The following is Pt. 2 in the series of articles Spring Garden Church has been publishing in regards the their small steps in being a more intergenerational community. These articles can be accessed at http://springgardenchurch.ca/delve/ where you can see a digital copy of the publication.
Children in Worship without Tears
A Spring Garden member recently observed to me, “If someone didn’t like children very much I don’t think they would be happy at Spring Garden.” That’s probably true, thank God. One of our strengths is the regular inclusion of multiple generations in shared experiences of discipleship and worship.
As the Pastoral Team evaluated our intergenerational experiences this past Christmas season we wondered out loud how we can do a better job of teaching and equipping children to participate in some of our regular worship practices that are new to them. It is not surprising that this is a need.
For at least two generations evangelical churches have generally removed children from some or all the worship gathering from infancy until the end of middle school or high school. If anything, that would be an excellent strategy for teaching kids to not come to church. But if we want to teach kids to be actively involved in the worship of the whole church we need to be more intentional about teaching them how to be involved. Adults also need to be equipped to help children learn how to attend worship.
We have a plan. One Sunday of each month we plan to keep children upstairs a few extra minutes to teach them how to engage in one of our various elements of worship. We will simply explain what we are doing and why. We will identify for children the activities and behaviours that will help them participate in a meaningful way. After this moment of coaching, we will proceed to pray, or read Scripture, or take up the offering as we usually do, trying to make it brief and simple enough for kids to understand. As often as possible we will involve children and teens in roles that are generally filled by adults simply because the kids are usually downstairs.
In preparation each month an article will appear in Delve a week or two before we coach a worship activity with ideas that will help families prepare for and debrief these experiences. Each month we will also be asking you to send us ideas that have been helpful to you for the next month’s
Our object is simple. We want our children to grow up knowing how to do church as active followers of Jesus who enjoy worship and church life. This approach rests on two crucial philosophies of ministry.
One is that the Body of Christ is characterized by diversity. Because this is messy at the best of times, the more intentional we can be about preparing for the mess of diversity the less chaos will ensue. Part of our diversity is age and the differences in ability that accompany it.
The second philosophy is that discipleship is not something that can be accomplished in an hour on Sunday morning most weeks of the year. There is a saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Here it’s a little different. “It takes a church to disciple a child.”
The most crucial contribution to a child’s discipleship is the family structure in which that child lives – regardless the structure of the family. The reality of family life in 2014 Toronto is that parents need help. Single parents need help. Married parents need help. Step parents need help. Grandparents need help. Aunts and uncles and good friends who have become honorary aunts and uncles need
Whenever the kids have the adults outnumbered extra help is needed! Notice when a parent is involved in ministry and the other parent (or someone else) is herding the kids – those are people in need of a helping hand! We are prone to mind our own business, and when we help it is generally in reaction to a situation that is already developed which can be embarrassing for the caregiver who has lost control of the situation. It is much more comfortable for everyone if we get in the habit of offering proactive help. When you see someone enter a pew near you with kids in tow, let them know you understand they have a tough job and you’re able to help however you can as the kids are upstairs. “I don’t mean to offend you in any way, I just know how tough it can be looking after kids all week…” is a great way to start the conversation. If you’re a parent and someone offers to help with the kids, don’t take that as a criticism, accept it as a gift!
Discipleship is a job that belongs to all of us. If we all love our kids and help keep them focused on what we do together in worship they will grow to know Church as a warm, affirming, active place where they can meet God with us rather than a boring or odd place they are not really expected to enjoy. And we will enjoy having them around us.