I’ve been compiling a list lately. It’s a list of the things we do as a part of our faith tradition that have become ‘muscle memory’: practices that began with particular purposes possibly now lost to time. This is not a value judgement. But I think it’s always good to think anew about such practices. Do they still help us worship God and take part in God’s mission?
One of the most obvious (to me anyway!) is Children’s Church, or Sunday School as it’s still called in some quarters. It’s almost part of our DNA to think that a functioning church must do Children’s Church. In the flourishing past of our church we did it! But now? Is it still the best option?
Chad Bird comes down on one side of that argument. The title of his article kind of gives the game away: “The Church Doesn’t Need Children’s Church”. At his blog he says, ‘
“Children’s Church is an adult solution to a non-existent children’s problem. It’s not a problem when babies cry. That happens to be what babies do. It’s not a problem when toddlers get restless. That’s what toddlers do. And it’s not a problem when older children get bored. That’s what older children do.
Children are not the problem. Adults are.
That’s the first, honest admission we need to make: children’s church is not for the children. It’s for the adults. We are the problem. We who get irritated when babies cry. We who get frustrated when toddlers fuss. We who feel this irrational need to keep our children entertained 24/7. That’s the problem. We are the problem, not our children.”
Chad has more to say and it’s worth a quick read to see if you agree. His Lutheran perspective means that baptism is enough for entry into all that the church does. Anglicans have complicated that with Admission to Communion and Confirmation on top of that, too.
But there is an important question here that must be asked by every congregation: Why do Children’s Church? If the answer is to allow for age-appropriate learning, then I partly agree with you. We all need to be learning about our faith! Just as we gather children in different age/ability groups to do their general schooling, the same thing might be said to be appropriate in our church context.
But I want to suggest that the context of worship should not be the primary locus for learning in our church. If we’ve shrunk our congregational educational responsibilities down to 8-10 minutes of verbiage a week, the learning going on is mostly through what experts call the “hidden curriculum”: the things we teach not by what we say but by our actions. In other words, “learning is not really that important here”.
Instead, churches need to think about growing everybody’s faith in new ways, ways that suit the time poor and the dispersed natures of our congregations. I’m happy to say that John Roberto is the expert in this field and we’ll hear from him later this year at our Clergy and Lay Conferences. Make sure you are booked in to hear and work with him at one of these conferences!
Back to worship, though. Chad has more to say! He states that we don’t gather for worship primarily for learning sake.
“We gather as the people of God so that Jesus can call us all to himself, wash away the filth of our wrongdoing, put in our ears his word of grace, and put in our mouths his body and blood. We gather to immerse ourselves in the sacred rituals of confession and procession, singing and instruments, standing and kneeling, smelling and tasting. And through these sacred rituals the Spirit shapes our hearts from the earliest age onward.
Eight-month-olds sit beside eighty-year-olds. Tweens by octogenarians. Fathers beside sons. Mothers beside daughters. In an age when families are already fractured beyond comprehension, are we seriously going to separate parents from children in the one service in which God himself is present to unite us to himself and one another?
If there is a time every week when the family needs to be together, it’s around the Lord’s table. Around the Lord’s word. Around all the rituals and sacraments and sermons and songs and confessions by which we are made one in Jesus, one as his church, one as the family of God.
None of us are too young or too old to receive what Jesus is doing for us in church. Baptism drowns all age requirements. In that water we all become—and remain—children of God. In that sense every worship service is Children’s Church.
Sounds good! At the very least, Bird’s words encourage us to ask ourselves some important questions:
What are our plans for growing and learning about faith?
What are the ways we can join together across generations to worship God, not on special occasions, but regularly?
How thankful will our long serving Children’s Church teachers and kids be to rejoin our congregations as full members of God’s family??
Thanks to Trevor Sketcher for sharing Chad Bird’s article with me!