Monday, December 1, 2008

Children in Church

(From a Mt. Zion newsletter article in the late 1990's)

As attendance at the divine service begins to increase here at Mt. Zion, most of you have begun to notice that there are several more children in church. Thanks be to God for this! It is a great blessing that baptized Christians of all ages, from the youngest to the oldest, can come into the real presence of the Lord Jesus to hear His holy Word, to worship Him, and to receive His eternal gifts.

One of the results of a greater number of children, of course, is that there is sometimes a bit more noise to contend with during the service. Most aren't bothered by this at all; a few are. Either way, this is a good time for us to consider the children's place in the divine service and what should be done when young children are noisy or are misbehaving. I offer two basic points:

#1) Children do belong in the divine service! Some people have the attitude that children can't or shouldn't take part in church until they're "old enough." But that's not a Lutheran way to think. For children are old enough to come to church as soon as they are baptized into the body of Christ their Savior. These children are no less a part of the worshiping community of believers than are the adults, and they should not be separated from them. For it is written, "Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained praise" (Psalm 8:2). And, of course, Jesus said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these" (Mark 10:14). And where is Christ more concretely present for us to come to Him than when we are gathered around His words, His baptism, and His holy supper? Certainly we should not be excluding our children from this divine service of our Redeemer.

By being consistently present in church and with proper parental guidance, children will learn reverence for God; they will learn that the church is a holy place where holy things happen; they will learn how to worship and receive the gifts of God which He gives in the holy liturgy, a liturgy that connects them with believers throughout the centuries; they will hear the very words of God through which the Holy Spirit is working to sustain the faith of His people; they will learn the hymns of the church which sing of Christ and teach us His Law and Gospel. In other words, with the Lord's blessing our children will learn to be Christians and children of God.

It's been my experience that the best behaved children in church are the ones who are there the most frequently. To them, church is simply a regular and normal part of life. Indeed, such consistency and good habits can begin even within the womb. For then, the child begins to hear and learn the liturgy even before he is born.

#2) Children should not become a distraction or an impediment for others to hear the Word of God and worship Him. In order for the above benefits to be achieved, children must be taught how to act appropriately in church. Inappropriate actions must be dealt with and corrected. Not only will this be for the good of the child, it will also help to keep obstacles from being placed in the way of the others who are present for worship.

The divine service is not the time for children to be cute or funny. It is not the time for them to wave or make faces at the people behind them. For that is a distraction from the purpose for which God has gathered us together. It takes our focus off of God where it belongs. Such actions may keep people from hearing the words of God which they need to hear. It may keep them from following the train of thought of a Scripture reading or from getting the message of the sermon. Parents and other adults should be careful not to encourage this behavior.

In the same way, noisiness in church should be kept to a minimum. Children should not be allowed to have loud or rattling toys in the pews. Nor should they be allowed to talk freely. Rather, they should be encouraged to take part in the service as much as they can--folding their hands at appropriate times, standing and sitting with the adults, singing or saying the prayers that they know.

When children are fussing, parents should try to do deal with it in the pew. However, if the fussing or talking or crying can't be stopped within a short period of time, the child should be removed from the church. He can then be taken to the narthex or to the Parish Hall where the situation can be dealt with better and where appropriate discipline can be administered if necessary. The Parish Hall has speakers in it through which parents can hear the service, should they need to remain with their child outside of the church for a short time. It is very important that parents (or grandparents) do this so that everyone in church can clearly hear the Word of God. For it is written, "Faith comes by hearing" (Romans 10:17).

All of this can be quite a challenge for parents and will require some creative thinking and some positive incentives for the children, but it is well worth the effort. For this is one of the primary ways that we "bring children up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). Let us all resolve, then, to help and support one another in this very important process. For Jesus said, "Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me" (Matthew 18:5).

-Pastor Koch-

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