One of the more obvious differences between the contemporary church and the church in every century up to the 20th is the tendency to remove children from the worship service and send them off to either playrooms or “children’s church.” The theory behind this is that they will not be able to sit through a worship service of over one hour in length and will disrupt the worship of the adult members of the congregation. Obviously, a pragmatic argument can immediately be made that children used to sit through worship services of several hours length and the essential nature of children has not changed since that time. All that has happened is that we have become habituated to a practice that supposedly makes church “easier” on children and adults, but which does not have any sort of biblical pedigree and which is ultimately counter-productive on a number of different levels.
As in all matters of faith and practice though, our final appeal cannot simply be to pragmatic considerations. Our ultimate guide in this matter must be the teaching of scripture and the practice of the Apostolic churches.
At points in his letters, the Apostle Paul commands that his epistles be read in the church. For instance in Col. 4:16 Paul writes, “Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans…”
That Paul intended his letters to be read as part of the corporate worship of the church probably wouldn’t surprise most Christians, these were after all newly minted scriptures “given by inspiration of God, and… profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). But what might surprise modern evangelicals is the consideration that Paul feels that he can naturally address the children of the church in the midst of these letters: “Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.” (Col. 3:20) The reason that Paul can do this is because in the Apostolic church, the children of believers were included in the public worship service. Because of this, Old School Presbyterians have always held that this should be our practice as well.
With that in mind, we should be strongly encouraging parents to keep their children in worship, and to that end I have included the following statement in our worship folders which says in part: “Our desire is that we would worship the Lord Jesus Christ as a covenant family. Therefore, children who are able to do so should remain in the worship service.” However, we need to also acknowledge that the ability of a child to actually sit through a worship service lasting an hour or more depends upon the parent’s willingness to train that child at home in consistent family worship and to enforce discipline during public worship.
Therefore, if our desire is to reach the unchurched and simply unconverted in our communities some acknowledgment of the above fact will have to be made and some means of assisting families that have never had children, particularly infants and toddlers, in worship will need to be provided. By God’s grace my own congregation has had many families who are new to the faith and still learning the fundamentals of Christian child rearing. Therefore our statement regarding children in worship also says: “We have a nursery for the youngest children; the drop-off is around the corner.” We also have a cry/feeding room for moms which has the service piped in on a speaker. The Nursery also has a speaker and the nursery volunteers are encouraged to follow the worship as much as they can.
Some of your parents and attenders will have been raised in churches that have always had “children’s church” and they may strongly advocate that you adopt the same practice. They will indicate that they feel it is very difficult for them to worship while they have to police their children’s behavior or are being distracted by other people’s children. In our own church, we have answered these concerns by pointing out that while the Nursery may be a necessary concession, “children’s church” which essentially removes all of the members of the church under a certain age from corporate worship has nothing to do with Biblical example or even historic Presbyterian practice and distorts the entire “one body” concept of the church. Regrettably, this has resulted in some families and individuals leaving to attend churches that do have a children’s church, and we also know that some visitors haven’t come back after their first visit because they don’t like having children in worship. I’ve actually had visitors say, “The children distract me from worship.”
But for me, after a decade of preaching in mixed assemblies, taking the children out would make things unnaturally quiet for me. It would be like going into the jungle and all of the bird and animal noises suddenly stopping. “Uh-oh, it’s an ambush!” And so while we do have a lot of ambient child noise I wouldn’t ever want to give up all the blessings that come from having the children of the church in the worship service. I’ve been enabled to see children growing in grace and their ability to worship in public and had the priceless opportunity to address the children directly in preaching and other aspects of corporate worship. Just their ability to see the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper dispensed – something that wouldn’t happen if they were bundled off to another area – is a wonderful aid to their Christian growth and desire to call the God of their Fathers their God as well.