At the Church of Christian Liberty, we believe in the whole family worshipping together at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings. That's old fashioned, I know, but it is important. We have an age-graded Sunday school hour, with classes for young and old alike. Other activities of the week are especially designed with the children and young people in mind, especially our K-12th grade Christian day school program. But for Sunday worship, we want the whole family together.
Now there are times, of course, when infants and younger children need special nursery attention. Perhaps sleep is necessary. A child that continues to cry surely requires help. Perhaps diapers need to be changed. Visitors regularly attend who are accustomed to a nursery. We have a nursery for these very reasons. However, we like to see the whole family together for worship, babies and all. If the children make a little noise from time to time, so be it. The family is together in God's presence, and the children are learning.
How Churches Undermine the Family
Families today spend so little time together. The churches of our land have greatly contributed to this problem over the past 30 years. Church calendars are filled with too many activities that separate the family all during the week. On Sunday mornings, that separation continues with children's church, junior church, teen church, etc. No wonder our families are having problems!
In C. S. Dobbins' book, The Church Book, the author states: "A mark of the decadence of our civilization is the decline of family worship. Its revival would be one of the most significant signs of spiritual recovery." Yes, how very important it is to have family worship, at home and at church. The church down through the ages realized this, including America's founding fathers, and it is only within recent years that the worship service has been "compartmentalized." As a young child I sat with Mom and Dad in church and, although there were many things I did not understand at that early age, the impressions received and lessons learned will never be forgotten. I am convinced that these important lessons could not have been duplicated in any other way.
In 1923, Dr. Newton Hall stated: "On Sunday let the entire family unite. A finer home atmosphere will be found where this custom is kept." Today, as we see so many pressures applied to divide our families, may we as Christians do all we can to keep the family together for Sunday worship. It truly leads to a finer home atmosphere, especially as the parents take the time to discuss the worship service, songs, and messages with the children during the week.
A Baker Book House publication (1960), The Minister in Christian Education, has these words by its author, Peter Person:
The fact that three generations sleep under the same roof and eat at the same table does not mean that they constitute a homogenous group. Grandparents and grandchildren may be at the opposite ground of coexistence. Modern Christian education has been guilty of dividing and subdividing our churches and our families until we have become as strangers to one another.
Such is truly the case. And worship is one key area of subdivision that must be brought together.
Our Church Plans for Children is the title of a manual on administration by Lois Blankenship, printed by the Judson Press of Valley Forge. She says:
There also are common needs and interests of children, youth and adults, which should be shared in experiences of corporate worship. It is good for children to experience the fellowship of the entire church family at worship, of sitting as a family in the church sanctuary, of standing with heads bowed in prayer beside the men and women of the congregation.
Yes, this is an experience of infinite value.
Lois E. LeBar, a professor of Christian Education, has written as follows in her book, Children in the Bible School:
There is one scene which shall never be erased from my memory. It is as vivid today as it was in the days when I sat in the little country church by my grandmother's side. For a brief two years of my childhood, I lived near by grandmother and attended the same church. For the most part it was a community of devout Christians.
There seemed to be nothing short of death that could keep grandmother from attending services on Sunday. Not only was she there, but always among the very first few to arrive. She had her pew, as was the custom, and immediately on entering she went to her accustomed place. No, she didn't sit down and look around or visit with others who happened in early. She sat with head bowed and two little old wrinkled hands over her eyes. I can see her yet. There she sat pouring out her heart to God and preparing herself for the message which was to follow. It seemed so long as I waited for her to raise her head, that I might talk to her. But even then, somehow, without words she made me understand that church was a place to worship in quietness and not to converse.
Miss LeBar continues, "Children are especially sensitive to feelings. They often understand feelings in an adult worship service although they may comprehend little of the terms used and the underlying facts."
