Friday, May 18, 2012

Mild push-back: Mikey on 'children in Church'

Mikey, as part of a great "no easy answers" series, asks about keeping children in the church service. It's an emotive topic, and these are all thoughts in progress. I tend towards keeping children in the service but recognise that in a well-resourced church (read money to spend and people passionate about kids learning separately) should run "age-appropriate" programs for kids.  However churches that are under-resourced shouldn't feel the burden to run  "age-appropriate" programs. Now I'm aware I'm part of a small Christian subcultural trend towards age-integration but I'm glad Mikey's raised the question, popular Australian culture assumes that the institutionalisation of kids is a good thing. I don't think this wider trend is healthy although this isn't to say individual schools or even individual day-care centres can be really well run and beneficial places. Furthermore within the church, occasional age or gender segregated events can be powerful experiences. However in the end there seems to be a biblical model of the whole community learning and worshipping together. While I believe this is the right theological direction for me to lead my congregation in, there are practical advantages and disadvantages.

Practical Advantages:

  • You learn from how other parents discipline, positively and negatively
  • You get help if you're struggling with raising your kids
  • Kids learn the patterns and rhythms of church together

Practical Disadvantages:

  • The Stigma (similar to the "we never eat McDonalds" or "let our children watch TV") if you actually want to send your kids out to day-care* for the service
  • Is this all a setup for teenage Amish naughty stage [nomenclature?] - in other words its all rosy till your back's turned
  • The Teething problems of setting this all up might not be worth it

(*Day-care: if it's 'day-care' let's be honest about that and do it well and not pretend it has a high educational value but on the other hand if it really is 'age-appropriate learning' let's recognise that!)


Alistair Bain said...

How many sunday-school aged children do you have in your congregation?

And as for your list of practical advantages, points 1 and 2 (and 3 as well actually) are not excluded by having a sunday school during the service. Are they?

Luke Isham said...

It varies, sometimes two, sometimes half a dozen.

I agree they're not excluded by Sunday School. But I wonder if they are enhanced by Sunday School?

I've got opinions but I'm happy to support both modes done to the best of our abilities, I would only resist when it becomes a requirement for under-resourced churches to run Sunday School. Then I'd want to ask why? So in a sense Mikey's dilemma is valid for a well-resouced church but invalid for an under-resourced church.

Jon said...

I've been involved in a couple of discussions about this issue and usually find them frustrating because of the dogmatism of the main proponents of the integration approach. Congratulations for a more open intro to the subject :)

I think one of the reasons we get bogged down in this question is that we haven't thought clearly about what church services are for. There seem to be three broad options and lots of ways to do each one.

1. Church is for adults and children need to stay in church and sit quietly so they learn to do what the adults do. This is what your grandparents believed, and your parents generation learned (on pain of spankings) to sit silently in worship and let their minds wander. Not sure how helpful that was.

2. Church is for adults, and children are therefore wasting their time there and should be catered for elsewhere. In this case you would have a Sunday School during your service because otherwise you would basically be neglecting your children.

3. Church is for everyone so everyone should be there together. The implication of this is that we have to find a way (I haven't seen it yet) to build a church gathering which is inclusive of people of all ages. This takes a lot of skill - if you take everything to child level, adults feel frustrated, if you keep everything at adult level children are bored and disengaged, if you do a bit of both everyone is a little bit happy. Some churches compromise by having different kinds of service - "family service" is more kid friendly, "worship" is more adult focused. For a small church this would mean different things on different Sundays I guess.

Anonymous said...

Jon, I think you've addressed the question of who, not what, church is for. You were correct to ask the what question. I have been committed to all age or intergeneration worship for at least 30 years. The struggle is greatest for those who see the church gathered as an adult education class. I prefer to think of the gathering as a learning community. The hope is that As we learn the things of God from each other we are caused to offer our lives in worship. I have to say that I've become convinced that the things that bore children also bore adults. A distracted child in a gathering is the preachers barometer of what is happening in the minds of the politely socialised adult.

Jon said...

Thanks Anon, yes you're so right, my list of three doesn't match my heading! People come together for a few reasons. In mainstream Protestant churches the sermon tends to be the centrepiece of the service and I think this is a problem for integrated ministry - where do you pitch it? If you pitch it at educated adults, kids and uneducated people don't get it. If you pitch it at kids educated adults don't get anything out of it.

Other things we do together in church are less problematic. Singing together is something that people of all ages can do, as is praying together and taking communion.

I suspect that if you want a fully integrated Sunday morning service, you will need to set up other systems for learning (and these will probably be segregated in various ways to match people's level of understanding) and focus on praise and prayer when everyone is together.