It’s easy to forget the significance of a family integrated church until it’s been challenged. Literally years have gone by without the thought of why we insist families worship together on the Lord’s Day, until this Sunday, when someone left the comment (above) on the live stream of my sermon. The listener could hear the crying babies, and said we should instead place them in “a safe room.”
My daughter runs the sound booth (doesn’t every pastor’s daughter wind up there?) and saw the comment as it came in on the computer system and smiled while pointing it out to me after the service. My first thought was what could possibly be a safer room for children than a place called a “sanctuary,” snuggled in between mother and father and overwatched by church security while singing songs and hearing prayers. That seems like a pretty safe room to me.
My second thought was one of indignance. Remove the little ones? Forsooth! These are precisely the ones whom Jesus said to not send away (Matthew 19:14). I’d no sooner send away Christ than I would the little ones, the παιδίον (infants).
Consider a restaurant that advertises itself as “family friendly,” but what they mean by that is that children aren’t welcome to eat with their parents, and will instead be shuffled off in the corner to eat animal crackers and watch a film. You would say, “This restaurant hates children.” Such is my view of children’s church. They’re little. But they’re not leppers.
In our church sanctuary, which seats no more than 225 people comfortably (counting the loft), a crying baby or two can fill it up with noise pretty easily. And we have dozens and dozens of little children as our younger-aged church keeps making babies under some rarely-spoken assumption that God wants people to be fruitful and multiply. Sometimes they’re loud. The rest of the time they’re really, really loud. And Sunday was exceptionally loud, so much so that a number of people commented on it to me privately (and lovingly).
Every year or so we have to make some suggestions: Parents of small children may want to sit near the back, so if they have to remove their kids it’s less disruptive, we need to make sure the audio is working in the cry room and the nursery and lobby so parents taking care of their crying or soiled children can still hear the preaching (so they’re less likely to remain inside during a toddler melt-down to ensure they don’t miss anything), and so on. But, as I always point out, the problem is not children. The problem is discipline. The solution isn’t removing children from the congregation of the Lord. The solution is (A) common sense measures of courtesy and (B) a loving spirit that embraces and accepts such distractions as a glorious blessing. Thankfully, our church has always been amenable and agreeable to both of those solutions to noisy kids.
When we first implemented family integration, we lost a few families who refused to take part in their children’s religious upbringing. One mother said to me – and I quote – “If you’re going to insist we take a part in Bible study with our children, we’ll go to another church.” The younger me, who was even less tactful than the present me, shrugged my shoulders and pointed to the door.
After that brief period when we had to reclaim common sense – the idea that families should be together – we moved on to other matters of reform. I almost forgot that it was even “a thing.” Some churches focus intensely on Family Integration as a part of their identity, their badge, their mission. The Fellowship Baptist Church, for lack of a better way of putting it, just takes Family Integration for granted. It’s just normal life here.
We don’t go overboard. We staff a nursery because there are times when a child is just going to be disagreeable or not feel well or mom needs a break. We also staff a nursery because newcomers to church may have children who’ve never sat in church a day in their life and they need a slow, helpful transition to integration, one week at a time. We have a “cry-room” in the back, and put in a window between it and the sanctuary for nursing moms or for parents to collect themselves or their kids for a few moments when the “candy man” (I’m looking at you, Mr. Scott) gets them all jacked up on sugar with the candies he passes out. We do Sunday School, but ensure that the parents are catechized ahead of their children so that teachers are only reinforcing what parents have already been taught.
But for the Lord’s Day corporate gathering? For the time when the congregation assembles? When it observes the Supper and corporate singing and prayer and Scripture-reading? That will be segregated over my dead body. I wouldn’t make black people or Asians or hillbillies or the mentally disabled or lawyers worship separately, and so I wouldn’t discriminate against age either. The very concept seems offensive to me.
Mostly, however, I just thought about that beautiful Native American child on the front row who was responsible for some of the noise. She was bonding in the arms of her foster and (maybe, hopefully) adoptive mother. Some lady on the live feed doesn’t like that orphan making noise, and wants me to relegate her to some dusty corner in the church basement? Nah. I’d rather have that one baby in the sanctuary than a thousand people in the live stream who are annoyed by her. That’s God’s baby. You don’t send God’s baby out of the assenbly.
If you’re just now thinking about the importance of Family Integration, watch this excellent documentary from the National Council of Family Integrated Churches. It is called Divided. Share it with others.
Contributed by J.D. Hall
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