Robert from Columbia, South Carolina, writes in to ask: “Pastor John, I’m wondering if there are situations in which a separate children’s time—in Sunday school rooms, completely apart from the Sunday gathering—are necessary. Our church is wrestling through this issue, as many families have infants, some have wandering and noisy toddlers, there are rambunctious 5-year-olds, and we have three children of varying ages with special needs (like autism and Down Syndrome). The struggle is: Most parents want a break and thus desire the separate time for children while the adult service is going on, yet the children workers wish they were in the adult service and feel limited in their ability to control the behavior of the children. What should we do?”
I hope there is a strong leader in your church because weak leaders will never be able to stand up against the onslaught of criticism that is going to come if you try to do what I am going to suggest. When I came to Bethlehem as a pastor in 1980, one of the first issues I had to deal with was about the children in worship. We didn’t have a lot of them, but they were starting to come. And the people all wanted to know, what are we going to do? Are we going to have children’s sermon in the middle, the little three-minute delay where the children walk to the front? Are we going to have children’s church and then they come back in, maybe, if they don’t disappear when they are 13? Or what are we going to do?
So, my wife, Noel, and I teamed up. We haven’t done this quite like this since. We teamed up because we both felt unbelievably strongly about this, and we staked our lives on it. We teamed up and wrote a paper for our people arguing that we not have children’s church and that we not have a mini-children’s sermon in the service, but that parents or other responsible adults—if kids don’t have Christian parents—bring their children to the service after about four years old. We provided a nursery until then, and eventually those nurseries, I put it in quotes, “became very God-focused and nurturing times to help get little children oriented on God and ready to go with mom and dad to the big service.”
That article that we wrote is at the Desiring God website. It is called The Family: Together in God’s Presence. And I am going to quote from it, but I am going to leave off the very thing everybody wants to know; namely, how do you control kids? And that is the part my wife wrote. And so, if what I say here is at least provocative enough to get your interest, then go to the website and search for the article and read what my wife had to say about that. But I think really the big issue is concepts of worship and concepts of parenting and concepts of how things are transmitted to kids.