Every night either I or my wife read books with our kids before they go to bed. We’ve been doing this with both of them ever since they were infants. Our oldest would sit on my lap in a chair and listen to me read until he fell asleep even at a few months old. His brother was a bit more of a challenge- during his first few months, generally I’d have to hold him on my lap with one arm, so he wouldn’t squirm away to go play, while trying to read a book with only one hand.
Now that they’ve gotten older, we read to both kids together, and both are more than happy to sit and listen. I know that as tiny babies, of course, they didn’t understand a bit of what we would read, and that now they do. I’m not sure when that change took place; I only know that it did.
Often, when we talk about bringing children to church, we really mean that they will be going to a program of ‘kid’s church’, geared for their own age and understanding level. Like so much else in our society, our churches are split generationally. There’s a program specifically for babies, for preschoolers, for schoolchildren, teenagers, and adults. Often even the adults are split by age! Certainly, there is a time and a place for teaching and training children at their own level- but I’m not sure that’s all the church is called to be.
Church is more than just a time to sing some songs and hear a prepared speech. Church is a community where Christians gather to worship the Lord in song, in prayer, and in the reading and hearing of His Word. (For another take on this, see this article here).
On a different note, as the father of two young, active boys, I do understand how tough it can be to sit with them for an hour long church service, and my wife understands much better than I do. Also, I understand the pressure that parents feel to make sure their kids are behaving well and not being disruptive to the adults around them. It’s hard to even get to church on time; once you’re there, it’s hard to keep young children in one spot and occupied for an entire church service (never mind whether they’re understanding it or not!), and even if you manage all of this, you still might feel like you didn’t hear or understand a word of what went on, because you were just dealing with kids the whole time. You might sometimes feel like you might as well stay home. If that’s the case- I do understand, and I encourage you to please come! For us adults, just like for kids, church is about much more than hearing and understanding a sermon. It’s about coming together with other Christians; it’s about being the community of faith, and about being in the presence of God together. I’m grateful at Middleton to have the option for the our kids to go downstairs for a kid’s church during the sermon (and very grateful for our tireless volunteers who have a heart for children’s ministry and teaching them each week), but also grateful that they spend the first part of church upstairs with the adults- hearing the hymns & the Scriptures, praying with us and being there for giving the offerings. And, I learn with my own kids, they do develop an understanding as they go- in their own words (as, for example, you see in the title of this post: my 4-year old on why he likes going to church), and at their own level.
So, parents with young children, first of all, thank you! The work that you do in raising your children, teaching them about God, and bringing them to His Church is by far the most influential and formative part of their lives and their faith. And please, feel free and welcome to come to church, and bring them with you. I know it’s hard, and I know that in the end, you might not even catch much of what I say in my sermon. But it’s not really about that-church is a time for all of us, young and old, those who are new to the faith or who’ve been following Jesus for decades, to come together & worship. When some parents and children tried to see Jesus while He was busy teaching, the apostles rebuked them, but Jesus called them to Himself (Mark 10:13-16). Young children, Jesus tells us, are a lesson for us-their simplicity of faith and acceptance are models for all of us adults to follow. Your kids might not understand all of what goes on right now, but someday they will, and being together with the body of Christ is helping them to grow right now, before we or they even realize it. So bring them to Jesus; to the body of Christ. Let us learn from them, as we all learn together what it is to follow Him.