At What Age Do We Include Our Children in Corporate Worship?
About a year ago I wrote an article entitled Wading In on the Sunday School Debate. In that article I addressed what I thought was the main issue, “How do we raise our children to know God?” I stated that I believe that our children should be in corporate worship with us, but I left it rather open ended as to what age they should join us in worship. Now, I am sure that most Christian parents do believe that their kids should be in church with them, the questions arise around what age they should be ready. On one side, there are some “old school” churches (mostly of the Reformed/Presbyterian variety) that do not even have nurseries as they desire the entire covenant people together in worship which includes the newborn, the infant and the toddler. In the middle of that spectrum there are churches that have a nursery for babies and toddlers, usually up to around 3 to 5 years of age. On the other end of the spectrum there are churches that have “Sunday School” or “Kid’s Church” during the worship service for kids up to age 12 and beyond.
Where do I stand on this issue? Well, both of our daughters have joined us in the worship service at the age of 3. But I should disclose that there was no other option available to us. Our first daughter, while still a toddler who bounced, played, giggled and made noise, was (in hind sight) not very difficult. Our second daughter, well…where do I start? This one time, while I was operating the sound booth, she grabbed the camera and moved it off of the Pastor while he was preaching and pointed it at the ceiling …(Yes there is video evidence); another time she screamed something about taking her clothes off and tried stripping in church, when she was stopped she subsequently threw a tantrum as she was denied this apparent toddler’s “right”; she runs up the aisles, dances on the pews, throws candies, has no idea what an indoor voice is (and we try to instruct her in the *whisper*…) she is stubborn, she is obstinate and I have to admit that it is frustrating. Do we discipline her at home? Yes we do. Is she ready for church? I…don’t know…
Please allow me to reaffirm to myself why my kids are in the worship service with us… (This list is adapted from an article by Jason Helopolous on The Gospel Coalition)
- My children are members of the covenant along with their mom and I: A lot can be said for Bible study, hospitality, outreach programs, VBS, Gems and Cadets, and all the other church activities… but, attending Corporate Worship twice on Sundays is the primary activity the covenant community engages in together (Acts 2:42; Ephesians 10:24-25). Therefore, our children as members of this community should be included in this vital part of church life.
- My children will be present in the midst of the means of grace: My children benefit by being where the Word is preached (Romans 10:14), the sacraments are administered (Matthew 28:19-20), and corporate prayer is practiced (Acts 2:42-47). These are the chief means by which God pours out grace upon His people. Why would I knowingly rob my children of this blessing because of my comfort?
- My children will be present in the midst of the entire congregation: My children benefit greatly by being in the presence of Christians of various ages. They are able to see that the faith of their mom and I is not a faith that they own alone, but is a faith that is important to all of these people who are gathered around them on Sunday morning. This only reinforces what we are modeling and teaching when they see this incredible gathering of people reading the Word together, praying together, confessing together, and singing together (Deuteronomy 31:9-13). They need to see the body in action.
- My children will be present with my wife and I: Worshipping together as a family helps to counter the current trend in our society of fragmenting our families. If my children join their mom and I in worship from a young age until they are adults they will worship with us in well over 1500 worship services! Think about the cumulative effect of my kids worshipping together with their mom and me together, in the midst of the means of grace, meeting with God and his people, twice per Sunday for over 800 Sundays in a row.
- My children will witness their mom and me worshipping: It is our Biblical role as their parents to disciple them in the faith (Deut. 6; Psalm 78; Eph. 6). What a benefit there is when children witnesses their mother or father singing with conviction, praying in reverence, listening intently to the sermon, or receiving the Lord’s Supper in joy. In these moments my kids witness the importance of faith and worship to both mom and me. There are few greater encouragements to a child’s faith then seeing their parents worship God with reverence and joy. (Exodus 12:1-28; Deut. 4:9-11; Deut. 6; Psalm 78; Ezra 10:1; Nehemiah 12:43; Joel 2:12-17; Acts 16:33).
