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 parents willingness to train that child at home in consistent family worship, and to enforce discipline during public worship.
Therefore, if our desire as church planters is to reach the unchurched and simply unconverted in our communities some acknowledgement of the above fact will have to be and made and some means of assisting families that have never had children and particularly infants and toddlers in worship will need to be provided. By God’s grace in our own congregation we’ve always had 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 the moms which has the service on a small CC TV. The Nursery also has a CC TV and the nursery volunteers are encouraged to follow the worship as much as they can. We never have the same workers for both worship services, and we also have a rule that we always have at least two workers on duty and that they will always be women (you might be shocked at how much this simple expedient lowers the possibility of problems with pedophilia in your church.)
Inevitably, there will be people who would prefer that you had no nursery at all, and they may rightly point out that Presbyterian churches prior to the 20th century did not have nurseries and that this is a modern concession that clearly wasn’t in place in the Apostolic church. However, today’s Presbyterian churches are operating in a mostly pagan environment, and if they are effectively reaching their community they will routinely deal with children who have never had to sit still for more than a few minutes in their lives. I have visited homes of new believers (and unbelievers) where the children don’t even sit down for dinner but freely run back and forth between TV, toys, and table. Clearly jumping from essentially wild behavior to over an hour of sitting down for reverent worship in one leap is going to be nearly impossible. There are admittedly also times when small children are particularly mastered by sin, or when a mommy whose husband is away needs help taking care of an infant or toddler. In those moments, the nursery itself becomes an act of mercy on the Sabbath.
On the other hand, 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 is the unbiblical product of the consumer culture and that it 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.
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 (we generally have a little over 80 in worship of which a little under 50% are children) 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 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 theirs as well.
For more practical advice on how to successfully incorporate your children into the worship service, I would recommend the following excellent little article from the Banner of Truth by Jeremy Walker: