Sunday, May 24, 2009

Children and Worship (Old Article)

On July 19th, 2008, I published an article concerning children and worship.  I think it bears reviewing since the topic of Sunday School has come up as a specific concern in the article "Bad Christian".

My wife just pointed out, interestingly enough, that the terms 'children and worship' and 'Sunday School' illuminate the giant chasm between what I am concerned about in present day evangelicalism, and what evangelicalism typically offers as an answer to that concern.  And after reading the article (which is still due for its second installment), I hope that anyone interested will have a better understanding of my thoughts on children and worship and the inadequacy of Sunday School as part of the vocation of the church.


Anonymous said...

I do not see children as "little distractions"; I see them as "little people", each individuals, each loved by God, each eager to learn in whatever environment they are in.
We have a responsibility to love them, first, and when they trust us, we can teach them about who God is: that he loves, that they can trust him.
I know women who have had great difficulty trusting God as a heavenly father (I'm sure that applies to men, as well) because their earthly father was not trustworthy.
We need to be "Christ" in the lives of little ones.
At the same time as they are not "little distractions", yes they can be distracting -- just as adults can be.
I agree with you about our focus.
I remember a woman, when our children were little, who used to turn and glare at them if they coughed or laughed.
That's extreme. And that was that woman's issue, not ours.
I was intimated by that as a young mother. We were practically Cirque du Soleil in our efforts to keep our children entertained and quiet.
We've learned a lot over the years.
I am also aware that some adults are hard of hearing.
I am aware that some adults cannot seem to help speaking throughout a message while others struggle to hear.
The service is full of distractions. I even find the window and birds distracting at some times (in a good way).
I have trained my mind and, most Sundays, can focus. If I am having trouble, I pull out a piece of paper and a pen and take notes. Sometimes I take notes when I'm not distracted. It varies.
And, yes, we have all been raised differently and different people have different expectations.
We are ... a community.
But one thing is certain: children are seen as a blessing and we are so thankful for them. Some churches do not have the same enthusiasm for children in a service, as you mentioned. That is a sad, sad thing.
I was in one service (different community) where the "pastor" (quotation marks because I do not think he deserved that title that day) stopped preaching and quite loudly announced to one young mother whose baby was fussing (slightly) that there was a nursery.
He wasn't being kind. He was telling her where she should be going.
He waited.
She got up and left.
I felt terrible for her.
None of us do this perfectly. We do need to cut each other a whole lot of slack.
We learn from each other and that is why dialogue about things like this are important.
Thanks for sharing this.

Aaron said...

Is the assumption then that worship is not happening in Sunday School? If so, that has never been my experience.

Christopher said...


No. The assumption is simply that the family as a whole should be worshipping together, not divided in separate places so the adults can be free of distraction, and absolved of their responsibilities to their kids.

Anonymous said...

Could you explain the comment you make at the beginning of this: "My wife just pointed out, interestingly enough, that the terms 'children and worship' and 'Sunday School' illuminate the giant chasm between what I am concerned about in present day evangelicalism, and what evangelicalism typically offers as an answer to that concern."
Also, perhaps this depends on what you believe constitutes worship. Can children only worship when they are with you?

Sarah said...


Because I'm the wife who said it, I thought, well actually Christopher suggested, that I might respond to your kind request for clarification. :)

My view is that if the question is whether or not a child ought to attend or would benefit from Sunday School is on a cliff side divided by a chasm opposite the cliffside where the other perspective resides.

When I am concerned about my children's spiritual growth and condition, it is always in a wholistic way, and never does the idea of school of any sort become relevant to my concerns or theirs.

It is very much like the incomparable difference between those who would posit that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, to which I would reply it is not; beauty simply is, whether the eye discerns it or not. In fact the eye that cannot see the beauty that fills its vision is blind, and it is not its inability to discern beauty which makes it blind, but its assumed separation from beauty itself at the first which makes anything that would come after that cancelled out or void for its irrelevance to the reality of ubiquitous beauty.

