Infants, toddlers, and children in the service

Arielle is 18 months old. When she was first born she came into all the services with us. There were a few reasons for this which included the fact that we didn’t know the people of the church very well yet (we had only joined 2 days before she was born), we wanted to keep her near, and lastly, even at that young age we wanted her to become accustomed to being in church.

This continued for months and people at church thought that we might be hesitant about the nursery. People made comments about how it was our first child and we just didn’t want to let her out of our sight, almost like we were spoiling her. For me, that was not something I had considered — I wanted her to be in church.

Eventually, we did start to place her in the nursery for a couple services a week. It would vary depending on the week. I was asked to teach Sunday School and my wife was in the choir so Sunday mornings she was in the nursery. Sunday nights and Wednesdays would depend on the situation.

At the same time as some comment about why she isn’t in the nursery, others thank us and compliment us on the fact that we keep her in because that “is good for her.” Or “We just enjoy seeing her in the service.” Or something along these lines. When she isn’t present with us, we receive comments on how she is missed.

We are trying to do what is best for her. It is something that we evaluate regularly. Should she stay in more? Should she go out more? Is she gaining enough from it to be worth the distraction to others or the lack of attention we can give to worship as we supervise her? I don’t know that these questions will be answered finally for her, or for any other siblings God may bless her with at some point. I think they may continue to arise, and that’s ok.

A couple verses that I consider when thinking about this:

Matthew 19:14 “But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

Nehemiah 8:1-3 “1And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel.  2And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month.  3And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.”

Jesus loves the children. I sing the song to my daughter almost every night before she goes to bed. We know this. Some people seem of the attitude that a child should not be in the service. Or they seem to think that church is for adults only. This is clearly not the case. Jesus loves the little children.

Nehemiah says that all gathered together with “those that could understand.” I have heard this passage used a couple different ways. One way says that this means there was a nursery since some couldn’t understand they probably weren’t there. The other way is just the opposite and says that since all who could were present, then no one was left in the nursery because they were all present to hear the word (there weren’t speaker systems then) and so all the babies must have been present as well. Should they be in or not? I don’t know that there is an absolute to it.

I know that the more she is in the service, the more she adapts to it, and the more quickly she learns to be quiet, and sit. I know that she becomes more accustomed to hearing pastor, and singing songs. Already she folds her hands to pray and will keep them folded for quite a long prayer (most the time). I also know that this adapting is slow-going. She doesn’t just grasp something and suddenly behave perfectly. It is something to be learned over time.

In the nursery, she gets to play with friends, and interact. Something she doesn’t get anywhere but church. She plays with more toys as we don’t have many, and I think it is good for her to interact with others and to be able to have more opportunity to play with different toys.

I think we will continue a split schedule. We like watching her grow in each of the different ways she is growing because of these varied scenarios. She is in the nursery two services a week, and out one, while Wednesday varies right now.

Regardless, of what happens now, when she can understand she should be taught. That could mean some children’s program or in with the pastor. Of course, the same passage in Nehemiah (with others like it) are used to say that children’s programs are not necessary (or even sometimes, that they shouldn’t be used). And I would agree that some children’s programs shouldn’t be used. They are more about games and candy and making everyone happy than about learning or developing the child.

When she can understand she must be taught, and this brings up several other questions to arise shortly for us. She will be able to understand a class devoted to her age more quickly than she will be able to understand pastor. However, she will adapt to pastor more quickly if she continues to sit under his preaching. Keeping in mind that she will learn and grow primarily at home it seems logical to allow her to go to a class for her age, because the development needed to sit under pastor will already be taking place.

If we are doing our job as parents to nurture and develop our daughter, she will learn the Bible at home. She will know the stories of the faithful. She will hear them repeated to her and learn the lessons. She should not need nor should we as parents depend on some “program” to teach or train her.

I’m excited for the children’s program at our church. This year our church called a new Pastor to oversee the children’s ministries. It has been great to get to know him and his wife as a couple, but it is also encouraging to see how our children’s program is being streamlined for the good of the children. The goal is not to babysit the kids (as many programs seem to do) but rather to teach them, to help them grow, to nurture them. This is not meant as a replacement, but to reinforce what is happening at home. This is what a church children’s program needs.

As Arielle grows, my wife and I will again discuss where she should be within the church. Should she stay with us or join that children’s program? Should she be in the children’s choir? Should she attend AWANA? These are things that we will need to deal with, not because we think these programs/activities are wrong, but because they might not be best. They will be influenced I’m sure by her desires, but more so by what is causing her to develop more fully in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Isn’t that all that really matters? That she grow to fear and love the Lord?

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