I thought this was an interesting an unexpected article in the WSJ’s online editorial pages this morning: “Seen and Not Heard in Church” by Laura Vanderkam.
According to Mrs. Vanderkam, a growing number of churches are asking the question, “Should children be in church?”
Apparently, many separate the kids and the adults. And I suppose that if I reflect back to my Sunday-keeping days, I do remember sitting in Sunday school for a long time, though I felt then that the longest part of my time there was in the general service with my dad and grandparents.
I know in our services in the Living Church of God, the children and the adults generally sit together as an entire family for the whole of services. We generally believe that the Sabbath is a time for families to be together before God and that children are a part of the community like the adults are.
I’m not saying it is easy — children have to learn to sit quietly with due respect, but for the diligent parent this is not an unattainable goal. No one would accuse our children of being perfect, and I even had to pause in one of my sermons once to get on to one of them when my wife was out of the room (you know Dad means business when he gets you from the lectern!), but being all together has been a great blessing. Increasingly as they get older, the kids ask me questions about the sermons, and often provide their “reviews” of what I said.
Of course, in the earlier days, there were times when my wife and I would spend most of the Sabbath service time in the hall (or in whatever area we could find) training them. We felt that if we took one of the kids out for being noisy, the goal of taking them out was not to just let them cut loose but to have more freedom in training them without distracting others around us. And part of what really helped when they were young was spending time each day during the week — at approximately the same time as Sabbath services and for approximately the same duration — having “quiet time”: either time for a nap or time in which quiet play was enforced and encouraged. This made it much easier for the kids to pick it up — much easier than when the only practice comes once a week during church!
I know that some of our congregations have special, age-appropriate activities for children after services — special lessons for small children or youth Bible studies and such — and I’m all for them! These are great when they can be done. But I’m glad that our Sabbath services do not split up the family. Training four boys to be quiet and attentive (somewhat-to-mostly-to-thoroughly depending on the circumstances) during a two hour service wasn’t the easiest thing, but it has produced wonderful benefits for all of us, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
[UPDATE: Almost right after posting this on Friday, I sent a more polished version to Charlotte for consideration as an Internet commentary, and I notice this morning that it is currently up on the Living Church of God website: “Should children be in church?” It says essentially the same thing but is worded differently in places, is cleaned up a bit, and has been tightened to fit the customary size restrictions on commentaries. You might check it out there, as well.]