quietly. Others are in the bathroom, too. My boy? He cries in anticipation of what is coming. It does come, and then it's a sorry and a hug, and a reminder to go back in quietly with mama.

And in again we go, walking quietly, (Lord, may it be invisibly?) back to our seats. Tucked back into the row, near daddy and the other children. Sighing with relief that no one is crying at the moment. My face is surely still flushed. The snacks have disappeared, the pastor is wrapping up. I pick up my journal, glancing at it. The date at the top of the page stares back at me. No notes today.

I might feel better if we weren't so alone in this. To my knowledge no one else in our entire large church has their children sit with them throughout the service. (Why would they, after all? There's a perfectly good children's program right downstairs!) It would be easier to send them there. Our children could be as noisy as they wanted. I might get to hear an entire sermon; to take a full page of notes. Mark and I could sit beside each other and listen without interruption. And we could altogether avoid the stares. And the embarrassment. We could avoid the comments, too: "Children need to run around and get their wiggles out." Or, "This is too long for children to have to sit so still." Then there are those who don't say a word at all but whose thoughts are written upon their frowns. Or those whose faces or voices tell me nothing at all but I wonder, "Just what are they thinking?"

I need to be reminded that it matters not what people think. Our intention; our desire, our responsibility, is to teach our children:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

My prayer is that as we sit on Sunday mornings with our children gathered around us, we are indeed teaching them.

We are teaching them how to express their love for God as we reveal how we express our love for God. Sometimes with eyes closed or hands raised. Sometimes with heads bowed in silent prayer, sometimes with voices raised in joyful song.

When there is time given for people to stand who need prayer, I move out of our row to go pray for someone. As I lay a hand upon them, I feel a little hand clasp my own, and I see that my daughter has come, too, to pray.

When there are testimonies shared and baptisms watched and celebrated, we pull our children onto our laps and teach: "Do you remember, honey, what baptism means?" And I tearfully lean over in a whisper to Mark, "Can you imagine them missing this?"

When the offering bag comes by, my children let go of their tightly clenched quarters and drop them in, and they are taught to tithe. Sometimes my daughter also drops in a card she has made especially for Jesus. My eyes well up with tears at the gift, and the certain joy of the recipient.

When communion is given, we bend our heads and whisper: "Do you remember why we take this? This is to remind us of Christ's body, and this, of his blood. Jesus loves you so much, sweetheart, he died for your sins."

When a missionary comes to speak and shares story upon story, I am glad our children are beside us to hear and learn and be moved by these stories of far-off places and of devoted believers giving their lives to share the gospel.

Lest you think they are the only ones being taught, let me assure you: I am being taught, too.

I am given a good lesson in humility as I head to the back with a flushed face and a screaming child.

There are times I sit with tears in my eyes as my daughter raises her hands in praise, singing slightly off key but as loudly as you've ever heard; and I am taught of unabashed love, and I wonder at my own distraction and sometimes cold heart.

And I learn anew as I watch all of these lessons find their way into the hearts of my children.

Like I said, it would be easier to send them downstairs. But then I would miss these things. And they would, too. Where else, if not here, would they get the opportunity to witness these things?

I'll take a screaming child out any day.


  1. It's not always easy is it? We also keep our children with us durring service and there are days that I feel like I never heard a word of the sermon, but then later at home my son mentions something he learned and it makes the "challenge" all worth while. I'd rather my kids hear the gospel spoken, read and preached in it's truest form, not some watered-down, "snack & story" version. They really hear and pick up on more than we realize! We haven't always been convicted to worship with our children but we couldn't imagine it any other way now.

  2. Sheesh - I'm cold now, cause I'm covered with goosebumps! I'm sorry you feel alone in your church - but you are not alone in the world! There are lots of us reaching for the same goal, and we just need to remember that this is a season - the distractions, the whispering, the screaming; the lack of note-taking!
    And what a blessing we are given in return! (((Hugs))), Stacy! Thank you for sharing this!

  3. Stacy, Thank you for sharing this. I can so relate! We go to a rather small church and we have a nursery, a 2-4 year olds class, K thru grade 2 class and a grade 3 thru 6 class. Our Pastor has decided to cancel the classes until there are at least 5 children of that age group. Wouldn't you know Harrison makes number 5. All the moms were thrilled that in less than a year, they'd have Sunday School for their 2-4 year olds. And then I mentioned, Harrison is not going into Sunday School. Not a very pleasant experience, I am becoming less and less popular since I became a mom.