What Children Remember
For more than twenty years, Robbie Trent served as a Sunday school teacher. She has come to some very definite conclusions as they relate to young children and, in her book, Your Child and God, she shares many of her thoughts. Listed below are several ideas which result from her years of experience:
But the church service proper - is that for the child? Often he cannot understand the sermon. Sometimes he likes to listen to the preacher, sometimes he does not. So run the objections. Yet usually these are not the child's objections, but the objections of some adult. Honestly, now, have you ever heard a criticism like that from a child, unless he had caught it from an adult?
From his experiences in church the child gets a sense of something big, something worthwhile, a feeling of Somebody so great, so powerful, so loving that people come together to think about Him and talk about Him and to speak with Him. God is important. Grownups think so, too.
The child absorbs easily certain attitudes and concepts both from the things he hears and from the things he feels as he sits with his father and mother in the church service. Even though he may not understand the words of the hymns, for instance, he gets a very real sense of well-being from the music and from the worship of those who meet together.
Sitting by mother and father in church where people speak often of God, the child comes to associate them with the thought of God and to feel that they have a relationship with God. "My mother and father know God," he feels. "I want to know Him, too."
From the hymns of the church the little child catches a feeling. I grew up in a church that used stately old hymns, many of them with words and concepts that I could not understand. But I got a very real feeling from some of those hymns, a feeling that grew into a conviction. The child hears Bible-reading at church, quite often beautiful Bible-reading. This is no small thing. There is music and strength and power in the words of the Bible. There is wisdom and gentleness and love. I shall always remember with gratitude one old minister under whom I sat for some months. I have forgotten his sermons, but I shall never forget the way he repeated the words of the Psalmist.
From a group of worshipping people deep in the experience of God's presence, the sensitive soul of a child catches something. He is influenced by that atmosphere. He, too, may feel that presence.
I stopped in a little chapel one day with three children. We were driving by and they wanted to see the inside. It was quiet, and the simple beauty of the little room spoke of men and women who had been very near God there. We tiptoed about and came out silently. When we got home, the mother inquired, "Whom did you see?"
"Nobody," said the oldest boy.
"Mrs. Jones," replied the twelve-year-old girl who had waved to a friend across the street.
"Jesus," said three-year-old Virginia. When we stared at her in amazement she explained, "Don't you remember? There in the little church."
Silently I recalled every word spoken during the drive. There had been no mention of Jesus. The symbols of that little chapel were unfamiliar to the child, but there had been a spirit there. Virginia had caught it.
We who covet for every child an increasing knowledge of God would do well to heed Robbie Trent's words. I do believe that "united" worship will be used of God to bring young boys and girls of our church to an early entrance into a personal, saving relationship with God through grace by faith. It will also greatly strengthen our families.
Dwight L. Moody wrote:
I have just come from the house of mourning, and my heart was touched as I saw the mother lying in her coffin, and her oldest little girl, about twelve years old, that she has been trying to lead to Christ; and a few months ago, she wrote back from Chicago to her friends in this city that she thought she had found peace in the Savior. She was rejoicing in her children's salvation. Little did she think that day she would soon be laid away in the grave. Do you think she regretted her faithfulness with those children?
There are many of us who think our children are too little to be blessed. To me there is no more beautiful sight than a father and mother coming into a meeting with their children, and lifting up their hearts silently in prayer that the blessing may come on their children.
Yes, the promises of God are to us and to our children. May we parents take advantage of every opportunity to see our children grow in grace, including family worship on Sundays.
There is a time and a place, as already noted, for using the church nursery. However, I would agree, generally speaking, with the words of Colleen Dedrick, as found in The Little Book of Christian Character and Manners:
Church nurseries are a detriment to training little children. Let's face it, babies and children are put in nurseries because they are noisy and do not sit still. How will a child ever learn if he is not made to learn quietness and practice it in public? Teach your babies to observe periods of quietness during the week, train them to respond to your commands to be still and quiet and they will be able to sit in the worship service with you on Sunday. Also, the courtesy of quietness is needed in many everyday situations, whether at grocery stores, Aunt Sally's house, doctor's offices, etc. This is showing respect for other people.
I praise the Lord for the special concern for children that He has laid upon our hearts. May God bless each of the little and precious ones He has given to our church family.