An unspoken question, answered
Truth to be told, I have very few good memories of going to church as a child. I tend to remember the hassle of getting ready to go, the complaints of older siblings, the dreary loneliness of being the only girl in my Sunday School class and very few of us total, at that. The mild torture of sitting through a boring and incomprehensible church service, the awkwardness of static in my skirts and gross gum stuck to the undersides of the church benches.
As an aside, allow me to balance that list. I loved when Daddy was the song leader and I loved Nancy Brubaker’s quavery voice when I was in preschool and she was the teacher. I loved putting stickers on charts and playing wild games of tag with the large group of older kids after church. I loved the smell and feel of Daddy’s suit coat as I leaned against him during the service and I loved the disappointment of too cold water out of the water fountain. I was very pleased when I mastered that fountain without getting my front soaked from it. I loved sitting with Grandma Miller and being allowed to find the 2 M&M’s she had secreted in her purse. I loved watching my fifth-grade teacher wave her blood red daggers around as she taught.
There, there were good things!
Now, on with my subject.
As a child, church was boring to me. And I think that is perfectly fine. Church was not meant to be exciting to the small ones. Church was not originally designed to be entertaining. And to be honest, I think we have made a mistake in attempting to make it that. Let me explain.
The unspoken question I read in some people's eyes is: “Why don’t you send your kids down to children’s church during the main service?”
On more than one occasion, the pastor of our church has assured us that he is completely fine with us having our children in the church service from babyhood on up, with all the attending squeals and ruckus that may afford. Not everyone is too pleased with that, but he is fine with it. This is a relief to me as I feel that this is a wise thing. Up till now, I had simply phrased the answer in my head as “oh, it is good for them to learn to sit and to be bored” but now I think I can put more of an explanation to it than I had before. Let me give it a try. First, we are going to have to establish some basic understanding of children and then we are going to have to get out the microscope and really zoom in and analyze this subject.
When God blesses you with a son or daughter, it is a gift from Him and you are given the intense and staggering privilege of nurturing that child to adulthood. In reality, that child is not actually yours but rather a beloved child of God’s that you are taking care of in their formative years. Because children start out with basically a clean slate, the sin nature and an inborn sense of worship, they cling to you as their guide and hero(s). They innately long for you to constrain them to do what is right since they already have the law written on their hearts. You are your child’s first impression of what God is like and they want to please you. When you are faithful to lead your family aright and constrain them to do what is right and good, your child not only learns good habits, they also learn, by submitting to you, how to submit to the ultimate authority, God. Yes, it is true, they might not choose to submit to him someday but at least you have given him or her the tools to be able to do so.
See it? You are ‘God’ to them when they are very young and so when they know how to happily submit to that as a child, as they mature to start being accountable they can then comprehend the sense of submitting to the Lordship of Christ. It makes sense to them when they are older and it becomes desirable. They soon realize that you are NOT God but now have the skills to be able to joyfully submit to the one true God.
Now, what does this have to do with church?
When you suffer plow your way through those first 2-3 difficult years of teaching you child to sit in church, and you are victorious in accomplishing this goal of them sitting, quietly, with hardly any toys/distractions and all the attendant boredom they feel; it is good because they have learned this from you in the role of ‘God’ to them and they have completed a huge hurdle in being able to happily submit, be quiet, and know how to be unsatisfied [with entertainment], in short, they learn self-denial in the context of worshiping the one true God. You have just completed another step of ‘making straight paths’ for your children, removing another stumbling block and showing them the way to God.
Listen, I will be honest with you. A walk with the Lord is not a walk in the park. It is not easy, it is not at all appealing to the flesh. It hurts at times, it can be ‘boring’ from a fleshly standpoint.
A walk with the Lord is more about listening in the stillness of heart than it is about doing exciting things. It is more about laying down interests and activities and focusing on a kingdom that is not of this world, not easily discernible with eyes of flesh. It takes a lot of patience and fortitude and strength to walk in that path. As a parent, it is my responsibility to give my child as much of a boost as I can for them to be able to comprehend this kingdom.
I want my children to be molded by submission to authority, first mine (although sadly imperfect) when they are little and secondly when they mature into a position of knowledgeable choice it can segue into joyful submission to God. In this, they will find the freedom that sets man free. And if God has made you free, you are free indeed. I want my children to be free!
Church is a completely unique phenomenon of the week. Church gives me one hour of opportunity in my week for me to (lovingly) constrain my child to be still, endure and listen. An hour, when the group gathered, is there to honor the Lord God. A time vastly different than any other time of your child’s week. A day to acknowledge that God is holy, a mystery. A day to remember that God rested and to honor the fact that we are commanded to take a day of rest also. I have been grateful for that one hour and that unique day. I hope you are too.
Now I want to briefly look at the flip side.
A child that is not taught this discipline.
Many people rather than fight the exhaustive fight of accomplishing this goal of quiet kids in church, instead will rely on the fact that kids will learn this later in life. By the time they are maybe 8 years old they will sit fairly good and behave enough to be acceptable and by the time they are teenagers, they have this pretty much down pat.
Yes, that is right, most kids will learn this skill eventually.
Gradually, a child realizes that to be socially acceptable and tolerated, they need to conform to the prevailing behavior of the group they are in. And so, they sit quietly and behave in church, because peer pressure and self-image dictate the importance of it.
But guess what, your child now knows very little about how to instinctively do this because of responding to a higher authority. Instead, they are now simply molded by expectations and their own selfish interests.
And so we gather together to worship the Lord God and much of our underlying motivation, constraints, and habits are selfish. Is it any wonder then that God himself tells us that even our righteousness is like filthy rags in his sight?
When I am controlled by the opinions and expectations of other men and by selfish interests, I am not being controlled by the Spirit, I am being controlled by self.
I know this paints an ugly picture. Most human choices are ugly. This look was not intended, by any stretch, to imply that there is no hope for someone if they were not properly raised in this environment. No, it is simply an in-depth look at what is going on in a home that is in proper relation to the Lord. And also a small commentary on the Christian culture in our churches today. And Praise God that in his infinite love and mercy, even the most destitute and broken soul can find freedom and purity of motives under the Lordship of Jesus! Praise God.
But now we will step back a bit, draw a deep breath from looking at this matter through a microscope and look at the bigger picture again.
I set out to explain to you ‘in macro’ (photography that is, not a series of slash commands for all you computer people) why I (we) do not choose for our children to attend children’s church during the regular church service. [There is another reason I hold important that I will not here expound on. If you really wanted to know it, you will have to ask me] I hope that I made sense even if it was just a little. I pray that if this can at all cause you to examine and refine your choices, for the better, however that may look, that is good. I guess the ‘why bother?’ really comes down to an attempt, be it ever feeble, to do whatever I can to make ‘straight paths’ for my children’s feet. I encourage you to do the same in whatever capacity you can.