    I do have a question, though. Did you put your babies in the nursery? I am struggling with this now. I want to keep him with me, but keeping a 1 year old quiet for 2 hours, well it's interesting. Any thoughts?

  4. Thanks for sharing this Stacy. I think all of us who keep our kids with us can relate! Sometimes I wonder if it's worth if when I'm in the thick of it, but I know the answer is a resounding "Yes!" Our church only offers Sunday School after Communion, which is about 3/4 through the service, so all the families are together, and only some let the kids go after that. We usually keep the kids with us to the end, but if the service is running long I'll take them out and stay with them in Sunday School. Even with the support of the congregation, it's not easy! But God gives us the encouragement we need. May He continue to bless you as you train up your little ones in the way they should go!
    Oh, and our chicks are doing great- they are so big, and thankfully, happy in their outside home!
    Have a great week!

  5. Press on Mama! What you are doing is for the Lord not men. We've been where you are. About 8 months ago we moved to a church where keeping children with you is the norm. Phew.
    On a practical note:
    Snacks? You are a brave soul! We do, do gum. Only if they chew with their mouths closed. And its hard to talk when you mouth is closed. :)We also do one writing tool and a small 'notebook' of stapled paper. Cuts down on the paper noise.
    The kids are allowed 1/2 cup of apple juice Sunday mornings (all the water they want)at breakfast to eliminate bathroom runs. Apple juice makes them have to 'go' more then water.
    We really play all this up to the kids - as a positive way to enjoy worship - doing everything we can not to miss the service because that would be a big bummer to come all this way to worship and spend it in the bathroom or being disciplined in the hall way. For the most part the kids get it. We emphasize it's about Jesus not us - so lets do all we can to be there and listening.

  6. Thank you, ladies... for the encouragement.

    Trina- It was the same for us... we haven't always been convicted to keep our children with us, but now that we are, I can't imagine it otherwise!

    Charlotte- As for the nursery, we have chosen to keep our babies with us in the service, or out of the service, in the parent's viewing room off the sanctuary. But still with us. But with the goal being to train them to sit through the service. We used to do training sessions with our little guys-- at home, on the couch, daddy reading the Bible, all of us sitting, listening.

    Dana! :)
    I think ours are too young for gum, though that's a good idea for future reference! (I like the mouth-closed note!) As for the bathroom trips, it's only Isaac right now because he is newly potty-trained and still having the occasional accident. :)

    Love to you all!

  7. I totally agree with what you said. I also prefer to have our kid with us, seeing us we we worship our Lord. There was a lady who kept saying that we have room for kids and kept answering:" I know".
    Of course i wouldn't let my kid totally disturb the sermon, but i want her to be with us. Most of the parents ( all of them actually ) bring their kids in the 'kids room' but mine is with me. It is our obligation to raise them in God's spirit

  8. Stacy;

    May God strengthen you, continue to give you wisdom and a heart that is steadfast in your pursuit of Him (for you and your children). Don't grow weary in your good work my friend.

    ps- want to play tag? I tagged you...8 random things about yourself, if you have time ;-)

  9. Hi Stacy,
    I have been a lurker for awhile on your blog....but I had to comment on this post...I am so glad to read that you bring your children into your church service. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and we have tons of kids in the chapel when we have church...they don't go to sunday school. I love having my son with me during church. I know that even though he might be playing with his toys or eating some snacks, or reading his books, or coloring, or, or, or, etc....I know he is learning about God and Jesus and I amso glad for that.
    Thanks for your post, it helped me to remember why my little guy is so important to me.

