Sunday, December 07, 2008

Children - an issue?


I read this (below) on a large church website today (ON ANOTHER CONTINENT - guess which one!) and it's making me very annoyed. It's part of a FAQ section on "joining small groups":
Is there childcare available?
Every group deals with this issue in its own way. Some of the groups go in together and make arrangements for a babysitter or take turns watching the children. Other groups require each participant to make their own arrangements.

Am I over-reacting to the use of the words "every group deals with this issue in its own way?"
Are children "an issue?"
Are they an inconvenience to how we "do church"?
Do they - annoyingly - require looking after in order that we may grow spiritually or make connections with other adults?
Is it not possible to make connections with other adults and grow spiritually when we have children with us?
Must we, the church, be childcare providers for those who come along to have their needs satisfied?

I'm VERY concerned about the Western cultural context which pushes children to the outside. We seem to place more value on material fulfillment, good money coming in to the home etc; than on fulfilling the spiritual needs of our families. I hope to post in the next few days on spiritual formation, which is what this blog has banged on about since its very first day.

I have said it before on this blog but I'm gonna say it again [...someone I respect hugely told me blogs were mainly full of hot air; with the same old thing being said over and over again. I'd like to prove his point]........we are not so different from Greco-Roman culture today - children are sometimes persona non grata in the church - send 'em off for education in their separate groups and let us debate and talk with our peers at the areopagus.

Then we'll go home from church, get our kids to watch a DVD so we can put our feet up, then later have a quick game of Wii sports with our child and tuck him/her up into bed. Perhaps I sound cynical. I like to think I am being honest as I have done all of the above!! Please note that I am not against DVD watching and game playing. I used this as an example only to prove the point that our busy lives spill over into the realm of our own spiritual development and that of our children's - we can't cope with our lives without things to distract our children and babysitters to help us enjoy fellowship. I walk the narrow path on this one and I have to be honest and humble about this.

However, I see a difference from sticking a DVD on to get some peace and quiet post-church, with getting together with other families where all might eat together, adults and children chat then adults chat and children go off to play together, using their imaginations or some creativity....this allows the development of social skills, being in community and also gives us some down-time from the hard task of raising children, for it is not always easy. But lots of families find getting out and going to church tiring and prefer to eat lunch and chill after church, rather than have their house messed up and their children running around in a gang of 4/6/8 getting excited.

Here are some of the things the Bible says about children:

• Children are a gift from God – God gives them to adults as a special sign of His love to us and as a means of personal fulfilment (Deut 7:13, Ps 127:3)

• Adults receive special blessings through their children. (Num 5:28, Deut 28:4, 11, Lam 4:2)

• Children are desirable. (Gen 9:7, Deut 6:3)

• To have a fruitful relationship with God, children must be taught to obey Him. (Prov 8:32, 19:26)

• Children are so valuable to God that He commands us to protect them (1Sam 20:42, Ezra 8:21)

• God wants to have a genuine relationship with His children – He describes how children may enter His presence and enjoy His company (Ps 8:2, 34:11, 103:13, Mal 2:15, Matt 21:15, Mark 10:13-16)

• God loves children enough to ensure they receive discipline. It is a reflection of His passion for a child’s well being.

. God enjoys the nature and personality of children – attributes such as sincerity, humility, naïveté, vulnerability and simplicity. He treasures these characteristics (Matt 18:3, 19:14, Phil 2:15)

. Children were so special that the Lord Jesus rebuked his closest friends when they stopped parents bringing their children to him to have him bless them.
He brought a child into the very centre and said "let the little children come to me, do not hinder them for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."

Later this week I am going to post some personal thoughts and practices that I have led as a children and family pastor which counter this trend of "children at the edge". But be warned, it's not a simple list of "do this and do that" - reading it may cause some folks to freak out!

I led a seminar on this very issue to a truck-load of pastors. Lots of grey hair and splendid sweaters. And shaking heads as I spoke. Most unnerving. Or recently I went to speak at Another Church's training day and asked innocent questions about their leadership's view of children. Seemed to cause a bit of bother but in a good way (if that makes sense).

To tackle this head on is to be counter-cultural. Dare I say even - subversive???

if this post interestes you, please also see: children and family - a theological overview (my own!)

9 comments:

  1. Was there a discussion time for this truck-load of pastors? What were their specific objections that led to all the vigorous head-shaking?

