Suffer the Little Children

Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Mark 10:14b KJV

Sometimes our experience in church isn't so much to suffer the little children to come to Jesus, but to actually suffer from other people's children! Perhaps I'm getting old (after all I am a grandmother albeit a rather young grandmother) but I'm finding that my worship experience is not enhanced by children kicking the back of my seat, talking loudly to their peers, running their toy cars up and down the seat, or playing with their cell phones.

I wonder if as Christian parents are we 'suffering' the little children to come to Christ or are we more like the disciples in the above passage and turning them away?

Before anyone gets upset and says that Christians would never do that, stop and think for a moment about some of the practices we have in church regarding our young children. It seems to me that many churches are more interested in keeping the little ones quiet or occupied during a church service than in teaching them how to worship alongside other Christians.

We seem to be sending our children the message that church is to be 'endured' rather than enjoyed and we load them up with books and games and toys and treats. How are the children to meet Jesus if we continually distract their attention from Him? And are we showing respect to other members of the congregation when we allow our children to distract others from their worship?

My husband and I have always insisted that our children from the time they were old enough to sit up and listen (probably around 3-years of age) were to do just that. They were allowed their Bibles and we let them read them or look at the pictures, but they were not allowed to draw or play with toys. We never realised how unique we were in our approach until people started commenting on how well behaved our children were in church. One mother even commented that we were lucky to have such well behaved children as her children would never have sat still for so long. Lucky? Lucky? It had nothing to do with luck but a lot to do with training.

We were considered ultra-strict – which we probably were – but there were two important reasons for our stand. One, we wanted our children to enjoy church and to be able to be involved. They may not have been able to understand all that went on in the service, but just as the Holy Spirit speaks to adults through the Word and the teaching on Sundays, we believed that He would do the same for our children.
Secondly, we also wanted our children to show respect to others who were there to worship God. By encouraging our children to participate in the service in appropriate ways we were teaching them to show respect for those around them.

A wonderful book that we came across several years ago is Robbie Castleman’s “Parenting in the Pew” published by IVP. For anyone interested in training his or her children in the act of worship, I highly recommend this book. It certainly encouraged us when we felt we were all alone and wondering if it was worth the struggle (because it sure wasn't easy) when other people's children were running around the church during the service and making noise while our children were required to be quiet and relatively still.

I will admit that this is not an easy route. Nor is it a popular route. And I don't expect to be popular with all my readers. But this is something that God really laid on our hearts and we believe it was what He would have us do. And now, as we see our son and his wife training their daughter in the same way, we are reaping the rewards of all our hard work.

Now we just need to find a seat in church that is away from chattering teens, noisy preschoolers, school-aged children rustling pages and doing science experiments (yes, we've been in a church where one girl was doing exactly that!), the beeping cell phones and electronic hand-held games, and we'll be happy!


SchnauzerMom said…
For several years now my church has had worship services just for the children, the preschool has their own, 1 & 2nd grade, 3 & 4 grade, 5 & 6th grade and the teenagers have their own. It works really well and they learn about the Bible on their own level. This is just on Sunday mornings. On Sunday evening they are in the worship with us and there are those who behave the way you describe. It's very distracting we try to avoid them if possible.
Jen said…
Our church is like schnauzermom's. The kids go in a separate place and have their own church service. They usually have a Bible story, sing songs, work on Bible verses, and do a craft. Once in awhile the kids will go into the adult's church service. It works out pretty well, and it makes it much less distracing for the adults.
Jules said…
We deliberately chose a church where the children remained in for most of the service because we wanted to be the ones training our children in worship. The younger children and early teens (up to around age 14) go out to their own groups during the adult teaching time, but for the first hour or so all the children remain with the adults. Our church is not large and there just wouldn't be enough people willing to miss out on adult worship every week to be with the kids.

I realise this is something every church and parent has to work out for themselves. I'm just frustrated with the number of children and teens who think it's their right to do whatever they like during the service even if it distracts others from worshipping.

I'm also deaf in one ear and often find it difficult to hear what's going on. In our church, we have a time of what is called 'Open Worship' where anyone can get up and share what God has done for them or has taught them in the previous week/s, pray, read a Bible passage, or ask for a particular song to be sung. Most of the time people choose not to use microphones so it means I have to really concentrate if I want to know what people are saying - and I just can't do that if there's a lot of background noise.

DH and I are thinking it's time we move away from the family seats and instead find ouselves a place with all the oldies!