  10. I wanted to comment, it's been soooo long,(sorry Stacy), but I wanted to visit the other side. As Christian mothers we all want our kids to see us "worship", however, "worship" is more than what goes on Sunday morning in a church service, we have the opportunity to show and teach our children about worship everyday, ( and I know you all know that). However,as I was reading the comments I was surprised how much everyone has a negative attitude about the children's programs in their churches and calling them "watered down bible stories" I guess until you have served in those areas maybe you don't have a complete understanding of how important those programs are to parents and children. First of all the teachers of children's programs are using the gifts that God has given them to minister, for some people this is where they feel like God can use them, they aren't as intimidated by younger ones and they feel like they are making a difference for the Kingdom. What a blessing some of these teachers have been in my life and my children's lives! I thank God for these teachers that have shared in our children's christian growth. I know that my children are missed, loved and prayed for by these special people and I don't want to be the one to rob them of an opportunity that God has given them. Secondly, I have known parents who do not feel like they "know" the bible as well as they would like and as they are growing in God's word they still lack confidence in teaching their children, these programs not only grow the children, but as children grow they can also have a dramatic effect on the parents. Every family has to choose what is best for their family and I think it is great that you all have decided to pursue this, but I know as a stay at home mom for more than 10 yrs, now with almost all school age children, I sometimes longed for those Sunday mornings when the kids were all young and I could sit and worhip and learn from our minister without interruption, because face it there are very few if any other times when there are opportunities for no interruptions. And it's fun to share what we have all learned over lunch after church. My children have learned a lot about the bible in their classes I do not question that, and I also know that it is only a supplement to the responsibility that we have as parents to teach our children God's word. Lastly, I can't say enough about the relationships with other Christian adults that have been formed, I know that these people have an interest in my children and we are supported by them in our decision to raise christian kids, it also helps our kids to feel like they truly are part of our "church family." I guess I just wanted other mothers that may read this to remember that it's ok if your kids go to children's church, you might actually be blessed or be a blessing to someone else by giving your children up for a couple of hours!

  11. Hi all! Stacy here. I'm adding to the comments an email I received from my brother-in-law, Dan, regarding this post. Dan is the associate pastor at a Presbyterian Church. I'm in the process of responding to Carrie's post, above, and to Dan's, but I wanted to post his perspective here in the comments section for the rest of you to benefit from. Here it is:

    I read your May 20 post about your kids in worship, and found that I actually wanted to respond with a different perspective. Maybe it's because I'm a pastor, and I don't get to sit in the pews very often. But I found myself torn in a few directions, and wanted to share them with you...

    You sure painted a realistic picture of how kids act in worship services, I'll give you that. Our kids, when they are in the pews, are always in motion, whether it be for snacks, drawing paper, or each other. I had to laugh at the scene - it is the same anywhere and everywhere.

    I also think you pegged the frustration of having other people resent having kids in worship. I've had church members ask me if we could make an official rule that kids should not be allowed in church. I didn't even know where to begin with that - yikes. But the grumpy looks, the comments - yeah, that gets old pretty quick.

    Where I tend to differ, though, is when you look at the benefits vs. costs of having kids in worship. Now, be aware that our church does things a little differently. At both of our services, the kids are in the sanctuary to start with. They go through the opening elements of worship (Call to Worship, songs, baptism if there is one, a Scripture reading, etc.), and then they are dismissed to class about 15-20 minutes in.

    When they get to the Christian Education building, they all gather as one group for their own time of singing, Scripture memorization, prayer, and offering taking. Then they split into age-appropriate classes for their lessons.

    We changed to this format a couple years ago, to accomplish two goals: we wanted our congregation to understand that church is not complete without children, that families need to worship together. But we also recognize that kids gain much more from age-appropriate lessons (with song, active elements, etc.) than from a sermon aimed at adults. So we start the kids in church, but send them out partway through.

    So keep that in mind - it would be more challenging as a parent, I think, if the kids were never in worship. Though I think I would probably still walk a different road than you.

    As a pastor, I think that part of the responsibility lies with churches. We need to structure worship to allow children to participate - whether that is a setup like ours, or we completely revamp the service to make it kid-and-adult friendly. So I don't think churches can avoid shouldering some of the blame for our frustrations as parents. Therefore, I hear your concerns loud and clear, and hopefully it helps me plan and lead in the future.

    As a parent, though, I diverge from your thoughts in a few ways:

    First, I have a bit of a hard time when you say that it is "easier" to send our kids to class instead of staying in the sanctuary. I may be reading it wrong, but you seem to be saying that because you and Mark are choosing something that is harder (i.e. keeping your kids through worship), then you are choosing something that is better. I guess I'm not convinced harder is always better. Not that I'm immune from my own martyr issues, that is for sure.

