To OfferOne of the things I remember most fondly about my dad was his inclusion of the children in the church he pastored. He believed they should minister to the body of Christ in all the ways the grown-ups did. When Jesus said not to hinder the little children from coming to him, and that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these, my dad took him totally seriously. He was part of the Vineyard, so a big part of church was "ministry time," when folks who wanted prayer could receive it from one another. He always encouraged the kids to take part and pray for anyone, including the adults. I think he always felt honored if a child wanted to pray for him. He made time for even the littlest kid, getting low to the ground to their level, and he really, really listened, as if he believed that what they had to say was direct from Jesus himself.

When my dad died of pancreatic cancer, I'll never forget the number of children, teenagers and young adults at his funeral who were openly weeping. I realized that day how much it had meant to them that an adult, especially an authority figure like a pastor, had treasured them—-not in a doting, condescending manner, but in a respectful and genuine way. Witnessing this has had a life-long impact on the way I view children and my thoughts on what they have to offer to us.

Our church is currently seeking direction on what to do with the 10 or so children (all under the age of 5) who come regularly to our Sunday services. We've been separating them for the majority of the service from the adults so that they can do developmentally appropriate activities in Children's Church, while we adults do our grown-up things in corporate worship. But some of the parents, including myself, and our pastor are not comfortable with this arrangement. For one thing, I'm not sure that we know what's developmentally appropriate when it comes to spiritual matters. And I'm not sure that the grown-up things we do in our Sunday service are the best ways to worship God as a body.

I'm part of a small United Methodist congregation where only a few of us are even aware of the emerging church conversation or the different ways people are worshipping instead of the usual Sunday Service model. We all want our children to experience a community of faith without the baggage many of us associate it with from our own childhoods. Another mom and I and our pastor have been reading Postmodern Children's Ministry by Ivy Beckwith and are very much interested in intergenerational worship. We're also exploring Godly Play and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd as "curriculum" options.

I know that we're officially talking about Children in Church during January, but this topic is so much on my mind right now that I wanted to get some feedback. Maybe it's something that merits talking about in October as well as January, after we've had some time to ponder, research, etc?

What are other folks doing regarding children and worship? What are your experiences with intergenerational worship? What do we need to do or change the way we think (as a church, as families/parents, as a society, as human beings) about children and what they have to offer, if we just take the time and make the effort to listen and see and encourage and believe and respect?

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posted by Unknown at 10:59:00 AM |


At October 18, 2007 at 12:02 PM, Blogger Sarah

Thanks for posting. I've pondered the same things. And I too am uncomfortable with the segregation that so often takes place. Postmodern Children's Ministry sounds like a good resource. Thanks for mentioning it!


At October 18, 2007 at 1:42 PM, Blogger Lisa

We have not been in a traditional church context since the kids were very small. Since that time, we have tried to include the kids in the things that we are doing whenever possible. Both Mark and I realized that we kept our faith because we saw someone (our parents) truly walking it out, not really because we attended developmentally appropriate church programs. Our kids have many older people around them who are trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus. Sometimes we corporately acted things out or sang a "child's" song as part of our time together.
It seems that the church is at its best when it functions as a family rather than a meeting. In a family, all members have a part. The older ones are patient with the younger ones and sometimes inconvenienced by them and the younger ones also are at times inconvenienced by the older ones, and learn to show respect regardless. It is beautifully messy! That said, (and having had 3 kids in 3 years) I think it's fine to have some time when the parents can know their children are being cared for well and when they can focus as adults. I'm not really offering any solutions here, perhaps just a few thoughts on a way of seeing...


At October 19, 2007 at 12:10 AM, Blogger Keith

One Christmas a few years back, my two brothers, one sister and I were talking about growing up in a parsonage. All of us have been involved in ministry throughout our adult lives -- two pastors, a missionary, and a church music leader. Why did all four of us end up so involved in the work of ministry? One of our conclusions was that we always had a place where we could be involved when we were children. Our father always pastored small to mid-sized congregations and there was always something we could do to help. For example, I directed my first church choir when I was 14. By the time I was 15 we had 30 teens and adults in the choir. I continue to be grateful for those early opportunities -- service in the Kingdom of God is important for spiritual formation, even for children.

Much has been written recently about "graduation evacuation," high school graduates who leave the church. One cause, I think, has been the segregation of the generations. It's no wonder the teens take off if they don't have relationships in the church beyond their peers and a few youth workers, if they are used to being WOWed into attending by gimmicks and glitz.

I'm very encouraged by the move toward spiritual formation in an intergenerational setting. We'll all be more healthy because of it. My wife and I (we're grandparents) are part of a house group that meets twice a month -- once for a meal and worship, once for a service project. I was leading the worship time on the Saturday before Easter. I asked the group to think about their experiences when someone had died. I think that if you were to ask anyone present that night what they remember about the conversation, they would refer to the comments from a seven-year-old girl. She spoke with insight and emotion -- we all were deeply moved by the clarity and power in her story. I, for one, am very willing to allow a child to be a spiritual guide for me. And I will slow down and listen intently and choose simpler words so that I might be a means of grace for my young friend too.


At October 20, 2007 at 3:43 PM, Blogger Susan

Hi Sarah,interesting to read about the challenge and the questions. Ivy's book is great, as are both resources you mention. As far as children in worship, my experience is to begin...it takes quite a while for a congregation to make a shift, but it does happen. Helps if the space can be made more child friendly- chairs rather than pews, booster seats, seats up front to be able to see what's going on, movement- even hand motions to songs(jr high youth love to lead this)children's time within service, children serving in leadership- ushers, greeters, readers. If you can manage it, floor space for those who just can sit any longer. Places for those who need to be walked. We have 'busy bags- crayons, quiet toys,etc in case parents don't bring some, as well as a children's bulletin- the adult one, re-done in bigger font, easier language, and with wordsearches, etc. Acceptance by everyone as members of the worshipping community, and allowance for a little noise are key needs from the adults and can be cultivated over time. I am a huge advocate of children of all ages in worship, because worshipping God is how we learn to worship!If we hope to have children grow up to become adults who worship the Lord, they need to learn to worship, not be exiled from the worship experience. My experience comes from a fairly large United Methodist Church in Cleveland, Ohio, where I was until recently, the director of Children's Ministries. If the parents want their kids in worship, and the pastors will support it, it can happen!


At October 23, 2007 at 8:35 AM, Blogger Jason

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. In the Vineyard church my wife and I recently started going to, kids up through 6th grade have their own church experiences (separated by 3-5, K-3rd, 4-6th).

On one hand, I'm glad that the younger kids can get extra attention and interaction. I know I remember a lot more of Sunday school from my youth than I do of church sermons of that time. On the other hand, I wonder if either/both them or us could/would benefit from each other more.


At November 21, 2007 at 11:14 PM, Blogger john alan turner

I feel very strongly in the concept of intergenerational gatherings. However, I think there should be a time and place where grown-ups can go and talk about grown-up things.

For example, as a Teaching Pastor there are times when I feel I should talk frankly with folks about sex and sexuality. As a father, however, I want to be very sensitive to the fact that there are very inquisitive kids who aren't developmentally ready for conversations of an explicit nature.

So, maybe the solution is not to bring kids into an adult environment. Maybe the solution isn't even to bring adults into a kids' environment.

What would it look like to create a place specifically for kids and their parents?