Saturday, March 2, 2013

Church, it's a family affair!

I have not gathered my thoughts on this post, written a draft, or even thought this through yet, but once again I am compelled to write...the passion I feel about this topic is so strong I decided to sit down and write out my thoughts, so what you see is what you get. Church. Children. Familes. Worship. These are all important things, but how do they fit together? I have personal experience with what I am about to write about, and I also have done some research, read some books, and frankly, I am shocked and saddened about what I have found. We attended a church for 10 years where kids were allowed to stand with the adults in the sanctuary and sing, sing praises and songs to the Lord which was wonderful. One day, though, things changed. Kids were now escorted off to "children's church" from the moment we walked into the building, much like checking your coat or bags in until it was time to leave. I was not for this, as I had been noticing how much my older daughter was entering into the presence of the Lord and genuinely praising Him in worship and song. It was so beautiful to see. The pressure was on, however. All the kids were absent. My children felt left out. So, after a few months, we decided to try this new, "check your children in" when you get to church thing. We gave in, and let them run off with all the other children who's parents never seemed to question any of these changes as I had been. A few weeks went by, then a couple months, and I began to feel very uneasy. Something just didn't seem right. Never seeing your children at church and being a part of this segregated model did not feel right at all. We then decided to ask our oldest to come back into the sanctuary with us and during worship again. Of course, this wasn't met with the greatest of excitement, so we reluctantly agreed to just "two songs" then sent her on to her "children's church". What I observed after just three months of our daughter not being with us in worship was sad. No longer did she have that genuine spirit of worshipping God. No longer did she sing with the freedom and willingness to be completely focused and tuned in to entering into His presence. I knew right then and there that we had made a big mistake, and of course I had known it all along, but went along with the crowd, yes the culture of our church, and allowed her to be apart from her family and out of the church service. Right at this time, I started seeing many things that were "red flags" regarding this church. There were many things being done that did not line up with what I know to be true in God's word, and many things that I could not ignore and I knew the Lord was leading us out of this congregation. We began our search for our new church home. I hoped it would only take a few months, and we would find the church we were meant to raise our children in and get settled. Sunday after sunday we tried new congregations. Amazingly, I saw the same model being carried out in almost every church I visited. Walk in the door, check your kids away to some classes and say good-bye, pick them up an hour later, and go home. Something was missing. Not seeing babies, toddlers, children of all ages in the services was sad. It seemed lonely, unlively, gloomy, without the children. Everywhere I went I would walk in and ask "Where did all the little children go?". At one very large, prominent church in our community I actually spent the first 20 minutes singing wonderful, lively, expressive christian praise music in a big, beautiful sanctuary, but as I sang I looked around and again wondered why it seemed so empty. Not one baby was being held in a momma's arms. Not one child was standing next to their parents looking up at them and gazing at the parent they love singing their heart out to the Lord. Not one. I decided to walk out, and find the children's area and do some observation. I ventured down some stairs, and saw what appeared to be a sort of pre-school class going on. Someone approached me and it was a man who identified himself as the children's ministry leader. I began by asking some simple questions. "Do the kids ever go into the sanctuary?" No. "Why?" He began to explain that thier model was highly effective and very structured. He felt that all ages should be in classrooms with their same age peers. All I could say was, "Wow". I wonder what Jesus would want, was my thought, and question. Would he want our children all tucked away, away from their parents, being fed treats, and video's and tons of entertainment, or would he want us to be expamples to them, training them up, bringing them into the sanctuary,teaching them reverence and showing them how to praise and worship Him in spirit and in truth? Would God want our kids being taught by others, or by us? What would be more pleasing to the Lord? This man then went on to tell me that junior high and high school students never even enter this church building. What??? I then heard him explain that on Wednesday nights and on Sundays they all meet together in a building out behind the church. I gave him a rather surprised look, and politely excused myself telling him that I was really hoping to find a church that recognizes the importance of families being "in church". I went and the man wished me luck. Week after week, I ran into the same model in almost every church. I knew this was not what I was looking for, for my family. I began to get discouraged, feeling as though we had tapped out the church's in our area, and had no other my dismay, I