    For me, I do not send my kids to Sunday School simply because it is easier. Stefany and I believe that our kids are experiencing something much more age-appropriate, something much more engaging, and therefore something much more fruitful in their lives. Again, elements like singing and sacraments are always age-appropriate, so I'm not suggesting that every aspect of a worship service is not relevant for kids. But, at least in my mind, what they miss in "big church" is more than made up for by what they experience in their classes.

    I would also differ when it comes to the cost of having our young kids in church. You said it well in your post - that blank page staring back at you, where you were going to take sermon notes. Of course I'm biased about the importance of sermons :) but I would suggest that when we spend our time enabling our kids to get through church, we as parents miss out on important - maybe even essential - spiritual nourishment. A desire to have our kids in worship is a worthy idea, but I'm not sure it outweighs the cost of drying up the well where we get our spiritual nourishment. I find strength and renewal when I hear God's word preached (no, not just from my own sermons, ha ha), and if I don't have that regular time of nourishment, it has a deep and disturbing effect on my parenting.

    So maybe some parents would argue that they send their kids to class, not out of convenience, but because it enables them to be the best parents for their kids. Maybe they actually send their kids to class for their kids' sake, not their own.

    OK, to the "finally." I appreciate your reference to Deuteronomy, a central passage that emphasizes the importance of passing God's covenant and commandments to our children. But don't forget, those verses were written in a context where kids were raised not by a nuclear family, but by extended families and entire villages. Many, many other adults - related by blood and not related - took part in the teaching and rearing of children. Children, at all stages in life, were exposed to all kinds of people outside of their parents. This was a good thing.

    With that in mind, I wonder if our kids, by staying with us in worship, might actually miss out on the chance to be exposed to other Christian role models. When our kids experience God through the words and actions of others - teachers, classmates - their faith is deepened all the more, in ways that we as their parents can't replicate. In fact, I might even say that we could actually hinder God's work in our child's life, if we do not allow other members of the body of Christ to use their gifts to benefit our kids.

    I wonder if, knowing your plans for home-schooling, a place like Sunday School might provide this necessary exposure to other members of God's body, other thoughts, other life experiences, other ways of expressing the gospel of Jesus Christ?

    Holy cow, I have to stop typing. If you made it this far, you are a better person than I am. Thanks again for putting your thoughts on the web - I think we all learn and grow, that is for sure. Feel free to post any of this, if you think it would spark some good discussion. Or recycle it and call it spam :)


  12. [In response...]

    Wow… in no way did I think this post would stir up these types of responses. I want to respond here to Carrie and Dan’s thoughts, but I’d like to begin by giving a little disclaimer, and then a little history.

    First of all, I would just like to say that it was not my intention in this post to come across as saying that THIS way (keeping children in the service) is THE way. I am simply expressing that it is the place that God has led Mark and I to as we parent the children God has given to us. I know that as Christian parents we are all trying to do our very best to raise our children up to know and serve Jesus Christ. I can’t say that what we have chosen to do is for everyone, but I am convinced it is for us. I hope that makes sense.

    I participated in Sunday school for my entire life. For all of my younger years, I sat with my parents in the service for worship, and then was excused with the other children to go to Sunday school. I think I came out okay, so I am not “knocking” Sunday school by any means. :)

    Within the past 5-7 years (if my memory serves me correctly), our church completely changed their policy. Children were encouraged to go straight to their Sunday school classes upon arrival. We followed suit, until our daughter (then 3) requested, week after week, to stay with us rather than go down to her Sunday school class. It was at that point that Mark and I had to make a decision: do we make her to go to Sunday school or do we let her stay with us?

    What Ella would miss out on downstairs would have been her relationship with her teacher (who was a 14 year old boy who arrived late every week and did not know Ella by name. Or if he did, he never spoke it. Or spoke to her.) She would have missed out on some children’s music and a craft and a Bible story, and time with her peers doing all of these activities.

    Now, I think personality was a factor for us in this, too. Our children are naturally shy; it takes them some time to warm up and feel comfortable in bigger groups. We had encouraged Ella at various times to reach out to her classmates and talk to her teacher, and she had made efforts in this regard from what she told us, but she did not want to stay. She wanted to be with us.

