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Children in Church

September 1999 | by Alun McNabb

So often we seem to be at two extremes in our approach to children in church. On the one hand the church service is conducted as a kind of mini children’s circus. The whole event appears to be centred on them. The singings are suitably chosen and the preacher demonstrates that if he hadn’t been a preacher he would almost certainly have been a comedian.

The hymn sandwich, of course, is totally disdained, and the service is made up of bits and pieces, all quick, short and sharp, designed to maintain interest at any cost. The level is ‘primary department’ and, in very many cases, the adults love to have it so.

Ignored

Then there is the other extreme. The children are totally ignored. In fact, you could almost believe that there were no children there at all. No effort is made to accommodate little minds. The sermon is solid, in fact rock solid, for otherwise the preacher might not be considered ‘sound’. Its length is never cut to help anyone, but rather it is generally believed that the longer it is the better it must be. We wonder if the children are given a thought, and can only say that it often appears that they are not. It is their business to endure it.

There must surely be a middle way. The appalling lack of reverence and dignity in many Evangelical churches is surely one of the great sins of the age. Can this be the worship of almighty God? Are we reduced to the atmosphere of the music hall, and still dare to call it ‘worship’? And why can so many go along with it and so few raise a voice against it? But Ezekiel, Isaiah and Jeremiah asked the same questions thousands of years ago.

‘Poor dying rate’

The situation is now so bad that the Evangelical ‘mini’ music-hall congratulates itself on its soundness because it is not as extreme as many others. Yet it is going in the same direction. But then, on the other hand, is God honoured by worship that is dull, morose and heavy? Is he glorified in joyless worship where to smile is a certain sign of unspirituality? Are there not enough words in Scripture about joy and gladness to put at least some life into the business? And someone may well ask, ‘Must we forever (worship) at this poor dying rate?’ We certainly do not honour God with the music-hall, but is his house to resemble a funeral parlour?

Now the children are in all this, somewhere. I address a few words to those who tend to act as if they were not there. Are they not important? Was there not a welcome for them from the Lord Jesus? Are they not worthy of recognition and attention? I am far from suggesting that the whole service should be turned on its head for their sake, but would it be altogether out of place to speak a word to them? Would the preacher commit some kind of unpardonable sin if he just smiled now and again?

Making things plain

Spurgeon said it helped him, while preaching, to keep his eye on the orphan boys. It would help us too if we kept our eyes on any boys and girls in the congregation. Our preaching would be much clearer for the older people, if we remembered more often that children were listening.

Luther is said to have preached with the servants and children in view. Well, if most of the servants have gone, there are still some children left. It begins in the study. Who do we have in view? If we have in mind the most well-read and theologically sound, then we have lost before we begin.

Preaching is not a display of our knowledge, but a setting forth of Christ before sinners. If we aim at instructing the youngest minds concerning the greatest themes, then our work will be long and hard but will prove rewarding to people of all ages. Is the subject made plain? Are the points easy to follow? Do we use everyday illustrations? Some ‘deep’ preachers believe everyday illustration to be a sign of weakness; but Jesus evidently did not.

Talking to me

We are not all equally gifted. But I speak not so much of gift as of effort. Are we trying to be intelligible to the young minds present, week by week, in our congregations? Are we making sufficient effort for them? Do they think it has anything to do with them, and do we labour to make it sound as if it does?

Do you remember that lovely story of the little boy who sat in the great congregation of the Metropolitan Tabernacle? Soon after the preacher began his sermon, he turned to his nurse and said, ‘Nurse, is Mr Spurgeon talking to me?’ None of us is a Spurgeon, but what an example he sets us!

And how often are children considered in the main prayer? Does it always have to be as long as we make it? And do we regularly include the children in it by praying for them? If prayer is difficult for us all, ought we not to have genuine concern as to what is being registered in young minds in our public prayers?

I know I am asking hard things. Who amongst us knows the answer to all these questions? What is an ideal worship service amongst redeemed sinners in this fallen world? God has given us a command to love our enemies; surely he would have us love our children, enough to think much of them as we go through the whole service.

If they are bored, may it never be for our want of trying. I am far from having all the answers, but I make an honest plea on behalf of those who have no opportunity to speak for themselves.