Saturday, January 28, 2012

Our Family and Children's Ministry: Part 3

In case you missed Part 1 and Part 2, you can catch up first!

We decided first that our five-year-old Ryan was capable of sitting through church quietly and respectfully. David and I thought we'd give it a try and have one of our children with us, just to see what it would be like. At first, Ryan wasn't very happy. Geez, we took him away from Kool-Aid and indoor bouncy castles to singing songs with no corresponding motions and then sitting while a guy in a suit preached for 20 or 30 minutes! Eventually, though, he did very well and even began to like coming with us. He was required to stand during worship, and I would bring a quiet activity for him to do during the message. Addilyn still attended children's church, but David and I decided that she would be joining us for "big church" when she was five too.

At that point we were pretty well adjusted to having one child with us, and Addilyn had come a long way in her ability to focus and be respectably quiet. Again, they stood and worshipped with us during the praise time, but I always brought crayons or plastic canvas needlepoint for them during the sermon. After a few months, they were no longer interested in the activities I brought, but instead began to laugh at the jokes our pastor would crack. Then they started listening to the messages, and lo and behold, one Saturday night I looked down, and Ryan was taking notes! He had Scripture references and everything!

That alone was enough to seal the deal on our decision. More still, we wanted our children to see us worshipping. We attend a charismatic church where clapping, lifting hands, and other expressions of worship are practiced. We felt it was extremely important for our children to see this and learn this early on, rather than being in their 20s {like we were} before they were comfortable enough in their faith to outwardly express their love for God. If we didn't set this example for them, who would?
Furthermore, what could they gain from being with a group of their peers for an hour or so that was more important that what they could gain from attending services with us, their parents? Fun? Snacks? Veggie Tales? Don't get me wrong; there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG with children having fun with their peers. There's nothing wrong with snacks (except that these snacks are ridden with ingredients we consider no-no's). But if FUN was the only reason I put my kids in children's ministry, then it is unfair for me to expect any spiritual growth out of them. My children have many opportunities for fun and games, in and out of the church. We did not want our children's only association of church, however, to be that it is the place where they go to play on bouncy castles, eat Goldfish, and watch Josh and the Big Wall.

Once the children get older and are "promoted" to youth ministry, we open up a whole new can of worms. I really don't think it's necessary for me to list all the reasons why I don't care for my children to be around their teenage counterparts in unsupervised scenarios. I remember all those "unsupervised scenarios" I myself was in as a teenager, even in the church. I realize I can't protect them forever, but while they are young and their minds are still forming, it is my God-given duty and responsibility to keep them sheltered from the sins which so easily ensnare us (Heb. 12:1, 13:17).

Were David and I naive enough to believe that our children would grow in spiritual maturity around a group of their spiritually immature peers? I can honestly tell you that I did not start growing in spiritual maturity until I was a senior in high school. And then, I didn't grow because of the other high schoolers I went to youth group with. I matured because of my youth pastor's wife and our worship leader's wife, two women whom I admired and looked up to. They took me under their wings and mentored me. They set an example of purity and godliness that I wanted to follow. I got nothing but a couple of ski trips, a few church camps, and some really fun Wednesday nights out of my time in youth ministry. It was the time spent with these two women, in Bible studies, accountability meetings, and around their dining tables that brought on a spiritual growth spurt for me, not being around my peers. I hope, for my children, that it will be time spent in family devotionals, family worship, and open dialogue that will ignite in Ryan and Addie a desire to pursue growth and maturity. I'm so thankful for those two women in my life, but how I wish it had been my own parents who knew better than to throw me to the wolves of peer pressure and popularity contests disguised as a youth group. To quote Doug, a Dad from the SCM forum, "We would rather have our children influenced by mature, Godly people than by a group of their clueless peers."

All defenses aside, what does the Bible say about children and is there are biblical model for age-segregated ministries in the church? That was our number one question. When every other question was answered, this one remained. Is there a biblical model for age-segregated ministries in the church? The answer is NO. Nowhere in Scripture can one find an example of children having their own activities, college students participating in their own services, or senior adults meeting in their own Sunday school classes. On the contrary:

  • Ephesians 6:1-3 says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother', which is the first commandment with promise: 'that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.' And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord." The fact that the children and fathers are addressed together shows us that the children were sitting right there with their parents as Paul's letter was being read to the church at Ephesus.
  • We see the same thing in Colossians 3:18-21, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them. Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, less they become discouraged." That commas are placed after "wives", "husbands", "children", and "fathers" is an indication of address. Since each part of the family (husband, wife, child, parent) is addressed in four consecutive verses, we can be sure that the children were present with their parents as Paul's letter was read.
  • We see older and younger men and women addressed together in Titus 2, indicating that they were not in their respective Sunday school classes for this instruction.
  • Little children, fathers, and young men are addressed together in 1 John 2:12-14. It is unclear to me whether they are addressed according to age or spiritual maturity. Either way, whether younger in the faith or younger by age, various age groups are addressed together.
David and I were certain that God was asking us to take Him at His Word and keep our children with us, unless the content of services was too much for their current states of maturity. Our children have attended almost all services with us for the last two years. We have not once regretted our decision or thought about going back to sending them to children's church. When the question arises about them participating in youth ministry, we already have an answer ready and it becomes a non-issue. Knowing what we believe and why brings such peace and confidence for us as parents. We no longer feel pressured by our friends or others in the church who have tried to suggest or persuade us to stick our children under the care of someone else while we sip our coffee and listen to a sermon in an all-adult atmosphere. David and I have reaped the benefits of having the delightful company of our children in church.

