For the past year we have been praying about another controversial decision. You see, our oldest son was about to enter sixth grade. In our large church this is a pretty big transition time for the youth. They move from the elementary wing to a completely different area on our church campus. It's a whole new world of middle school youth groups and events. And to be honest with you, I was concerned.
It's not that I don't trust that my church youth group leaders are fully committed to the Lord and to serving our youth. It's just that, I remember middle school. I remember that kids were catty. They were obsessed with boy-girl relationships. They were mean. Let's face it, I was one of those kids in middle school. I realized that a large portion of my child's Sunday morning church experience was going to be "socializing" among this peer group. And I'm not trying to sound judgemental...please hear my heart...but let's face it, we all know that a large portion of youth group is also geared towards fun and games. They're kids. They like to have fun. I get it, really I do. It's an outreach tool. But what I couldn't seem to reconcile with myself, was if it was all worth it. I knew that there was nothing that even loving, caring youth workers could do about eliminating the negative influences that would undoubtedly be presented to my kids by their peers.
I'm sure that many of you are already beginning to develop arguments with me as you read. I know them, because I've argued them with myself. But what it boiled down to, was that my soul was just not at rest with the decision to send my child to the middle school youth group. I was not questioning our church's youth group, or even youth group in general...I was merely questioning whether it was the right place for my child.
These thoughts spilled over to other thoughts and finally emerged into many ... and I do mean many ... conversations with my husband and other trusted Christian friends. Through much prayer, we have felt God prompting us to consider fully His call to us to disciple our children and what that means for our Sunday morning worship experience. We are still in prayer over this, but I can tell you that we have made the decision that our children will enter the sanctuary and worship with us (not participating in Sunday morning youth activities) by the time they are in 6th grade. We feel that by that age, our children should be fully engaged in worship and the study of God's word on Sunday morning and that is best modeled by us, not their peers. But if I'm honest with myself there is a large part of me that is longing for my entire family to be together as a family, worshiping as a whole unit...
Children In Church: Nurturing Hearts of Worship by Curt and Sandra Lovelace being published by Raising Real Men.
I was sent an advanced copy of Children In Church and right away I knew that this was the book I was looking for. Here in my hands I held an encouraging book offering guidance and help for families considering family worship within the church.
Not only does Curt and Sandra Lovelace speak their convictions using the truth of God's words, and by that I mean that they offer many scriptures that support the idea of including children in worship, they do so with respect to others' ideas. Here is a quote from their book:
"Now let us quickly say that we are not condemning all church ministries that offer childcare. What we are saying is that what is meant as a sacrificial provision by the church can often cause parents to allow their primary responsibility for spiritual nurturing of their children to take a back seat. No program or service can supplant the heart-reaching power of consistent, loving training and instruction given by godly parents."
The Lovelace's admit whole-heartedly that one should not just take their word for it! Time and time again, readers are encouraged to seek God's will for themselves...
"Perhaps you aren't sure if God is calling you to come as a family into the corporate worship setting. That would be the very place to begin. Thoughts and ideas, opinion and feelings are all lovely, but God's call needs to be heard and heeded. James reminds us that, 'If anyone lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given him.'"
They encourage parents to set aside time together to seek the Lord about this decision, giving helpful advice such as taking notes and discussing expectations of the church experience and possible scenarios of what could happen to be prepared for any situation. They suggest to spend time praying and determining a decision before moving on to the fourth chapter of the book.
The remainder of the book is spent by giving examples of their own experiences of bringing their two daughters into church each Sunday as well as others' experiences from their churches and missions in the U.S., Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean where they have served. They give practical advice on how to handle disruptive behavior and an entire chapter is devoted to what to include in a "church bag". A church bag includes items to help children to sit quietly during the service, but also to engage them in actively listening. As a child grows, a fabric book is replaced with a notepad and pencil and the child is instructed to illustrate lessons from the sermon and eventually take notes. Another chapter, walks the reader step by step through a typical church service with children in tow. Finally, the book ends with a note to church leaders.
I highly recommend reading Children In Church by Curt and Sandra Lovelace. Admittedly, the message spoke to my heart, but the book was also very well written with the perfect blend of encouragement and inspiration, entertaining stories, and practical advice. I want you to know that this conviction of mine to bring my children into church worship with me is no longer so much about being concerned about the negative influence that they may receive from peers. It is much more about a call from the Omniscient God directed to my husband and me to bring up our children "in the training and instruction of the Lord"(Eph. 6:4). Consider this quote from the book:
"We knew we could probably do an adequate job of teaching our children about the faith if we kept them at arm's length. However, to pursue the divine mission of nurturing and training the next generation, we needed to be willing to live out before them, moment by moment, our prayerfully faithful though oft imperfect desire to love and serve the living God."
Currently, we generally have three of our children in worship service with us. Our 6th grader (per our decision), 2nd grader (she has asked to come to 'big church' with us), and one-year old (who is going through a separation anxiety phase and I see no point in him being heart-broken over us leaving him when I am content to tend to him myself, even though it means a bit of sacrifice on my part). In case you are wondering, we did sit down with our oldest and have a long discussion with him about why we wanted him to attend worship services with us instead of participating in Sunday morning youth group. He admitted some disappointment, but was very understanding and even agreed with our decision.
A couple of weeks ago, we noticed our one-year-old's quiet reverence and imitation of us during prayer. My husband snapped this picture of us praying in our church's sanctuary...
You can purchase an advanced review copy of Children In Church: Nurturing Hearts of Worship right now for just $12 with free shipping. You can read more reviews of this book and A Cry From Egypt by Hope Auer, also published by Raising Real Men, at the Schoolhouse Review blog.