realized I had now spent almost two years looking for our new "home church". It was at this point that my husband and I came together in prayer once more, and shared with the Lord that we felt there was no other options, and that is when He gave us our answer and reminded me of a church we had not yet visited because a year earlier, when we checked, they were without a pastor- but now they had a new one. We attended and both felt this was our new church home, without even really knowing why. All I can say is that the holy spirit was speaking to me, and then as I listened to the pastor and also looked around, I saw some kids, and also found that they were encouraged to be in the sanctuary to sing and worship our Lord! When I spoke with the pastor he agreed and said something to the effect that if children aren't allowed to be in the church setting, how will they know how to "be" in church as they get older? I agreed. Finally...we were home. And, the Lord has blessed us beyond our imaginations for the last several months as we have been attending our new church. It took much longer than I wanted it to, to find our new church home. I hoped for an immediate answer. I hoped to find the perfect church. Of course, there is no perfect church, and in fact, the church is not all about the building. It is a place that we, as christians can gather together, fellowship, worship our Lord, and learn more about Him, but it is really a place to then be sent..out of...and into the World, to the neighbors, the city, the nation and the World....and if your church is not doing this...then I would start looking around and asking this is the great commission of the Bible, to take his saving message to those that need it, everywhere. Another common theme I noticed at some church's is that they were very much focused on their neighborhood and their city but not beyond that. I found it a good thing to have a burden and a heart for the local lost, however, I think it is necessary to have a vision for the world...what if there are those in the congregation that have a longing and a vision to go on missions overseas, to work with orphans, or to minister in countries where the gospel is scarce or non existent? Those people could really use the back up, and encouragement of the church to be able to be sent out. There are those that really need the support of their chruch to do this. Would we in the church not support a family who felt called to adopt an orphan from overseas just because we thought they should only adopt an orphan from our city? No, we should be an encouragement and support to those that are called to all places, and also orphans everywhere. We are called to seek and to serve the lost, and the Lord could be leading each one of us in a different direction. To me, a healthy church is one who recognizes this, and is balanced in this way. A healthy church sees children as part of the whole picture, and seeks to raise them up in the ways of the Lord, equipping their parents to do the same. God's timing is perfect. I can see that so clearly now. Yes, I was frustrated, sad, and discouraged when seeking a church where my children would be welcomed and actually encouraged to be in the church. Yes, it was hard and took much longer than I wanted it to...but I now know why. I had all this time to see what was going on in many different churches. There seems to be a strong pull toward this segregated model in many, many, many American church's today. In doing some online research, I even read about people who are being turned away when visiting new church's with newborn babies. They are being told that they cannot bring them in to the sanctuary! Many new moms are not comfortable with handing their newborns over to strangers, I know I would not have been! I often wonder if the church is going along with society and it's tendencies toward this, instead of looking closer into the word of God and how He would want us to raise our children in church. The majority of families are apart more than they should be, why keep them apart at church as well? I don't think the Lord said "send them away", "have other people teach them", and "keep them with their peers". There are examples of the older women teaching the younger ones, in the Bible. How can this ever happen if they are always apart? Something I love about our new church is that there are older people there, where our old church was mainly younger people and families. The older people delight in the little children. It is beautiful to watch. My children are getting such a rich environment of fellowship there, and it has nothing to do with them hanging out with their same age peers. Some may not agree with me, and may have been in the new cultural norm of the church for some time now. It may be working for you, but I encourage you to look into God's word, and seek to know what it is He would have you do with your own children, the ones He has entrusted to you to raise for His glory. They may seem happier because they are having "fun" in children's church, but ask yourself if this is really the way it is supposed to be. Maybe, just maybe there is another way that will provide a richness and blessing to their lives that they would never know unless you as the parent take the authority and initiative to look at what might be a better way...and most importantly, the way I look at it, what would be more pleasing to the Lord? Your answer lies in your response. Train up a child in the way He should go, and when he is older he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6