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  2. Hurray! Go Lynn! More power to yer elbow.

    Him Indoors, and our church, have recently been described (by a visiting child to his dad) as a "Church for Children", which we took as a compliment. We're finding the more welcome we make the kids, the more we all get out of it ourselves. The atmosphere is just fab. Usually the kids go out to get peace from us half way through the service but sometimes, as today, they stay in for the whole thing, and they are not "an issue" (although they are in the Biblical begat-sense our "issue") - it just feels right to have all the ages valued equally... Although I like many emerging church ideas, I'm inclined to suspect many of them forget kids exist. Having "church" in Costas is fine and trendy for adults but five minutes and the kids would be climbing the walls... Sorry I'm ranting now!

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  3. Hello THM

    Yes - I always welcome discussion times and the denominational meeting I regularly attend allows for such. Head-shakingness always accompanies difficult issues such as: the difficulty with the lack of trained volunteers; not just anyone can do kids groups or lead all age-friendly homegroups. To be honest, just the same as the fact that not anyone should be a welcomer/small group leader. We need to get away from the age old tradition that anyone can do whatever they want to do in church life. Where's the place for gifting? Calling? God-given passion? That's been the major area where I provoke reaction.

    On the practical level, any church that moves forward to welcoming children into the heart of the church; into evangelistic initiatives (teatime alpha!), into discipling them as real people who God wants to use elicits response as wwell. The need for Disclosures - what do you mean, paperwork has to be done?
    The need for excellence and adherence to Care Commission guidelines also - what do you mean we can't just simply hold one of our children's groups in the homes of one of our members? That we need to be careful when we offer to run babysitting circles?

    These are but a tiny few of the things that I have come across on my travels, Hideous. Not a reason to skirt around children but certainly some reasons that necessitate a persistent heart for kids.

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  5. Hey Anne, thanks for your encouraging comment. Your church sounds like one I'd love to visit (if I knew where it was LOL). There are Scottish churches where children are separate from the adults all of the time and it is done very well (Willow Creek model) but it's not for me. And unless kids separate from adults is an area of ministry with a strong sense of vision and values and feeding IN to kids IN PARTNERSHIP with parents/caregivers at home, it definitely can have a detrimental effect on helping older kids/teens "feel part" of the whole when the time comes for them to move on from Kids Church (see George Barna's Real Teens book).

    It can encourage an abdication of responsibility for parents/church leadership teams - get the professional in and leave them to it kind of thing.

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  6. Hazel8:18 PM

    Coming back to Lynn’s original comment, I love the bit about putting the DVD on.
    My daughter is growing up in a much more visual age than me (I was the sad kid at
    school with no telly!). Went to the cinema with her friends on Saturday, the minute
    the trailers came on there was total silence!
    I’m a bit of a grumpy old woman about children and church but I think there is a balance to be stuck. I don’t think children should be excluded all the time, otherwise they never feel part of
    it (how are they meant to grow up to attend “the main service?” But I don’t think they should be in all the time at everything either. Also I don’t think church should be expected to provide childcare for every “extra” meeting that happens. There will be
    There will be some occasions when parents/carers have to choose what is best for them as a family.
    It is not necessarily fair to take a child to a lunch meeting where there are three speakers and expect them to sit and be quiet for another 1.5 hours after they have been to the main morning service for example!

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  7. Thanks for your comment Hazel and for joining in the debate :-)

    I would just like to point out to anyone who happens to pass by from my current situation who reads Hazel's comment that I did not pay/bribe or coerce her to write a certain point about lunchtime meetings on Sundays :-)

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  8. So this is rather important stuff to be getting annoyed about and being stirred up enough to preach at any and all who pick up your post on this! You know I'm with you girl! I fear there is a vast amount of work to be done in the church yet before we even begin to get this whole thing right ... and you are one of the pioneers! Hey ...for such a time as this!

    Love and blessings

    PS. So admire your blogging when I'm so brain dead just now that I'm not even trying to blog! I think it will need to be somewhere in the holidays we actually get to meet up! I've been up since 4am, now in the office and will be asleep by 6pm tonight! Roll on the holidays!!!

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  9. oh Lorraine
    Think I am stirring too much

    Need to be much more quiet and demure LOL

    Can't wait to see you!

    (have got no further with my children and HS paper, unfortunately. Read Calvin's commentary on Joel chapter 2 as background research and had to be scraped off the ceiling.....)

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