Showing Kids the Kingdom: Thoughts on Children’s Church

Today at lunch, my girls asked me some very serious questions about something they saw on Sunday.

“Mommy, why did you drink God’s blood?”

“Why did you and Daddy eat that cracker?”

“Why didn’t we eat it?”

“Why was everyone so quiet?”

“Is It because Jesus died? Why?”

We had a great conversation over mac n’ cheese about why Communion is important, why Jesus came to die for our sins, and what it means to remember His work. It was fantastic! Definitely one of those conversations all Christian parents want to have with their kids. But I couldn’t help thinking how odd it was that they were asking all these questions today. They’ve read about the Last Supper before. We talk about Jesus’ work on the cross daily. So why the sudden interest?

And then it hit me… I don’t think either of them has seen the act of taking Communion. Or, if they have, it’s not something that has been a part of their working memory. Yesterday was something they weren’t used to. For the first time, they sat with the grownups and watched us follow the Lord’s instructions to eat the bread and drink the wine in remembrance of Him.

Covid has changed my mind about many things. I though weddings needed to have a bevy of in-person attendees, I thought I would never homeschool, I thought I would never gain weight with my own home cooking, and I thought being stuck at home with nowhere to go was the worst thing that could ever happen to a person. But it turns out that a livestream wedding with 10 people in physical attendance is magical, the prospect of homeschooling is more exciting than scary, my cooking is so delicious that I can and will put on a good 20 pounds of quarantine weight, and being stuck at home with my amazing family is one of the greatest experiences in the world. So yes, Covid has changed my mind about many, many things, and one of them is the function of children’s ministries in the church.

This is one of those instances where I can literally feel myself turning into my mother. I argued with her about the benefits of various kids’ ministries time and again. All five of her children sat through grownup church, sometimes colouring, sometimes fighting sleep, sometimes actually listening. Until now, I’ve sent my kid(s) out of the sanctuary to attend Sunday school, as it happens simultaneously with the sermon. She argued that children need to see their parents at worship, I argued that children need to hear the Gospel at their level. It was one of those “agree to disagree” topics between us and I was content to keep my kids out of the sermon until they hit fourth grade. Hey, it saved me from having to teach a four year old with no impulse control to be quiet for more than ten minutes at a time!

But once again, Covid has changed my mind. I guess this blog post is my formal “You’re right, Mom, and I should listen to your wisdom BEFORE a pandemic forces me to literally take your advice,” post.

A friend of mine posted something on Facebook a while back, wondering why there were no people our age (20s and 30s) in the church anymore. I thought about it for a while. It’s certainly not for lack of ministry. Every church I know has some semblance of a twenty-somethings’ group or a singles group. But as I pondered the reasons why twenty-somethings might not go to church, I remembered sitting in one of the churches I attended as a little girl. I remember jealously watching most of the kids file out to junior church while we were singing the last hymn before the sermon. I had my church bag, complete with my colouring books and Bible, but it just didn’t seem fair that every other kid got to leave and I had to stay here. It didn’t seem fair that I was the only one my age sitting in church. And that’s when it hit me… I don’t see people “my age” sitting in church now, because I haven’t seen people my age sitting in church for a very long time. (Note: When I say “church” here, I am speaking to the Church at large. I have been very blessed in my home church to see a vibrant group of young adults, intent on serving God in more than one circle.)

I want my daughters to be curious about things of the Lord. Due to Covid, there’s currently no children’s ministry at my church. If you bring your kids to church, they’ve got to sit there the whole time. Which, yes, I know…. can be very daunting, especially if you have rambunctious kids like I do. Fortunately, my family just had some amazing home training opportunities. My girls were able to sit through the live-streams provided by our church. They didn’t always listen, but they stayed relatively quiet. Now they are able to sit and listen to the sermons quietly inside the church building. Yes, sometimes the things my pastor says are too cerebral for their little four year old minds. But I’ve noticed over the last several weeks that they ask a lot of questions. From one whispering queries about words she doesn’t know during the sermons, to another bringing up a topic she heard later in the week, the message of the Gospel has had a big impact on these girls. They are interested in Jesus in a way I have never noticed before.

“But what about kids’ ministry, Emily?” I can already hear the same arguments I made with my mom. “It’s good for them to hear the Gospel on a level they understand!” Sure is! “Sometimes parents just need a break!” Boy, do I know it…

In regards to hearing the Gospel in a more understandable format, I loved Sunday school as a little girl. I loved hearing Bible stories brought down to my level. And I think it’s necessary too! Maybe this is old fashioned, but back in the day, Sunday school used to be before or after the sermon. Adults would sit in their Sunday school, while children separated by grade. And then families sat and worshiped together while babies and toddlers went to the nursery. Yes, this makes Sunday a little bit longer, but one of my desires for the church is that we wouldn’t be afraid to give up more of our Sunday. If we are to honour the Sabbath day and keep it holy, then surely an extra hour and a half spent in the church building wouldn’t be an inconvenience, but would be seen as an extension of worship.

The Gospel isn’t just for adults. I’m sure the children who came to listen to Jesus were puzzled by some of the things He said—the adults sure were. But we know that the children were there, listening to Him and sharing their food. When the disciples tried to shoo them away, Jesus brought them closer. Community isn’t mean to be so age segregated.

The Church at large is divided into so many ministries. We have the youth group where the high schoolers can avoid talking to the middle schoolers, the twenty-somethings groups where young adults can avoid talking to older adults, parenting groups where younger parents can avoid talking to grandparents, singles groups where the unmarried can avoid talking to the married. And I feel like junior church only contributes to this separatist mentality. From very early on, we are sending our kids away from us, only to expect them to come back untrained to sit for a sermon that is less entertaining than what they’ve become accustomed to. Should it really surprise us, then, when they turn 18 and decide that there are better things to do on a Sunday morning?

To the tired parents, the ones who just want a break and bristle at the idea of wrestling their kids through a sermon… It is not as bad as you think. Training starts at home, so have your wild ones practice during the week! Parenting is one of those jobs where you don’t really get a break, but all you weary parents know that. If you’re looking for a break, I would encourage you to find time during the week for your break. You need to worship God without your children pulling on you? That’s why we have our personal devotions. Don’t let corporate worship—where we are ALL welcomed into the presence of the Lord—be your break from your kids. Let them learn how to worship God too.

As a disclaimer, these are not fully formed thoughts. I’m not standing on a stage condemning children’s church or berating parents who don’t have their kids with them in the service. I have just been extremely blessed by the fruit I’m seeing in my girls’ hearts as they are exposed to the Gospel in a new way. My prayer for them is that they continue to sit well and hear God’s Word preached. And my prayer for me and my husband is that we are patient and consistent with our training of them in this difficult act of self control.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not forbid them.” I want to teach my daughters how to come to Him. And I am looking forward to answering their tough questions for years to come!

My daughters, sitting outside for church
The first week back in church, featuring our masks

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