    And what would Ella gain by being with us? We had some ideas, but we weren’t sure, exactly. But we were willing to find out. So we told Ella she could stay with us, and in our minds we were “trying it out”.

    What we witnessed was fruit in her life that we hadn’t seen previously in her time downstairs. She, within the security of her relationship with Mark and I, began to shed some of her shyness. She smiled and looked people in the eye, she answered questions and gave hugs and handshakes during the “meet and greet” time.

    We also watched her begin to express herself in worship. She raised her hands in praise. She listened to the words and sang them throughout the week. Now, I cannot speak for everyone else’s children’s church, but I can say that for ours, the children are not worshipping, they are singing. I have spent years serving in Sunday school classes, so I do not say this without having observed it firsthand.

    When Ella was with us, she even listened to the sermon. She “caught” parts of it and we would talk about them later. She heard Scripture read aloud from the pulpit. She learned creeds and psalms and things that she would not have gotten downstairs.

    I absolutely think there is a benefit to our children having models of other adults to help spur our children on in their growth and love for Jesus. I know that there are Sunday school teachers whose heart and ministry is to invest in children’s lives. There are teachers who love the children in their class, who pray for them and bless them in a myriad of ways. I can say that for us, that type of relationship was not happening, not in Ella’s class (whose teacher remains, though he is now 16), nor in Isaac’s class (when we had him downstairs). And the fruit that we began to see in our children as a result of their time with us in worship made our choice obvious.

    I want to stress again that this is the decision we have come to for our family. Again, it is not for everyone.

    I don’t know where we would be at if the circumstances were different, honestly. If our church encouraged children to be in the service for even part of the time, we may not have come to the decision to have our children with us. If Ella’s experience with her teacher had been different, or her personality more gregarious, maybe we wouldn’t have come to this place. But the sum of all those things brought us to this place, and we are glad to be here.

    I want to apologize for my lack of clarification in what you pointed out, Dan—in that I said in my post that it would be “easier” to send our kids downstairs. What I meant by using that word was that it would be easier in that it would be less stressful for me as a parent during these seasons where our children are young and learning to obey and sit respectfully through a service. I didn’t mean by that that it is better. (Now, I can passionately argue that it is better for us; for our family, and we truly believe this is where God wants our children, but I can not make that call for anyone else.) And I never meant to insinuate that others send their kids to Sunday school because it’s easier. I don’t believe that at all, so I’m sorry it came across that way.

    My post reflected a bit of my own frustrations at times during this season. But I do see it as that; a season. The problems we are having now during the service with our youngest (who is two) are not issues that we deal with anymore with our two older children. I think (maybe naively), that as our children get older, and as they learn from a young age to sit through a service it will be easier for all of us. And I will get to take notes again someday! (And there are days I do get to take notes right now; just not the Sunday I wrote that post!)

    In no way do I feel like my own well is drying up from lack of spiritual nourishment, but it is a good point.

    I don’t think our children are suffering from a lack of Christian role models, either. They have loving, attentive extended family members and many friends.

    As for the Deuteronomy passage, all I can offer to that is that God has entrusted us with Ella, Isaac and Isaias to raise. And He has given them to us, too, meaning that He has equipped US to be their parents, and He has given us the primary responsibility of passing on God’s covenant and laws. That’s all we’re striving to do. I happen to think that we can better offer that to our children on a Sunday morning than a Sunday school teacher can. We have an advantage that others don’t have: we know our children the best.

    I hope this comes across with a right spirit; in no way do I wish to offend or even to be defensive. I am just sharing our own thoughts and experiences. I do thank you for sharing yours, too. I agree that we can benefit and learn from one another!

    And I would welcome any further thoughts/comments on this discussion!

    Blessings to you and yours,

  13. Alright ... time for my two cents in this discussion.

    First of all, I want to say you did a great job writing this post, Stacy. I'm glad you posted on this subject, but I really enjoyed the way you wrote it as well.

    Obviously, Stacy and I are of the same mind on this issue, so there's no need for me to repeat anything she wrote, but I do have one thing to add in response to the differing opinions of Dan and Carrie:

    Carrie says, "I can't say enough about the relationships with other Christian adults that have been formed, I know that these people have an interest in my children and we are supported by them in our decision to raise christian kids, it also helps our kids to feel like they truly are part of our 'church family'."

