This past Advent, we spent 5 weeks with all of the kids aged 5yrs and up in the larger gathered church…on purpose. We haven’t done a whole block of “Family Sundays”, as we call them, since December of 2019. During these Family Sundays, there were some really good questions on why. Why does our church buy a gospel-centered curriculum and pay staff for the specific purpose of having an age-specific space for kids to learn about the Bible, so why would we scrap it periodically throughout the year in order to have kids attend church with the adults?
And here lies the key. It is not in order to give a break to our kids ministry serving teams, though that can become a side benefit. It is not a break for our kids team staff (sometimes it is more work!).
It is, however, intentionally scheduled for the discipleship of children, parents, and our entire congregation - our entire church family - in how to be God’s family.
As we read our Bibles, we see that kids are always presumed to be present along with God’s people. Moses read the whole law in front of everyone (including “young children”). Parents were admonished to teach their children in every regular rhythm of their lives. Jesus welcomes children. And we even see a “youth” falling asleep and falling out of a window as Paul preached long into the night.
But maybe even more important than these individual examples is the larger analogy of God’s people as family all throughout the Bible. Our western culture tends to diminish and shrink the definition of family. The Bible emphasizes and enlarges it. We are not a family without our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, aunties and uncles, grandmas and grandpas and the like. Just like we’d miss a family member who didn’t attend a get-together, we shouldn’t feel “complete” without all of our family members in the room.
And to be honest, this highlights a weakness of age-based discipleship.
How else are we to teach adults in our church to come to God like a child if children are never around? How do adults practice welcoming children in Jesus’ name if kids are always expected to be out of the room?
How else will a generation come to believe they are part of God’s family if they are never included? How will children know that their parents and other adults they love are followers of Jesus if they never see them sit under the authoritative teaching of God’s word? If they never witness grown-ups worship and pray communally? Or never observe believers taking communion together? When will they whisper questions to their parents about why we do things “the way we do”?
The point is that having children with us in the gathering is mutually beneficial to us all…we all learn from each other and we better reflect the Gospel because of it. This Gospel that finds strength and inspiration through every member. This Gospel that is laying down its rights for the good of each other and lifting up the lowly. It is a picture of God’s upside down kingdom. It’s a way in which we should be distinctly different from the world around us.
Is it messy? Yes. Not every parent feels equipped or prepared to train and teach their children in church. They may feel that quietness is more expected than curiosity and engagement. This is a process in which we will all learn together. And we can’t learn without practice!
Is it noisy and distracting? Yes. I’m sure it was also noisy and distracting when four friends ripped apart a roof and dropped their friend down through the ceiling in order to get Jesus’ attention. And Jesus commended the faith of the four who brought him. The paralytic had his life forever changed by his friends’ audacity to make a mess in order to get him in front of Jesus’ teaching and healing. Why would we not endure a little mess and noise in order to bring children into the presence of the One who can change the trajectory of their entire eternity?
Why was it that Jesus’ disciples were scolding parents and sending children away? Well, probably because kids were distracting people from important “grown-up” things. But Jesus rebuked his disciples and taught them a different way. Is this not the same lesson we need today? Is this not a principle that is culture, and time, transcendent? I believe that the God-incarnate who came to dwell among us would invite children to the table as much today as He did when He walked this earth. And I don’t think the invitation would cause children to be relegated to the “kids' table”.
Do we need to dumb it down? Emphatically “NO!” Do we need to be aware of different levels of learning, different styles of teaching, and different applications? Certainly. Just as we never graduate from the Gospel, we also never can plumb its depths. The Holy Spirit can teach each of us something different from the exact same message because He’s awesome like that.
Of course, we can certainly use concrete examples, visual aids, and call and response in order to help individuals with different learning styles and levels to more easily access the teaching. We can use situation, gender, or age-specific applications, and points that start simply and build upon each other in order to better serve the church as a multi-generational family. The content never changes, but the delivery or strategies may.
In a time in our society when things are more unstable and uncertain than ever, kids are desperately searching for belonging and safety and identity. If they don’t find it in the church, they will find it somewhere else.
In light of this, may we never shrink away from or apologize for inviting children to participate in God’s family gatherings. Let’s invite them to the table. Let’s welcome them, and so welcome Christ!