Jun 13, 2017

Children, Too, are Part of the Church

By Alison Andreasen


I’ve previously  discussed the way our culture pursues age segregation as the norm and often fails to recognize the importance of family togetherness. This trend has impacted not only nuclear families, but also church families, and it hurts both our children and the church bodies that they will be a part of in the future. 

If a group of people in a church wanted to start a Bible study open only to individuals with light skin and freckles, the leadership of the church would put their foot down and say that we can’t categorize people like that. Yet that is exactly what we do with children. We divide them by age and put them in classrooms. Meanwhile, the altar guild takes down communion, people count the offering, and the ushers collect unused bulletins from the pews--all without interaction from the little ones who would delight in helping out, too. When the children grow up, we then expect them to jump into service, only to find that they aren’t prepared for what it means to be involved at church. 

We make a grave mistake when we overemphasize having “kid” things for kids and “adult” things for adults.

Segregating kids from adults and children of different ages prevents the scaffolding in the faith that naturally occurs when different age groups are together. The kids don’t ever get the chance to see the grown ups who write in their Bibles and to ask “Why?” They don’t see the big kids carrying the boxes of quilts made by the ladies’ group out to a van to be shipped overseas. They don’t get to help dry dishes after potlucks and hear the ladies tell them about what church was like when they were little. 

Narcissistic tendencies are nurtured when we segregate by age. When lessons are so meticulously designed to be suitable for a specific age group, that age group may tend to get very frustrated when put in a situation where the activity isn’t at their specific level. People become used to things being tailored especially to them. We laugh at videos of church shoppers because we see the silliness in expecting a community of believers to meet your every need, yet we aren’t exactly helping our children when we continue to teach them through experience that they need to have lessons, activities, and service projects specifically suited to them. It is good for older children to learn to be patient by sitting through Bible stories they already know. It is also good for children to learn to sacrifice their need for speed in the hallway as they walk behind an older gentleman. 

It also implies that all kids are the same. News flash: not all kids like singing in front of the church. We don’t make all people between the ages of 30 and 50 stand up in front of church and sing a song with actions that they may or may not like doing. Why do we do it to kids? Offering up our voices to the Lord is a beautiful gift, but not all kids want to offer their voices in that way. The best way to avoid segregation is to see each individual as just that--an individual with gifts to offer the rest of the body.  

Keeping them separate just encourages the thought that kids are different from the rest of the population. Yes, children are different from adults in many ways: maturity, physical development, vocation, and more. But they are also similar in many ways. All people are created by God. They are fallen yet redeemed, saints and sinners being renewed by the Holy Spirit day by day. Both adults and children need forgiveness and mercy.

Intergenerational ministry is a buzzword that has been floating around the church work world as of late. It is rightly bringing attention to the benefits of keeping different generations in touch with each other. It may lead congregations to adopt intergenerational Sunday school events and activities once a month or fellowship dinners where seating charts are changed so that people meet new people. These are all wonderful. However, these efforts take a lot of planning and resources.

There is another method that provides opportunities for authentic Christian fellowship. It is one sentence that begins with only four words, yet its use conveys so many things! It makes the hearer feel valued. It has the likelihood of eliciting action from the hearer which will provide opportunities for Christian discussion, encouragement, reconciliation, and support. Here it is:

“WOULD YOU COME  ___ WITH ME?”

There it is! A little boy invited to help his dad hand out bulletins before service may eventually become an usher as an older teenager or adult. A little girl invited to watch the candles be filled with oil may grow up to be a part of the altar guild. A child invited to stack quarters out of the offering plate may not hesitate to volunteer to count offering after church later on in his or her life.

We must be clear. Equipping the next generation for service in the church by inviting their participation and engaging their curiosity is not going to save the church. Please do not read this as the answer for our dwindling congregation size. We do not embody an attitude of togetherness out of fear of our doors closing. Rather, we invite children to participate in the functionings of the Body of Christ because, well, they are a part of the body. We are simply making our actions match our beliefs. 

It is also important to note that encouraging togetherness does NOT mean everyone can or should do the same tasks in the church. For example, if there are positions in your church reserved for individuals with certain credentials (only catechized men providing Bible readings in church, for example), it would be very confusing to a little girl who is encouraged to prepare for it as a child but not be allowed to as an adult.  While we encourage preparation for future vocations, we also encourage restraint from vocations that belong to someone else.

Being together is a good, God-pleasing thing! This is true in our families as well as in our churches. May we live up to our counter-cultural beliefs and live our lives in faithful ways, even if they happen to be different from the ways of the world around us!


Note: You can hear Alison talk about togetherness in our recent podcast episode here

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Alison is a wife of one, mother of three, and teacher of many. She lives in rural South Dakota where she enjoys life on the prairie as a dual parish pastor’s wife. A trained Lutheran school teacher and homeschooling mom, she has a passion for children’s education, especially education in the Christian faith. She is a brainstormer by nature and those who are close to her never know what new idea she will think of next. Recent adventures with her family have included tapping trees to make syrup; creating, expanding, and selling her own granola business; and learning to preserve fresh garden goodness for year-round use.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Alison, great article! I found your blog through a post you made on the Federalist (the one about educated SAHMs, which I SO appreciated!). A couple things come to mind when I read this article, but let me preface with I have been to a church that has wholly practiced this, and there are some really great benefits, but there are also drawbacks. I, and some other moms, found it very challenging to listen or participate if the children are young; we have also found with going to other churches, the 'segregation ' actually does help with appealing to children's learning differences from adults, they rats in bible stories etc.
    in regards to the aspect of seeing how Christianity is done in real life, unfortunately too many parents rely on church and school to teach their kids morals/values etc. One of the reasons I decided to homeschool was not because it was better for their education, but because it gave me access to be their spiritual coach with all the problems that they have throughout the day. Anyways, i thought i would put my experience in as somebody who has practiced this with their church. Side note, my parents live in S Dakota too, McPherson county, you?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Katherine! I am in the South Eastern corner of the state- what a small world. Thank you for your comment. I think you may have given me undo credit in regards to a Federalist post! You must be thinking of the editor of this website, who is a very gifted, educated, woman who writes for them!

      I, too, am in congregations that do quite a bit of authentic interactions between generations (many of the examples in this article are from my congregations.) As in anything, there are extremes in practice, and completely co-mingling ages has faults and ignores the differences that are there between adults and children. Ideally, congregations do well to have times when different groups within a church can find support with others in their similar situation in life (women's groups, singles groups, grief groups, kids, etc...) and also have time to expand their horizons and realization of a bigger body of Christ by also being connected to others outside their "circle." This blog post was intended to bring the practice of churches back to this middle ground rather than give in to the idea that people do better when separated (which seems to come all to easily in human nature. Have you ever seen what happens at a big cookout? Men go one way, women go to the kitchen and kids go play in the yard...it isn't bad, but it takes a lot more work to engage with one another than it does to keep the status quo.)

      I second your thoughts on it being hard to listen while caring for kiddos! There are good and bad ways to approach this reality. Finding an older couple in church for older children to sit with sounds like a great solution. Kids having their own church service during regular worship service where they will not see activities of the church body being done until they are preteens is, in my opinion, not a good solution.

      Blessings as you raise your children in the faith. I am thankful to God that we have each other- even if only via internet- to remind us that we aren't in this alone!

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