Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Thoughts on Family Worship, Part 2

Pastor Al recently forwarded a great little article entitled "It Takes a Congregation. . . .to Nurture the Children" by Steve Burger, the Director of Children & Family Ministry for the Evangelical Covenant Church. (The article doesn't seem to be available online, but I have emailed Mr. Burger to see if he might let us post an electronic copy on the GraceSLO website. Still waiting to hear from him.)

Anyway, the article was insightful and instructive. Steve affirms these important Scriptural truths about children that lay a foundation for why we at Grace are committed to encouraging Family Worship that welcomes children in worship services. . .

• Children are welcome in God's kingdom (Mt. 18:2-5, Mk. 9:36-37, Lk. 18:15-17). Ought not they to be welcome in worship?

• Children are gift from God (Psalm 127:3). Let's enjoy God's gift!

• Children reflect how we come to God and enter the kingdom (Lk. 18:16). Let's let them model this!

• The Word of God is for children (Deut. 31:10-13).

• The promse of the Gospel is for children (Acts 2:38-39).

• We are called to teach children God's Word (Ps. 78:5-7, Prov. 22:6).

• Parents and the entire faith community (church) are called to be spiritual mentors (Deut. 6:4-9, Prov. 1:8, Eph. 6:1-4, Ti. 1:6, Col. 3:21, I Thes. 2:11-12). Let's be faithful to the task.

A couple of great paragraphs from the article. . . .

Our culture which permeates our churches, is permeated by ideas like these:
• Children should be seen, not heard (or even, Children should be neither seen nor heard).
• Children are a burden (or an embarassment).
• Children are OK as long as I don't have to deal with them.
• Children would be okay if they just grew up and acted like adults.

Even if these thoughts are not spoken aloud, they are often expressed in concrete ways. Children are excluded from worship and other functions of the church simply because they are children. Why? Because it makes attending church easier, or more meaningful, or less distracting for adults. But where is it ever written in God's Word that these are legitimate reasons for excluding children.

Childen are agents of God's unconditional love. Children have a propensity to love God and others without question. Their love for parents is so profound that even in the midst of abuse they continually seek to both love and receive love from the very ones who are hurting them. Likewise, children give parents and the entire church community an opportunity to love unconditionally. Nurturing children toward deepening faith requires a great deal of energy, patience, grace, and ultimately unconditional love. This is both a challenge and a blessing.

First Corinthians 12:14-22 makes it clear that the church is one body made up of many parts. All of these parts are needed, all are chosen by God. Moreover, even those parts that seem to be the weakest are indispensable. The church loses out when we exclude children (the weakest members) from worship. Conversely, when we include children in worship we are blessed by their presence, spontaneity, receptivity, enthusiasm, and self-giving love. And we are blessed by their expressions of thanksgiving, hope and love.

Including children in worship also fosters in worshippers a deeper relationship with God that provides a sense of relatedness to the body of Christ. It communicates acceptance that children are an important part of the body, helps children understand the importance their parents and other significant adults attach to their faith, and enables them to participate in worship and the sacraments.

Inclusive worship runs counter to the direction the church has been headed in the last few generations. . . . Its true that multi-generational worship services require more time and effort to prepare. . . . Nevertheless, worship services that separate children from the gathered body of Christ convey a message to congregations and to the broader community. Because whom and what we choose to exclude from our worship says as much about our community of faith as whom and what we choose to include. Our willingness to wrestle with the commands of God and the challenges of nurturing children to faith within the context of multi-generational worship will bring spiritual blessing not only to children but to the whole church as well.

Amen and amen. At Grace, we are committed to both "age/stage" and "integrated" learning and worship. Not "either/or" but "both/and." As we move forward, our aim is to continue to facilitate settings that cultivate both.

I am eager to hear your thoughts and process. Let's keep the dialogue going. . . .Pastor Tim


Helen V. said...

I guess I am surprised to hear that anyone would be opposed to having children included in the worship service. Our children have always been with us during worship services. We have a tremendous responsibility to train and teach our children. What better way to begin than by bringing them into the household of our Lord. Multigenerational worship is a true picture of God's kingdom. I am happy to see Grace Church encouraging families in this area.

Missy Grant said...

I'm glad you are tackling this issue and laying the foundation for discussion. We have spent a lot of time, discussion and prayer about it in the Children Ministry Board meetings. Just a quick comment here today, though. I enjoyed what Bob Eckman said on a comment on your earlier post. He encouraged if you don't have children (or yours are grown)to find a way to engage those children who are in attendence. One of the ways we do this in Women's Bible Study is to make known to the moms those gals (and there are many!) who would love to hold, play and sit with their children so the mom can have a break. This works well in worship as well. I would encourage other Grace church attenders to look around, get to know a young family, and in time offer to "engage" those children during worship. It takes a church to raise a child!

Brianna said...

Pastor Tim, I think it is wonderful (and essential) to be promoting family centered worship. Times when we have had Anna in the service, I have to admit that because there aren't other little ones randomly babbling every now and then, I feel uncomfortable and take her out. I love seeing children in the service (and I really think that you can only be distracted by something if you let it distract you), however when my own little girl is making noise I worry that people are getting bitter. I REALLY appreciate your commitment to these values. I will be anxious to hear more about how it will play out practically!

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