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One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”Matthew 19:13-14 NLT
Last week, it made “Christian News” that a pastor of a church in Tennessee asked a woman to take her child out of the service from the stage because the baby made a noise. You can find the article HERE along with a video of the incident.
To summarize: the pastor suggested that the baby was being a distraction for everyone in the room, and that he wasn’t going to struggle with speaking over the child through the service. This clearly created a bit of a distraction all on it’s own because the pastor then comes back fairly quickly and says, “Okay, let me stop. Just because I just did that, everybody’s freakin’ out because I just said that, listen. We love children. And you … sweetie, look at me … we love kids, but if a child is gonna affect the whole service because the child’s cranky or whatever, we do have TVs that are right there in the back, so that’s cool…”
He then goes on to say that he’s not going to let a child affect 300 people in the room, and proceeds to try to gather his own thoughts (because, from what I can tell, he’s really the one who was being distracted and not the other people).
It cannot be overlooked that I believe this pastor was out of line by making a scene over a child and embarrassing the mother in front of hundreds of people. He allowed his own frustration with the situation to lead him into making a public spectacle that resulted in the public shaming of a mother and her child.
Could he have dealt with it another way? I’m sure he could’ve.
But the issue is deeper than simply how he dealt with it. It goes down to the very foundation of how many churches conduct their Sunday gatherings.
Sadly, this isn’t a new issue.
As you can see, in Matthew 19, Jesus ran into this issue when some children tried to come to Jesus and the disciples ,while they didn’t create separate spaces for the children to worship, they tried to put a kibosh on them coming to Jesus. But, Jesus responded by telling them to “Let them come” and then telling them that those who would inherit the Kingdom of God would look more like these children.
Age Segregated Worship
It has become a popular trend within churches over the last couple of decades (or more) to have age segregated worship gatherings. Parents show up, they put their kids in either a nursery or a classroom (or both if they have multiple kids from multiple age ranges), walk away and do their thing while their kids get a child-friendly version of what the parents are getting.
In some cases it includes children’s worship music, but almost always it includes child-targeted teaching. Sometimes the teaching is in line with the “big church” teaching, and sometimes it is not.
Some churches even go a step further and have also included separate gatherings for teenagers with a similar format.
The point is, we have by-and-large across this nation taken intentional steps to create an age-segregated gathering in an attempt to reduce distractions for parents and adults in the “big church” gathering, and I’m not so sure it is the most beneficial or most biblical approach to the gathering of the church.
Parents are then, too often, made to feel like they MUST put their children in these environments or risk being embarrassed or “corrected” for not following the house rules about the kids being in ” big church”. Sometimes this is a spoken expectation, sometimes it is an unspoken expectation. Either way, parents are suddenly put in a position where they feel they have to put their kids in these environments…or else.
Reality is, back to the example before us, this entire incident would’ve been a non-issue if age-segregated worship wasn’t a thing, or at the very least not a forced thing.
Pros of Age-Segregated Worship
Without sounding like I’m hating on churches that do this (because to be honest, I’m attending two churches that do provide these kinds of environments, one of which I’m on staff at – though I do think they approach it differently which I will discuss in greater length below), allow me to outline some positives of age-segregated worship.
- Parents are free to pay attention in the service without the concern of their kid making a ruckus.
- Children are able to play and be kids without the concern of distracting other adults or their parents.
- Pastors/Teachers can be more targeted with their teaching/sermon without the concern of exposing certain age groups to topics that may be over their head or that parents may not desire their child learn about yet.
Cons of Age-Segregated Worship
That’s just 3 pros, but I’m sure there are many more that could be listed.
Likewise, there are some cons we need to consider regarding age-segregated worship:
- Children don’t get to worship with the church at large, or participate with their parents in a greater capacity.
- Children are sometimes seen as inferior members of the church body who can’t “handle” being with the larger church body.
- In many churches, children can literally go through 18 years of “church life” without ever truly being part of the large church gathering except on special occasions (holidays, children’s song specials, etc.)
Again, there are probably more cons that I could share, but this is just some obvious ones that come to mind when I think over this subject.
A BETTER WAY
The question at this point is…is there a better way?
And I think the answer is yes.
I mentioned above that I attend two different churches in my area who do provide these kinds of environments to children in the church, but I believe they do it a bit differently.
I have also been in churches that looked more like the one in the article I posted than the ones I currently attend, and there’s a rather glaring difference…
For starters, in the churches I am now part of these environments are not required for children who come to the Sunday gathering. It’s optional. For another, parents who choose not to place their kids in those environments are not made to feel guilty for not doing so if their child acts…well…like a child during the Sunday gathering. In fact, nothing is said to them…no heads turn and stare the kid and parent down, and the pastors certainly don’t call them down from the stage.
The environment is still there for parents who wish to place their children there, but it is entirely optional. And that, in my personal observation, is the biggest difference!
Because of this, it sets a completely different tone within the larger church gathering. Children are welcomed, and even invited in to participate. Parents feel less stressed when their child acts up from time to time. The rest of the church feels less inclined to look down their nose at parents with children in the sanctuary (though I’m sure some still do…humans). And so on.
So the better way can be summed up in this way: make it optional and make sure your church and the parents know it is.