This retired pastor has learned a few things about children in worship both from the vantage point of the chancel and of the pew:
+ Children learn about worship by being in worship. Even though they may not seem to be listening carefully, they are still learning and experiencing the symbolism, the ritual, the sense of “holiness.” They know they are in “God’s House,” and if you watch closely, you may see a 2-year-old fold her hands during a prayer or say a loud “Amen” at an appropriate (or inappropriate) time. Or see her looking up at her somewhat older brother’s lips as he says the Lord’s Prayer.
+ Children learn about the fellowship of the Body of Christ by being in church. Most little ones love being greeted before and after church and in those congregations where “passing the peace” is practiced. When I ask my 3-year-old granddaughter who she saw at church today, she always starts with “Pastor Martin,” and then lists a number of other adults and children. Her pastor is her friend, and the congregation is her Christian family.
+ Be honest about your own feelings, but don’t expect the kids to do all the changing. Let’s face it: Some people love to see little children in church; others find them annoying and distracting. If you are one of the latter, then consider making some changes for the sake of these little ones that Jesus loves and who will grow up to be the leaders of the church. Maybe you could move to a section of the church where there are not as many distracting children. Or perhaps you could switch to the early service. If you are a person who loves to see the little ones in church, offer your help to that single mother or pastor’s wife who has trouble coming up to communion with two or three little ones in tow. I don’t know what my wife would have done without those “volunteer grandmothers” who were there to help when she went to communion or sang in the choir or just needed a helping hand.
+ Provide resources for children during worship. Many congregations provide worship packets or children’s bulletins. Often these children’s bulletins have coloring pictures or other activities that are geared to the lessons for the day. Many congregations have a “children’s sermon” which, in my observation, is as significant to the adults as to the children. Should there be a nursery or a “cry room?” Many parents would benefit from or be more comfortable with such an arrangement, and congregations should consider a properly staffed nursery. At the same time, children should be encouraged to attend worship as soon as possible, and congregations may want to consider an upper age limit on the nursery. (It is rare that a 9-year-old truly needs to be in a nursery. But I have seen it.)
+ Be “Imitators of Christ.” When the disciples were annoyed by children and tried to send them away, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of God” Matthew 19:13-14. And the Mark 9 discourse on humility, Jesus not only says that those who receive a little child in His name receive Him, but also warn of the consequences of offending one of these little ones who believe in Him. Little children in worship can present some challenges, to be sure, but they are part of our Family in Christ, the joy of the present and the hope for the future.