Apparently, there is a growing topic of concern in Christianity these days: "Should children be in church?" One morning, as I sat going through the day's news, I read an interesting article on the matter in the Wall Street Journal—"Seen and Not Heard in Church," by Laura Vanderkam.
It seems that many churches separate the kids and the adults. For instance, I have read of services that begin with the families all together and then—say, 10 minutes in—the pastor announces that it is time for the children to go to the nursery or to the children's service—and off they go. And I suppose that if I reflect back to my childhood days, I do remember sitting in Sunday school for a long time (memories in which figures made of felt seem to play a large role), though much of my "church time" then was spent with my dad and grandparents, too.
I know in our services in the Living Church of God, sponsors of the Tomorrow's World program, as a matter of general practice, the children and the adults sit together as an entire family for the whole of services. We generally believe that the Sabbath is a time for families to be together before God and that children are a part of the community, like the adults are. Scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 7:14, Mark 10:15, and Deuteronomy 16:14 would seem to support such a view, and God certainly seems to want families to worship and observe sacred time together. It would certainly be hard for the child in Exodus 12:26 to ask his parent, "What do you mean by this service?" if he were not present.
I'm not saying it is easy. Children have to learn to sit or play on the floor quietly and with due respect, but for the diligent parent this is not an unattainable goal. Concerning my own family, no one would accuse our children of being perfect. I even had to pause in one of my sermons once to get on to one of them when my wife was out of the room (you know Dad means business when he's glaring at you from the podium!), but being all together as a whole family has been a great blessing.
Of course, in the earlier days, there were times when my wife and I would spend most of the Sabbath service time in the hall (or in whatever area we could find) training them. We felt that if one of us took one of the kids out for being noisy, the goal of taking them out was not to just let them "cut loose" but to have more freedom in training them without distracting others around us. And part of what really helped when they were young was spending time each day during the week—at approximately the same time as Sabbath services and for approximately the same duration—having "quiet time," either time for a nap or time in which quiet play was enforced and encouraged. It's hard for small children to learn something when you only practice once a week!
I know that some of our congregations have special, age-appropriate activities for children after services—special lessons for small children and such—and I'm all for them! But I'm glad that our Sabbath services do not split up the family. Training four boys to be quiet and attentive (somewhat-to-mostly-to-thoroughly depending on the circumstances) during a church service wasn't the easiest thing, but it has produced wonderful benefits for all of us, and I wouldn't change a thing. We're all in this together, and I'm delighted that our time at Sabbath services reminds us of that.
If you are interested in seeing your family blossom into the beautiful flower it was designed to be, consider checking out our booklet, Successful Parenting God's Way. Like all our literature, it is absolutely free of charge.