    Dan says, "When our kids experience God through the words and actions of others - teachers, classmates - their faith is deepened all the more, in ways that we as their parents can't replicate. In fact, I might even say that we could actually hinder God's work in our child's life, if we do not allow other members of the body of Christ to use their gifts to benefit our kids."

    Here's a bit of history, so you'll know I understand where you're coming from: I taught Sunday school for two-year olds at our church for years. I do think (perhaps vainly) that I had a Godly influence in those kids life for about 50 hours a year. God used me (and the gifts He has given me) to benefit kids. I had an interest in those kids and supported their parents in their decisions to raise Christian kids. I still have an interest in those kids and their faith, even though my first group are now teenagers.

    But EGADS!! I think we're missing something here. I am not ministering to my children by having them in service with me. I am letting "our kids experience God through the words and actions of others:" preachers, worship leaders, fellow pew-sitters we talk to during the meet-and-greet and after service. I pray God uses these people to deepen my children's faith, "in ways that we as their parents can't replicate." I am allowing "other members of the body of Christ to use their gifts to benefit our kids."

    I truly feel that the best way for our kids truly feel part of our 'church family'" is for them to be in church ... to walk into the same doors and sit in the same pews as everybody else does on Sunday mornings, not be relegated to "their" church, never seeing a great majority of the church, the "extended families and entire village" of our church.

    - Mark

  14. Wow, what a great discussion!

    While I long for the days of my youth when I was single and ofcourse childless and I could savor every word our pastor uttered during his sermons and enter so deeply into worship that my knees would at times become weak.... I have come to acknowledge that that is no longer the season of my life that I am in. I will taste that intimacy in corporal worship again. I will listen with intensity again. But when that day comes I just may be distracted with a holy longing when I hear the cry of the baby being carried out by the young mom across the pew. I will pray for her in her vocation and her season. I will remember with bittersweet tears stinging my eyes how hard and how incredibly rewarding those years were. I will offer my intimacy for hers. And I will go and encourage her after the service. Words exchanged between generations of mothers. Words that will hopefully encourage her to continue to keep her children in the service. Their presence will bless me after all. I will see if she needs any help during the week with her little ones, perhaps a time I can come by so she can go have fellowship with a bible study or something of the like. Or perhaps, can I come teach her daughter a craft, or gardening, or to bake a pie? That is how I will be a village for her. I will offer her my time and my love, my prayers and my encouragement.

    Ahhh, but that is 20 years from now.

    For now I am in the trenches...being blessed by the generations of moms who have gone before me.

  15. Stacy,
    What a great discussion. I wish we could all sit together in a church and have this discussion-- it's hard to come across as listening when really, I'm typing. But I'm listening.

    We have done both: had kids in a children's church-- never for all of the service, just for the sermon-- and kept them with us, depending on the church atmosphere and programs available. Right now, our church has a "children's ministry" which I think provides good, solid teaching on God's Word (most of the time.) And we have a small church, and few servants who are willing to serve the children. So I serve in that capactity, which commits my children to being involved in it. Sometimes it feels like the children and egg problem... which came first: the children's ministries, or the need for separate children's ministries?

  16. Hi Stacy, I thought I’d chime in with our experience here.

    My wife Amy co-ran the Sunday School program at a very large church for over 5 years. When we moved away from that church and were looking for a new church, we naturally felt that having a good “children’s church” was a deal-breaker for whatever new church we ended up in. When we finally found a church we really liked (a reformed church with about 100 families) the pastor gently explained to us their vision of preaching to the covenant family and that “children’s church” was something they really weren’t open to doing. Of course, the church has Sunday school for kids (and adults) before the service; catechizing the youth is a huge priority to them, but they did not think it was Biblical to split up the families for the actual worship service. So we took a pass on that church because we JUST KNEW that the best way for kids to learn was with their peers, with a contextualized message, with fun music and puppet shows, etc.

