Thursday, July 24, 2014

Church is Better with Noisy Kids

Some time ago I visited a church with my husband Bo and our eight month old daughter. During the communion, my daughter made the slightest peep. A little baby chirp. A woman in the congregation turned to me and loudly shushed me (for the record, the shush was louder than the chirp). I turned to Bo in total shock, “Was she just shushed for a peep?” I whispered. I couldn’t quite believe it. Seriously, it was a peep, maybe only 5% of what her maximum lung capacity. I could understand if she was making death-curdling wails, but a peep. I got the message - take your daughter outside. Every parent I know has a story like this, and for many, it is so intimidating that they don’t take their kids to church.
David Kinnaman in his book, UnChristian, states that of my generation (the millennials), over 37% has an ambivalent relationship to Christianity. For many, attending a church service can be a daunting experience. People often don’t know how to behave in church.  They need some help and we can’t expect them to walk into our sacred places knowing how they and their children should “do church.” It’s something that comes with time and something that needs to be lovingly taught. But, more than this, when we think about it, don’t we want them in church despite some “bad” behavior on their part? Isn’t Jesus just thrilled to see them there? Wasn’t he usually surrounded by pretty uncouth worshippers?
Before I go further, I understand that children need to be taught how to behave in church. Church is sacred and reverence is needed. Moreover, it is good and necessary for children to learn that they should respect the worship of those around them and that worship a corporate experience, but whose worship needs are being prioritized? Is it the adults who desire polite, quiet worship, or the children who desire to worship in their own way at their own level?
This makes me remember my years of pew squirming
Our children are worshippers as well, and I think the restrictions sometimes placed on them are, at times, antithetical to the words and deeds of Christ.
If you study God’s Word you know he has a special place in his heart for children. A child’s worship and devotion to God is a deeply sacred thing, something that should never be hindered, but only fostered.  Jesus gives a grave warning to those who hinder the faith of children (Mt. 18: 6).
This leads me to conclude that baby chirps, toddler “goos,” and cries are good things, which mean that God is being worshipped by his people – all of his people. Doesn’t Jesus further tell us, that we should go to the least and the loss, and there are few who are arguably, more “least” than children. They are the ones who are so often forgotten, overlooked, neglected, abused, and voiceless. Where, if not in the churches of God, are they to be loved and cherished? Church is their rightful home and we have a sacred duty to love and welcome them.
If you think about it, we only have eighteen years at most with children before they go off and do their own thing. What message will endure in their hearts?  Will they remember that “at church they really wanted me to behave,” or will they remember that “at church they loved the heck out of me, even when I was a noisy little bugger?” We all know that the all consuming, never-ending love of Jesus wins every time, so let’s start modeling this to our children here and now.
We don’t have to get crazy. Enacting discipline and good behavior is a part of God’s love, but shushing is not. I have a few really good examples of ways in which children, and their tired, anxious parents, have been welcomed into church. Let’s learn from them.
A single mom came to church. Her two children were wailing and running through the pews. She had tears in her eyes from embarrassment and she wanted to leave, but her sister in Christ (whom she had never met) came over and said, “Let me help you.” She picked the little one up and walked him around the church. This freed the mama to attend to the other one and they got through the service in peace.
We have some friends who run a home church and it is a family church. This means they don’t take the kids out during the service. There is no separate “children’s church,” but they all worship together. It is a thrilling, chaotic, worshipful mess, and I believe quite pleasing to our Lord.
Awesome children and nursery programs, which are at the forefront of the church’s collective goals, are another great way of doing it. So often the youth programs have about as much funding as clean-up or garbage disposal costs. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they were a greater priority?
What would happen if every adult found a child in church and “adopted” them, caring for them, taking an interest them, and showing them the love of God?
But more than this, we don’t need great programs, resources, or inventive ideas.  What we need is an attitude of love and generosity for parents and their children. If you see stressed out parents or noisy kids, welcome them, help them, or bless them by befriending them, offering loving words and deeds. If your worship is disrupted by the cries of babes praise God for it – it means that you and your church are following the words of Jesus to love, welcome, and encourage children. Put the worship needs of those around you first, in particular the least and loss, and God will take your worship and faith to a place of greater holiness guaranteed.
            I will leave you with one story that for me sums up what the church can do for children and families. The first six months of Lydia’s life, Bo and I had a ministry start-up which had failed and we were both unemployed living at home with our parents, trying to be parents. It was tough. I remember one Sunday at church, Lydia was wailing and I was nervous, anxious, and sweaty, all those things that happen to new moms.  I took her outside in the hall. My brother in Christ, who was originally from Latin America, came outside and asked to hold her for me.  He complimented me on her beauty. He took her inside because he wasn’t embarrassed by her cries. I was able to sit down and just breathe in the presence of Christ with everyone else. After the service, he discreetly handed me a hundred dollars (and I knew he was hurting financially), and said, “I know you are struggling, but God has a plan for you and your husband.”  His words and deeds blessed me so profoundly. I still remember them with tears.
            As the body of Christ we can do this and so much more for our families. It is our sacred duty to love noisy, broken, sweaty, and unkempt families. Where else can they go? Who else will love them and show them the Way? In the end, what refuge do we all have, but God’s Kingdom, so bring them on. Noisy kids in church ­- Alleluia. Let the angels sing.

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