I have been struck recently by the different ways that children are viewed in the life of the church. This past Sunday, I was late getting my crew to our weekly worship service and so we entered after the singing had already begun. I have more babies than arms now and I was unprepared for Aaron’s decision to rush the stage, and physically unable to stop him from doing so. And so there he stood, at the front of the congregation, arms wrapped tightly around his Daddy’s legs. A friend who was serving as an usher hurried up front for me and peeled him away from his dad, and carried him back to where I stood holding Elijah. The moment his feet touched the floor he was off again, and this time another friend who was running sound grabbed him for me.
Doug could not have cared less, and in fact motioned to me that it was okay for him to be there. Doug has always felt strongly that children should be heard and seen during the church’s weekly offering, but as I noticed heads turning and looking back at me, I sensed that not everyone shared his enthusiasm for that particular demonstration. So I passed Elijah off to Lauren and carried my boy out of the auditorium and back to the nursery where his cousin and Auntie warmly welcomed him.
As our congregation grows and as more babies are added to our number (the Haub’s have been especially faithful in this particular method of church growth), the challenge to care for them and their needs has grown as well: How do we incorporate them fully into our church’s life? How do we call forth not only parents who disciple but also a community who shares this sober calling? How do we value them, not for the sake of what they can contribute but simply as a result of who they are?
I think I have decided that the set-up crew and the nursery workers share a similar place in church life: highly necessary and typically undervalued. There is prestige, for example, in leading a small group or preaching or leading worship. I can say that in our context, the only members of our preaching or worship-leading teams that set foot in the nursery to volunteer are those who are parents of a kid who is there. And there is language around serving children on Sundays that speaks of that act of service as “missing out” on the worship, or even as being something that certain people should be freed from doing.
In church-planting, there can also be an emphasis on connecting with families, and the children that may be reached through a bible club or youth program can often be seen as the means to that end. I can think of a few examples where effectively ministering to a group of children was not deemed “successful” unless their parents started attending church. In other words, kids are not a worthy enough pursuit in and of themselves.
Obviously as a mother of three small ones, my perspective bends much more toward the gift these kids are to the body, and the ways we are called to be faithful to them and how we may be missing out on how God would use them to bless us corporately. But I am guilty as well of being “the preacher who needs to be freed from nursery duty”, married to “the worship leader who needs to be freed from nursery duty.” Even our use of that word, “duty”, reveals much. We don’t say: “I’m on preaching duty today.” Or “I’m on small-group leading duty this week.” It’s the word used to describe washing the dishes or cleaning the bathroom or walking the dog.
I remember in my exegetical class on the book of Matthew at Fuller hearing Dr. Beaton describe the scandal of Jesus’ repeated emphasis on the centrality of the weakest and least valuable ones within his kingdom. And we all nod and smile when we hear those words in scripture. But do those words describe the value we place on children? Do we really embrace that kind of ethos where the least are great? Do our worship services honestly reflect that theology?
When we were in Portland over Christmas, I learned that one of the elders at our former church, a gifted preacher and teacher and lawyer by profession, had committed his leadership and gifts to leading the church’s Sunday School. One of the brightest minds of the congregation, and one of the most trusted leaders, had decided that the most important thing he could do for the sake of the body was to feed the littlest sheep. I caught myself even having the reaction: what? really? is that honestly the best place for his gifts? And as I considered his choice, I realized how powerfully he was modeling to me the kind of leadership that Jesus was calling forth in his disciples as he talked to them about a kingdom that is not of this world.