A simpler analogy might be that while others are concerned about the quality of summer shoe that my children need to run around our cabin (Sunday school), I am concerned with the strengthening of their feet and bodies (the more wholistic worship).

The necessity for shoes is not reasonably established at the fore (although it may be assumed preeminent erroneously), and so remains an irrelevant consideration regardless of how others view or insist upon supporting the weak feet of children with supportive and comfortable shoes that help them run faster than other types of shoes.

I believe that all human beings worship and do so spontaneously and regardless of circumstance. I do not think that my presence or absence affects a child's worship since it is his/her personal expression of adoration and humility, hopefully offered to the Living Almighty God and not a t.v. show, designer drug, or fashion line.

So saying, there is a lot involved philosophically in the decisions that Christopher and I make personally, and the topic itself. None of which would involve segregating our children, but may involve preserving (possibly through removal or segregation incidentally) their natural needs and inclinations with guidance and discipling by their parents, whose obvious role is not to facilitate teachers' roles in the education of their children, but rather to be the primary educators themselves to their children through relevant means.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. I always enjoy your responses. I agree with you in this:"I believe that all human beings worship and do so spontaneously and regardless of circumstance. I do not think that my presence or absence affects a child's worship since it is his/her personal expression of adoration and humility, hopefully offered to the Living Almighty God and not a t.v. show, designer drug, or fashion line."
I believe that everyone worships something.
You and Chris may hold a certain view because of your faith and lifestyle, which many parents do not have.
I don't believe parents are absolved of their God-given responsibilities, but I also know that if you don't know the Lord, it is impossible to teach your children about Him.
Sometimes I think we only see this from one perspective and that is the one of believing parents who are able to teach their own children.
All that aside, I am not convinced that Sunday School is not a good idea for those who choose to be part of it.
I love the adult classes. My younger children hated having to be in adult classes.
I think I've exhausted my thoughts on this one.
Thank you for sharing your view on this.

Sarah said...

hank you for coming back to this even though you're likely tired of it by now, given that it keeps coming up in conversation, emails and now on this blog.

Not to exhaust you, but I wanted to address this part of your comment specifically:

Sometimes I think we only see this from one perspective and that is the one of believing parents who are able to teach their own children.This may be true about the few others who don't want their children in Sunday School, but it is not the view I hold personally. My perspective on whose role it is to guide, nurture, instruct and otherwise enculturate children is always, regardless of faith or lack thereof, that of the mother and father (I also believe that parents are equipped to teach their children and that none are unable although most seem unwilling, but that's different).

This is likely a cruel view to some or maybe even most christians, but my perspective is that in whatever a child is neglected and adults outside of the immediate family become aware, if they choose to act, they ought to act within the given order of the family.

This means that action must be taken toward and with the parents. If the spiritual health of a child is of concern to a christian, that should prompt a desire for relating to the parents; the children can be brought along in this way, and even if not by their parents, which is the prerogative of them and not of whomever else thinks they are not doing a 'good job', the children will likely receive some instruction from them about what has been shared.

Yes, this means that some or most children will not receive godly instruction in their childhoods from their parents. If this perspective makes no sense to missionary-minded christians, try to consider what it would be like to live in an islamic culture with your children. If you were not raising them in the muslim faith, would you be open to and receptive to others doing so in your absence, or considering your parenting neglectful of the spiritual welfare of your children?

Yes, salvation is a serious issue. The children who need this instruction from a mother and father are their children. In other words, it is their role to raise them, and not that of anyone else who doesn't like the way they are being taught or not taught. It just isn't anyone's business until those children are grown. If conversion hasn't taken place by adulthood, that's really the only time there should be interference, imo.

So, develop a relationship with the family and let your (general 'you', not you personally, J) life be a testimony to them so that when that child is grown, s/he will be familiar with you and your faith. It's much like waiting until spring for the ice to thaw from the eavestrough instead of ramming hard tools in there during the winter, which may remove it, but likely not without unnecessary damage.

