Children in Church
Forgive me if it seems obvious, but we believe that children have a place in the Church. I’m not talking about the subtle nuances of a Sunday service and whether the children are in for the singing or not (although that’s an important conversation to have!). I’m also not talking gestures where children ‘show and tell’ their latest crafts or get to hold the collection plate as a special treat once a year. I’m talking substance. Children as participating members of our worshiping communities and all that entails – worship, prayer, evangelism, service, generosity, fellowship, the ‘One Another’ commands and hospitality to name a few.
There’s so many models of understanding church, but none that explicitly present a ‘how to’ when it comes to making space for children and their families in our church structures or mind-set. In the last few decades we have seen more and more people wrestle with the challenges and opportunities of children and church, though I’m not convinced there are any solid answers to the many questions we face – questions of salvation, responsibility and faith development for instance.
But perhaps we are asking the wrong questions. What if we went back to basics and asked ourselves:
“What is the point of Church?” or “Why did God design us to do faith together?”
If the point of Church is to worship, to study God’s Word, to pray, to be equipped for evangelism, to learn how to live as Godly people, to help and serve each other and to partake in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, (all of which have been argued) then I am convinced that not only should children be included for their own formation, but that they have a key role in helping the adults in their discipleship!
Jesus himself challenged his followers to see children as models of the Kingdom of God. This was a big paradigm shift for His followers. Perhaps that’s what the Church needs more than anything – a paradigm shift to believe that children can model faith to us – that they can be worshipers or pray-ers (though it might look different to the way us adults do it!), that they can encourage and build up the rest of the Body, and that they can be used by God to reach others with the Gospel of Christ – in their families, in their schools or clubs.
And instead of asking which of our church activities we HAVE to do together, what if we asked, “What would make sense to do separately?” The question itself will speak volumes to the children and families in our communities.
Please hear me – I’m not saying that children don’t need to learn anything, or that there’s no space for age-appropriate teaching, nor am I trying to assert a particular theology around the sacraments (there are plenty of other well thought out articles on that), but I suppose I am saying that if a child was excluded from their family, we would find it heart-breaking, perhaps even shocking. And yet, as a family of faith, it’s what happens all too often – children removed or separated from key aspects of our family life.
The result of this perhaps, (as is all too apparent in many places), is that children often choose not to stay as they grow up. Children are looking to belong, to be part of something and to tell a story with their lives. If we are not inviting them and commissioning them to play a part in the story God is writing in our churches, they will look elsewhere.
In Psalm 71, we read a beautiful account from an old man reflecting on the story of faith in his life:
"O God, you have taught me from my earliest childhood,
and I constantly tell others about the wonderful things you do.
Now that I am old and grey,
do not abandon me, O God.
Let me proclaim your power to this new generation,
your mighty miracles to all who come after me."
If this becomes our goal for the children in our churches – that they would look back and see God from their earliest years, and that they would still be sharing Him to the generations after them – then how might that shift our thinking? Where will that handing on of faith take place? Yes in homes we hope, (and you’ll see from our Faith at Home pages we are passionate about helping parents and families ‘do faith’ at home), but churches – families of faith - are a vital part of that process too and we have a heart to help churches think through these issues and find ways of welcoming and discipling children.
Head of Training Development,
Growing closer to God and further in mission
Home for Good event at Birmingham Cathedral
Fresh, thoughtful, creative and engaging liturgy for children aged 0-11