Now I am sure that most of my readers, at least those who adhere to a high view of the covenant, agree with what is in that list. But the question still arises as to what age should they be included? Should we include them as newborns? Well, as reformed Christians we certainly include them when they are baptised. Even Christians who are not of the reformed persuasion “dedicate” their children to the Lord in their first days of life outside the womb. Then we remove our children for a time so they are not distractions.
I sit here and I scratch my head.
As I scour the pages of scripture. I cannot find a biblical reason to keep children from attending the worship service; there is certainly no age restriction to prevent a child from worship nor is there an age requirement mentioned in the Bible. But then I am hardly a theologian. So I thought I would look up the history of the church. As I scour church history I find that it is only a recent development in the past century that children are not included in corporate worship, regardless of denomination. Again I am hardly a historian.
So, all I can think of are rational or practical, but not biblical, reasons to keep a child from joining in worship. This begs the question, “What is wrong with practical reasons?” I don’t know the answer to that one either way. 🙂 Reasons like children should not be a distraction to others, or they will not get anything out of the service, or we are training them to sit still and zone out. You have heard them, I am sure.
In my congregation, for practicality, we remove newborns, infants and young toddlers because they are distractions. So if we use this argument, that we remove young children because they are distractions, then my video altering, tantrum throwing, candy tossing, whisper-yelling, unabashedly stripping, pew dancing, 3 year old is not ready either and should not be in church. But, if we follow this line of argumentation, neither should we include the hyper active 8 year old who can’t sit still, nor the teenager with allergies who can’t stop sneezing and hacking, nor the sweet old lady who chews her “dubbelzout” with her mouth wide open, nor the guy who falls asleep and snores so loudly that you have to borrow the earphones from the ushers to hear the sermon. But that does not make sense because we should include every member of the covenant community which includes chewing lady, snoring guy, hyper active 8 year old, and if we continue on this thought, then we should also include my daughter, and every one of the toddlers, infants and newborns. This means we should close the nursery… 🙂 (for extra points – Who knows which fallacies I have committed here? Or have I committed any?)
This is what I wrote last time:
…it is my opinion (note I said opinion and not biblical based argument) that a child must be ready and able to sit in the worship service without being a <major> distraction to the parents and others around them. As the parent is to teach the child, so is the preaching to teach the parent. If the parents cannot focus, they are not edified. If they are not edified, they do not learn. If we do not learn ABOUT God, then how do we KNOW God? If we do not know God then how do we teach our children about HIM? Knowing God is our greatest aim in life! To know and be known – what a wonderful God we have!
John Calvin stated,
“Wherever we find the Word of God surely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there, it is not to be doubted, is a church of God.”
There is much emphasis on the preaching in our church and rightly so! However also note that Calvin clarified his statement with a resounding “and heard…” If a preacher stands on a street corner and preaches the pure gospel and no one is around to hear it that is not a church. Thus it is with preaching in a building to the believers. If we are present but distracted, we do not hear, thus we are not edified.
I believe that families should be together in worship. I am not able to figure out what the age to start this is of course…so if you have any insight please let me know. Maybe I am just not seeing it. I do believe that children should be ready and not major distractions to those around them. However that should not be used as an easy excuse to keep our kids out of the corporate worship service for comfort’s sake.
For practicality’s sake I would like a place to take my 3 year old until she has learned enough discipline at home to at least sit still without screaming “NO DADDY DON’T …” during the prayer, or tossing Mentos into the offering bags. Perhaps extending the age of the nursery would be a good thing. Perhaps not. My theological mind is telling me it is time to train her up and include her in worship. It will be challenging for us either now or at 4 or at 5. As Robbie Castleman said in her book, Parenting in the Pew, “It has been said that modern people worship their work, work at their play, and play at their worship. We need to work at our worship. With children, we often have to work harder.” We sure do.
So, while our first was ready at 3, I am hoping our second will be ready at 4 – maybe 5 – but she is in worship at 3. To the people worshipping around us, sorry… you may get an impromptu dance lesson or the occasional lemon Mentos tossed your way.
I realize that I have not answered the question in the title. From one struggling parent to another…I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
Thanks for reading!