Saturday, September 10, 2011

Teaching kids to behave in church

In an Aug. 31 online piece, Christianity Today asked readers to weigh in on the question, “Should churches try to minimize disruptions?” The column notes a South Carolina church bars children from its main service. A North Carolina congregation removed a boy with cerebral palsy because he was supposedly marring the service.

So how should churches respond to children in worship?

When I was a child, church was far from fun. My siblings and I were expected to sit through a two-hour service, appear engaged and be on our best behavior. My mother would glare at us if we showed the slightest sign of unruliness. In those days, the responsibility of monitoring children during worship was left to the parent.

It is more challenging for churches today because parents seem to be more lenient with their kids. Perhaps not wanting to subject their children to the rigid disciplinary practices they endured, parents sometimes let their brood run wild. There also are adults who were not raised in church and are unfamiliar with worshipful decorum.

While parents are ultimately responsible for their unruly children, churches play a role. Many offer separate children’s services that run concurrent with adult worship. Many open nurseries for babies and toddlers. Some buildings contain soundproof cry rooms, where parents can see and hear the service while tending to noisy youngsters.

Jesus was adamant about welcoming children. He told his disciples who were trying to prevent a group of kids from approaching him to “let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

During worship or even when I’m preaching from the pulpit, the occasional disruption from a child does not bother me. More disturbing are disruptive adults — those who chatter through worship, who make numerous trips to the restroom or who repeatedly walk in and out to take phone calls. Children will be children; adults are supposed to know better.

Churches can minimize disruptions by creating a fun atmosphere for kids. But parents can help. For instance, children should not be allowed to sprint down the aisle, jump on the pews, kick the seats or throw things. If unruly church children are never taught how to behave during worship, they will likely grow up and become disruptive church adults.

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