So, what are the benefits of opting out age-segregated programs?

As I was going over the simplest way to put this, this same Dad posted this list on our homeschool forum, Simply Charlotte Mason. I couldn't have said it better myself, and after receiving permission to re-post, I feel these benefits are so well put that they're worth posting here. I have also added some of the benefits our family has experienced since integrating our children in worship.

  • We all hear the same teaching and can reinforce that at home.
  • Our children benefit from interacting with people of all ages. They become part of the larger church body as a whole and enjoy its fellowship and accountability.
  • Peer pressure is pretty  much a non-issue.
  • Older folks get to fulfill their biblical duty to teach the younger (Titus 2:1-8).
  • A lot of kid's material used in churches is dumbed-down twaddle (i.e. Veggie Tales, in my opinion, for example). We know kids are capable of more and want our kids to get a good, solid biblical education (Heb. 5:12-14).
  • Our children see freedom of expression in worship, reverence for God's Word in a setting outside our home, and participate in praying for others for healing and various other needs.
  • The benefit being together as a family is extended beyond the home.
  • We set an example for other families. Children really can be taught to be respectful and quiet and pay attention in a corporate setting!
  • Our children are learning respect for the gathering of believers and for the church building itself, rather than thinking that the church is only a place for running, playing games, and watching movies.
  • Our children have the opportunity to receive prayer and ministry in a corporate setting, should they choose to do so.
  • We are memorizing Scripture, parenting with Scripture, and teaching biblical foundations at home everyday. We have no need for programs.
  • My husband and I are accountable to parent our children at all times, even in situations where it might be more convenient to leave them in the care of someone else. Keeping our children with us allows us to fulfill the responsibility we have been given according to Deuteronomy 6:7, "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise."
This ended up being a lot longer than I originally planned. It was good for me to cement our beliefs as a family, once and for all. I am open to any questions or concerns, and would love lively and respectful conversation. I also welcome support and encouragement! 

I don't often write posts like these...posts that have the potential to cause strife or offense among believers. I really don't like ruffling feathers! Whatever you have chosen for your family, please know that there is no judgment on my end. Just as everyone has not chosen to eat the way we eat, dress the way we dress, school the way we school, we do not expect or condemn those who have chosen to church differently than we church. We are accountable to the standard God has set for our family; likewise, only you know the standards for your family and are accountable to those.

If you made it through all three parts, I applaud you! I appreciate your willingness to read and even, perhaps, ask yourself some questions you may have never before considered. 


Keri said...

Interesting thoughts Lindsey. Lots of great points and I can really see your heart through your writing.

I have so many thoughts on this but a comment would not convey my heart and tone.

Biggest thing I got from your posts is that you value your child's spiritual growth and that is commended.

zach said...

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I think there's a lot to be learned from the older, wiser part of the body, & I feel like a lot of that knowledge is lost when we segregate the body. I feel like there's room for children's & youth ministries, but I think it should look completely different than it is modeled in most churches. As far as homeschooling (I know that's not what your blog is about) we feel like our kids should be exposed to the non-Christian atmosphere in order to be salt & light. I know everyone has a different point of view on this, & that's great. Contrary to what's modeled in most churches & accepted by today's culture- I agree mostly with your post! (I should also note that as of now, we put Dax in children's church, and our church really does a great job of teaching the kids about Christ.)

Lindsey said...

Thanks Zach! I think most churches try really hard to teach children about Christ and the Bible in general. I find the problem lies in that they're setting themselves up for failure by having all kinds of bling-y equipment and programs. After a while, Jesus gets kind of boring to the kids because He's having to compete with bouncy castles, candy prizes, and movies.

On your salt and light comment, I have one thing to mention. Dave and I have really tossed this notion around and our conclusion has been that it's unfair to throw a child into the septic tank that is most public schools and expect them to really know how to be salt and light. That's a lot to put on a five or six year old. I mean, we don't send missionaries to the mission field un-trained, so why would we make our children learn as they go? We don't even go on short-term mission trips without some preparation. Jesus didn't begin his ministry until He was 30, and that was after an entire life spent learning from His father and mother, the priests in the temple, and submitting Himself to baptism by John the Baptist. If our Savior wasn't ready until He was a grown man, I'm not going to put a responsibility to win the lost on my 1st grader, who may not even understand the concept of salvation himself. Anyway, I know my post wasn't about homeschooling, but we get the salt and light comment a lot, and I like to respond to it. Of course, we support whatever each parent decides to do for their kids, as long as they make those decisions prayerfully and seek wisdom. Love ya!

zach said...

Yeah. Wasn't coming down on you guys. I respect ya'lls descisions!

Lindsey said...

Zach, I didn't feel like you weren't respecting our decisions! Sorry if I came across that way! I was simply bringing up a point that many don't or haven't thought to consider.