J, I know that your experience with SS was fruitful. There's no doubt that the planting of faith requires fertile soil though, so that you were open to it may have meant that you would have received it regardless of whether or not you attended SS. For myself, I came to faith much later and not because of SS. I don't believe that not having attended church or SS would have meant my eventual doom, since it didn't, although someone of muslim faith might think so considering my present condition.

Sunday School is fine as long as it's the side that's winning, in other words. This absurdity should illuminate the natural order (Christ> missionary> parents> children), I think.


Sarah said...

The above was the first half of my response, and then the lovely and usually dysfunctional Blogger refused to publish it because of its length and then I found it had also arbitrarily deleted it from my email draft.

I'm not sure if I can continue to write in this format. I have constant problems with my writing being deleted.


Sarah said...

Okay, to continue in a truncated way attempting to recall what I already wrote and submitted in two google places that both deleted it arbitrarily...


In the time of Christ's earthly ministry, conversion happened to whole families through preaching to the adults within the context of family within community.

We were just informed of someone we know having become a believer. He went home after meeting with our friend through happenstance, told his wife and children, and they all believed. None of them attended SS, and indeed, if the children had in the absence of their parents, it may have been much, much harder for the father to have received faith as he did so easily when he was ready.

Most parents are naturally intuitively resistant to being told something through their children by well-meaning adults. Ask any parent whose children attend public school and the stories abound. This resistance I think is proper and shows clearly with out-of-order instruction that happens when adults think it's good to teach children that are not their own, directly.

This man's whole family's conversion is a powerful testimony and I think that the honour paid him and his family by sharing with him rather than trying to 'church' his children apart from him for their 'good' is paramount.

In our family, we are aware of and confident in our roles as parents. It is only the complete confusion of parents that even allows for such a thing to be considered as teaching children in the absence of parents. Our present society has been primed for the dissolution of the family through just such means, and the fruit of this is everywhere.

Divide and conquer really works, even if it's not the intended outcome. Imagine what happens to the unity of a family when a child converts against the desires and beliefs of the parents. Who is done a service through this? It is superficial to posit that the child benefits from this. So, in other words, winning the battle and losing the war leaves little defense of the means used to do so.

In my personal view, children of unbelieving parents are much more injured by the practise of outreach Sunday School than churched or children of believing parents. For this reason amongst others, the children of unbelieving parents would be the LAST children who would benefit from SS, even though some of them do- they are the last and only by the mercy of God, imo, and not by any effort expended by people whose influence does not exceed their Sunday meeting or extend into the intimate lives of the families from which these children originate.

I know that may seem harsh, but the children that are our own through birth or adoption or some other arrangement are the ones who are ours to raise, and none other. It is a fact easily observable, regardless of whether or not we try to ignore it like a gigantic elephant filling the room and using up all of the available oxygen. It may be hard to accept, but it's still there.

I am not a communist or a socialist, not in any way, even if the rest of society is when it suits the agenda- in the church or otherwise.


Anonymous said...

Just to clarify, I was thinking of parents who send their children to church. My Mom was one of those. She was an unbeliever, but still thought it was important to send her children.
I have seen that happen over the years and have seen many parents and families come to know the Lord as a result. I came first, then my Mom, then my nephew, then my sister.
Wade came first, then his Dad, then his Mom, then his brother, then his sister.
I am not speaking of usurping the God-given rights of a parent.
If you were to welcome children into your home, you would naturally teach them from who you are.
When children come to church without their parents, we welcome them. If they are young children, they are either being brought by a parent or sent by a parent.
I understand and agree totally that we should not ever communicate that what a parent is teaching is wrong or inadequate (unless it is abusive).
I don't agree that children who are saved through Sunday School are at a disadvantage. They may have trials in their lives that some others may not face, but they have a Saviour to walk with them through that.
But this does make me think about things like backyard Bible clubs, etc., although that is what really reached out to me as a little girl. I wandered down the street to that.
I was sent to SS.
Interesting points you are making, though. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

You make such interesting points. They are thought-provoking and it would be fun to talk about them sometime over Pizza (or at least Pizza topping!).