The church has a long and colorful history of shooting itself in the foot. I’m not talking about cringe-worthy mistakes. Installing shag carpet in the sanctuary in the 1960’s—now that was a mistake. Letting families purchase or rent their own private pews—that was plain dumb. We may shake our heads at these blunders, but we can let them pass. It’s not like they un-churched the church.
But dismissing our children from worship to have their own “Children’s Church”—that’s not a mistake. That’s not embarrassing. That’s more than cringe-worthy. That happens to be the very definition of the church shooting itself in the foot.
Children’s Church is an adult solution to a non-existent children’s problem.
A SOLUTION TO A NON-EXISTENT PROBLEM
Children’s Church is an adult solution to a non-existent children’s problem. It’s not a problem when babies cry. That happens to be what babies do. It’s not a problem when toddlers get restless. That’s what toddlers do. And it’s not a problem when older children get bored. That’s what older children do.
Children are not the problem. Adults are.
That’s the first, honest admission we need to make: children’s church is not for the children. It’s for the adults. We are the problem. We who get irritated when babies cry. We who get frustrated when toddlers fuss. We who feel this irrational need to keep our children entertained 24/7. That’s the problem. We are the problem, not our children.
So, over the last few decades, we invented ecclesiastical babysitting and christened it Children’s Church. That way we can be adults in worship. Sing adult songs. Hear adult sermons. Receive the adult Lord’s Supper. Hear the adult absolution.
And all the while, we teach our children, by our example, how utterly useless and unnecessary these things are to their own spiritual formation.
As it turns out, our solution to a non-existent problem has created the monster of another problem: we’re raising children who must assume that Jesus said, “Let the big adults come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
BAPTISM DROWNS AGE REQUIREMENTS
We don’t gather as the people of God to fill our heads with adult spiritual facts and thus raise our theological IQ. We don’t gather to chant psalms and sing hymns that have a minimum age requirement. And we certainly don’t gather to get gifts from Jesus that you have to be at least 54” tall to receive.
We gather as the people of God so that Jesus can call us all to himself, wash away the filth of our wrongdoing, put in our ears his word of grace, and put in our mouths his body and blood. We gather to immerse ourselves in the sacred rituals of confession and procession, singing and instruments, standing and kneeling, smelling and tasting. And through these sacred rituals the Spirit shapes our hearts from the earliest age onward.
Eight-month-olds sit beside eighty-year-olds. Tweens by octogenarians. Fathers beside sons. Mothers beside daughters. In an age when families are already fractured beyond comprehension, are we seriously going to separate parents from children in the one service in which God himself is present to unite us to himself and one another?
If there is a time every week when the family needs to be together, it’s around the Lord’s table. Around the Lord’s word. Around all the rituals and sacraments and sermons and songs and confessions by which we are made one in Jesus, one as his church, one as the family of God.
None of us are too young or too old to receive what Jesus is doing for us in church. Baptism drowns all age requirements. In that water we all become—and remain—children of God. In that sense every worship service is Children’s Church.
So this Sunday, and every Sunday, let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot. Let’s not send our children away from the very gifts they need in the Divine Service. Let’s not send them away so someone else can take care of them while we adult in worship. Keep them close. Teach them. Receive with them. And together, young and old, let’s be the children of God who worship, united by the Spirit, around the throne of God and of the Lamb.
My new book, Your God Is Too Glorious: Finding God in the Most Unexpected Places, is now available. You can order copies from Christian Book Distributors, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your favorite local bookstore.