    After a year of attending a couple other churches, we decided that this issue may be one that we have to bend on. We began to consider that if people with whom we are theologically aligned, philosophically aligned (nearly the entire church homeschools), and just generally like-minded in other meaningful ways ALL believe strongly that it is important for kids to be with their parents in worship, then we may want to consider such a notion. So we did and have now come full circle on our opinion about what is best. While Sunday school or catechism is great (and our kids have that every Sunday before church for an hour or so), there is no supplement to having your kids worship with you. We have a nursery for our youngest ones, but we train them to sit with us by their 2nd birthday (sometimes that training is easy, sometime it is with much weeping and gnashing).

    We homeschool because we want to be the primary influence on our children; how much more important to be the primary influence in their experience of the worship service! I can honestly say that if we ever moved, we would not at all be open to a church that has children’s church. I could go into more reasons why, both theological and practical, but this post will already be long enough. I know that all families are different and have different goals, etc, but I really would urge anyone that feels compelled to part with their kids for the worship service to reconsider. If your church isn’t open to that, then consider finding one that is. It really is this big of a deal. It used to be my wife’s job to plan and design children’s church programs. I played guitar in children’s church for 3 or 4 years so we are not speaking from any lack of experience. It really is that big of a deal.

    Now, off my soapbox for some practical thoughts. We use tic tacs for the younger ones and gum for the older ones, although gum is way better. The problem is that our 2 year old thinks that a piece of gum is spent after about 30 seconds, but he’s learning. Gum is ideal for everyone else. We did crayons and other books for a while but have moved away from that. I think there’s value in learning to sit still and trying to pay attention to the sermon. I think kids will clear almost any bar we set for them. We have two rules for church that our boys could recite, I’m sure: (1) don’t be a distraction to anyone else and (2) try to pay attention as best you can. Our 4 and 6 year olds both can usually explain some of the main points of the sermon, particularly if there was swords, battles, blood or death involved.

    I think bathroom breaks are most often boredom breaks and should be discouraged. We remind our kids to use the bathroom BEFORE the service. If they need to go during the service, that’s fine, but since it is a result of their lack of planning, they forfeit their after-service cookie. We usually (at the behest of my 6 year old who wants to be able to see) sit in the second row. A few weeks back we sat in the last row (b/c we were late) and I noticed that the bathroom users were as follows: one pregnant woman, one elderly man, and 3 kids (all boys), two of which went twice. This is out of about 40 or so families, most of which have 3-5 kids. My bathroom beliefs were affirmed.

    Sorry, I thought I’d gotten off my soapbox but it appears permanently glued to my feet. Oh well.

    This has been an interesting thread for sure.


  17. Well, seeing as how everyone else has chimed in - I will too. Bear with me, this may be lengthy.

    It is certainly an interesting discussion and one that deserves a generous amount of devotion in thought and prayer over. The only semi controversial thing I will say is that I think one may be hard pressed - after praying, studying God's word and thinking about it - to come to the conclusion that our children going to children's church would ever be better than remaining with their parents and the rest of the body in corporate worship. This, as some have pointed out, is not to say, necessarily, that Children's Church is bad but rather, not the best.

    One aspect of this that stuck out in my mind as I mulled over peoples' comments today is evidenced in an example I observed in Bible Study Fellowship (solely a Bible Study - different from corporate worship). The children's program in Bible Study Fellowship is phenomenal to say the least. (worth checking out)

    The most unique thing, though, about BSF's Children's Program is the way their leaders are chosen. They are not begged for from the front, they are not asked to volunteer or sign up - they are called by the Lord, through their leaders, after they have been observed throughout the year in their discussion groups. Their calling is based, in part, on their devotion to and passion for learning and applying scripture. They receive no less training than a teaching leader and it is a position that is taken very seriously.

    In my experience, I have observed quite the opposite in most of the churches I have attended. Which is why, as Stacy pointed out, a lot of churches often have 14 year olds, new Christians, or unknown body members helping build the very foundations of our children's spiritual houses. Embarrassingly, I myself have taught classes where I've been given a curriculum sheet the day or even hour before that may include a craft and cursory rendition of a popular Bible story.

    In contrast, Justin and I have taken great joy in watching our 2 year old accomplish sitting through the entire church service. Steele doesn't get much more than the bulletin or occasionally a stuffed animal to hold throughout the service - but he received more praise than we had ever given the first time he sat all the way through. We announced it to Pastor Bert after the service and Steele was so proud of himself that he talked about it for days. Every morning he would get up and say, "Church, sing, weed Bible". And I would praise him again. Oh how far ahead of me will he be when he is able to sit still, focus, take notes, worship corporately and understand God's deep truths and doctrines from such a young age.

