Sometimes our attempts to be trendy, cool churches with the perfect Sunday morning experience backfire.
I finished praying over dinner as a voice nearby chimed in. “That was a nice prayer.” I surveyed the table. The voice was a beautiful woman, late 30’s. Husband beamed across from her. Two girls, one teen, one younger — both friendly, polite. Nice family.
A pastor friend of mine was walking by at the moment and, sensing an opportunity, I called him over. As they exchanged pleasantries, she began the gushing. She loves her church. The worship is great. The sermons awesome. She was actually glowing.
All of a sudden, she hesitated. Her voice lowered. I’ll never forget what came next. “Do you allow families to sit together at your church?”
Something inside me curled up next to Lazarus for a three day nap.
You see, I know her church. One of my wife’s friends gave her life to Jesus there a few weeks ago. Things are happening. And she was right about her description of the pastor. Great sermons. Worship is good.
Here’s the thing.
No young kids are allowed with their parents. No babies. No noise. No exceptions. Perfect, controlled order. Kids are stowed neatly in kids’ church for a Bible program there. The braver parent of infant or toddler has the chaos of a miniature MMA cage packed with kids to look forward to. The rest sit in the lobby.
But in church no Mommy or Daddy models worship for the little tikes. No ducklings marshaled in a row, eyes on the old mallard, mimic his every move. There will be no memories of him engaged there.
You see, they are part of… “the problem.”
And God forbid anyone walks out of the service with a runny nose or bathroom emergency — you will not be allowed to return to your family, but sit in the back the rest of the service. One week a young bride fresh from her honeymoon was refused re-entry to sit with her new husband during the sermon. They were first-time visitors. She left near tears. They did not return.
When we put process over people, we cripple the church.
I get the order thing. No one wants distractions. But when “distractions” are the kid who wants to worship like Dad or the woman who has to dry her eyes because the sermon touches her in a way she didn’t expect, when we eliminate the unfortunate or inconvenient for our comfort, when we separate families we’re called to bring together, we’ve lost our priorities. We may be the church. We may be efficient. But we’ve lost what that means. We’ve lost the point.
And how distracting is it really to have a person slip into her seat during the sermon? Is preventing that worth alienating people?
Jesus faced the same issue.
He was in the middle of ministry when a bunch of kids came around. The disciples freaked out thinking the kids would screw up Jesus’ work. They’d get in the way of ministry running smoothly. You know how Jesus responded? “Let the little children come to me. The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Jesus stopped the work to bring them in and scolded those who thought they’d be distractions. This isn’t a stretch, but the exact point of the verse. Have we forgotten what the work we’re protecting actually is?
If Christians feel their families are marginalized, how do you think non-Christians feel?
I’d bet my tithe the same churches that scratch kindergartners and the perpetually sniffly from the Sunday morning script also miss the vast majority of the ugly and messy, the hardened and abused, the marginalized, the tattoo’d, the smoker, the misfit, the misunderstood.
The ones that aren’t packaged in a pre-Christian gift wrap we call “who we minister to.”
Another way to do ministry.
My wife and I once visited a church and made the unfortunate choice to sit near the front with our newborn. He considerately chose to begin crying when the sermon started, and as any conscientious parent, we scooted to leave. We couldn’t believe the response. The pastor stopped the sermon and called out to us, “Please don’t take your son out. We love families here. We want you to stay and we don’t care if he makes a disturbance.”
That’s love. In the midst of the messiness and untidy-ness of life, that’s the church. We’ve agonized over the idea of leaving ever since.
Love makes that much of a difference.
Put up a notice asking parents to remove their children discreetly if they become noisy. Ask people to re-enter quietly so not to disturb the service.
Take whatever precautions you want.
But give me sniffly noses, bathroom breaks, and a beaming family lined up down the row.
Give me a little duckling who mimics Dad’s every move.
Because that’s life. That’s the church. That’s what this is all about.
And when Christ calls the little children to come in my church — or even big ones, too — give me distractions.