When my firstborn was still a milk dependent baby, I believed that it was absolutely right to keep your kids in church with you, the parent. Not that I condemned (or even cared about) other parents for choosing to send their babes to nursery and children’s church, but that MY plan for MY children was to teach them discipline.
I thought: “They will learn the discipline of sitting still, quietly, and respectfully and they will practice it. They will not be required to pay attention, but will be allowed to play quietly next to us. They will benefit greatly from this because it will teach them self control, grant them valuable family time, and they will learn with us as we learn.”
Some would say, “But as parents, you don’t get anything out of the service because you’re spending the whole time focusing on holding a lid on your kids.”
“True, but only for a time. In due time, we will reap the rewards bountifully.”
“What if they misbehave and act out? That’s a huge distraction and unfair to everyone else.”
“For one thing, I believe this to be symptomatic of a major problem with the way the church views children and families. But nonetheless, we shall remove them out of respect for the congregation, but NOT to nursery; that would be rewarding them for poor behavior. Instead, we shall take them someplace boring where they can throw their fits, be punished, or whatever the situation calls for – such as the lobby or the empty dining area.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I haven’t changed my beliefs as outlined above. It’s just that I was never this tired back when I thought those things. I simply can’t handle it. I was reflecting on these thoughts and the changes in my lofty plans and I think my thoughts have been a bit more refined today; I believe I’ve had an epiphany.
We talk about the need to adapt parenting to each individual child. We readily accept the concept that each child responds differently to different techniques. Why would we do anything different – in either direction – with church/nursery? Benjamin is a whirlwind. He needs chaos. He has a massive amount of energy. He hypothetically COULD sit through church, but why would I force that on him? Why would I make church a drudgery or a punishment? Contrariwise, Nathan likes the peace, the stillness. Nathan will very likely desire to stay with the quiet comfort of mom and dad’s presence.
So now I figure: if they want to run around and play, why not let them? If they want to stay with us, then fine. But if they stay with us, they MUST behave appropriately. If they can’t, then they will not be allowed to stay with us – not as a punishment, but because they clearly need something different. No, church should not be a punishment.
And as for the self discipline, family time, and good theological education: we can facilitate all of those things in our home and through other activities. We can do it at their level, and come alongside them as they grow. We can do it in ways that communicate directly to each of them, in their own “language.”