    Returning to my main point, as he learns from our educated, wise and devoted pastor, these things will be reinforced and evaluated by us, his parents, who care more about his spiritual growth than anyone. I am experiencing now and am looking forward to the rich spiritual relationship we will have because of it.

    Finally, I think it is worth reiterating a point that Mike brought up. Personally, I do consider it a deal breaker for me in choosing a church. I want to attend a church where children are welcomed and taught corporately, young and old alike. A church where my children can sit next to an 80 year widow and observe as she worships in wisdom and maturity. In our church, children are encouraged to participate by taking notes (or drawing a picture) on the sermon and giving them to our pastor who then comments on them the following week.

    As I think about my children maturing and growing older I want them to be in relationship with other children who have learned and experienced these same things. As they search for their spouses among those people I pray they will find wives and husbands who value the body in this way so that together they will be able to build on the foundation that I am working so fervently to lay for them.

  18. Wow! good discussion, Stacy...I'm not even going to try and read all the comments though. :)

    I think it's probably one of those areas where each family needs to do what they feel the Lord leads them to do and we all ought to keep our noses out of each other's business. *grin*

    That said, I think there are benefits to both sides, and we have done both things over the years. Right now I'm questioning everything I think about the way we practice our faith anyway...for example, why oh why is "worship" or "teaching" or "serving" something we do in a building once a week? But that's a whole 'nother thing. :)

    Good job keeping your comment box gracious and interesting!

  19. Just stopping in to let you know that I am reading and pondering all of these things. Good thoughts by all...

    I loved your comment. So heartfelt-- I join you in this sentiment: "But when that day comes I just may be distracted with a holy longing when I hear the cry of the baby being carried out by the young mom across the pew." Yep! And I also agree that it will be our calling, having been there ourselves, to offer a word of encouragement and support to these young mothers. Good word! :)

    Thank you for sharing. And blessings to those such as yourself who are ministering to our young children in Sunday school classes! :)

    Thanks for chiming in. I was hoping you or Amy would join in and share your thoughts... especially knowing that both of you have come full circle on this issue.

    I'm glad you joined in. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this. It sounds like your church community is wonderfully supportive and encouraging in this regard. I love the image of Steele talking about "weeding" his Bible! :) *So* precious.

    Let's see... other commenters:

    Your church body sounds great!
    And you made me smile about "as long as you agree with everything you had to say." Mmmhmmm.

    (((HUGS!))) I like you!
    That's wonderful that your church community invites the children for baptisms and once a month,a nd in July, too. So they have the opportunity to do both.

    Glad you chimed in, here, too!
    I really like how you backed it up to the bigger picture:
    Who is our worship for?

    And that He wants us to take it seriously. (Which is why it's good we are all thoughtful and prayerful about this topic.)

    I think that's really the heart of it. Who are we worshiping and how can we best teach our children to worship Him?

    And we're all still figuring it out. :) In His great mercy may He guide us in our attempts and shape our children's hearts to love Him and be worshippers of Him!


  20. stacy...i started to answer...realized it was entirely too long, opinionated, and i am going to tackle it on my blog...and not take up a chunk of your comment can read it over there...
    thanks for the jab...i wasn't expecting it early tuesday morning...
    here's the jist:
    1. i agree with you.
    2. theology matters with this topic.
    3. be careful to not be labeled "a homeschooler that doesn't play well with others."
    4. in a church this philosophy must begin with the pastors.
    joy, fletch

  21. Well, if you're still taking comments (you were up to twenty when I stopped by) here's something that works for us. I tell my eight year old a word like Jesus or prayer or heaven, or most any word you think you'll hear often in the sermon. I tell him to squeaze my hand every time he hears that word. Even at eight he's still a little "wiggly" in church. This is a great way to encourage him to listen to the sermon. I also like to have him draw what he's hearing. So, he can have paper and pencil, but he has to draw something the pastor is talking about; the kid's version of taking notes. We've gotten some awesome drawings from that practice. After church he tells me about the drawing which helps me know what he's taking away from the sermon.


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