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.