Have you ever been in a worship service, concentrating on the exercises of corporate worship only to have stolen from your attention, the possession of fellowship with God via prayer, instruction in the Word and joyful singing and be redirected to someone’s little emperor or empress who cannot and will not control him or herself or worse, refuses to yield to the administration of someone in authority over them? And topping those scenarios is one where such ruckuses are the result of little or no attempt by the child’s parents to intervene and eliminate the selfish distraction by the tot. If your answer is no, your body is dead and in your soul is now in heaven. Congratulations.
For those who worship at the altar of human nascence, where infants up to small children are idolized, I am sure this post will be sacrilege for your Lilliputian-sized demigods. However, it is unavoidable and further, requisite in addressing proper considerations and decorum in corporate worship.
So to our degraded society and more specifically, the Protestant, Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christian church of self-absorbed baby boomers, x-gens and millennials who, it appears have collectively abandoned command over their children, opting instead for free-range tutelage where their nestlings, with their precious personalities and overflowing social virtues of screaming, whining, grabbing, banging, sassing, crying, fussing and overall clamoring for attention and so on are simply imposed onto the rest of the congregation, we need to have a word with you and your enablers (and if this does not apply to you because I do not assume all are guilty in my general address, enjoy, if you will).
Church or Corporate Worship Exercises are to be respected for their Biblical Objectives
The primary function of corporate worship or what we call “church” is to fulfill Biblical objectives. Anyone or anything disrupting in a manner which defrauds another of spiritual and mental convergence upon the ministry of God in formal corporate ministry (I might even say beyond this, in more relaxed contexts, there are still codes of conduct which must be observed), is subverting the church’s attempt to obey God and serve its members. And this does not exclude disruptive children. One might even view it as a form of hostage taking, though such language may be an overreach to others, I do not think so in some cases.
Imagine, if you will, a couple arguing or some adult having a tantrum in church. You would be stunned that they would permit such a display of themselves, refusing self-control or declining to remove themselves and resolve the dispute out of sight and sound of the congregation so that the corporate worship and concentration on Christ, would go undisturbed.
Parents, your children are under your command, control them or remove them. Thus, let me be clear, your children are not adults, they are under your charge, your authority. You have a choice when your little ones, if you choose to bring them into the auditorium or sanctuary, become a source of distraction to anyone around you; either deliberate and subdue them or remove them altogether if you have not mastered this essential part of parenthood.
The refusal to extricate the social hemorrhage of an antagonistic child in your charge ultimately makes you, the guardian, as the one responsible for the disruption. You, mom, dad and whomever else, are allowing the theft of God’s Word and the prayers of the congregation along with all other corporate exercises, from the hearts and lives of others. Yes, theft. You are consenting to let your child abscond with the corporate and personal spiritual edification of others by your refusal to exercise your God give dominion over your progeny.
Your Children are not Cute, it is not Funny and no one should be Laughing when they Disrupt
As a way to ease the awkwardness of selfish parents who bring their disruptive infants, toddlers and preschoolers (sometimes even early grammar-schoolers) into the sanctuary for corporate worship, often those being disturbed and distracted will respond by smiling and laughing lightly if not even engaging with the pilfering behavior of the family’s miniature potentate so that they might arrest it and help settle the child down for the sake of others and sadly, the irresponsible parents. But of course, egocentric parent, you know and I know that no one should have such a thing imposed upon them. But then I suppose we just don’t understand just how cute your celebrity child is, right? And after all, they don’t have malignant motives, they are just being a cute kid or simply an innocently temperamental child, right?
They are being selfish and worse, so are you. Yes, they are being just a kid but isn’t that the point, mom, dad and enablers? Children don’t have the final say, you do. You lead them to proper conduct. That is precisely why children have guardians. And learning to behave and being considerate of others is exactly one of the primary lessons which must be taught and reinforced in the life of a child until he or she masters it which enables them to mature into a reliable and considerate member of society and in this case, a church.
Compare what you do at a Movie Theater with the way you treat others at Church
If you don’t get it by now I am going to make it very simple. Most of you have either been to a movie or some event which requires the constant regard of others. And I speak to Christians because we are called to the highest order of consideration (yes, I know, God saves all kinds and mostly us of less than noble birth order who may even have very undeveloped social skills but this does not mean we are not obligated to learn higher orders of social reflection and their principles as a way of demonstrating our love for others. And of all things, we, the church, are obligated to teach these things to one another. So as a church, a Pastor or Bible teacher, if you do not pass on things of “excellence” which includes higher orders of social reciprocity, you have cheated your hearers).
You wouldn’t dare go to a cinematic presentation with say, one-hundred others in attendance and leave your child free to disrupt others, now would you (again, I am speaking to those who accept the responsibility of a social conscience and consideration toward others as a Christian order for living)? In fact, I dare say you would immediately remove your infant, your toddler and your early school-aged child, if not adolescent, if he or she attempted to impose their Heckle and Jeckle demand for attention onto others.
So if you are willing to exercise such great control and command over your children at an event such as movie entertainment where silence and non-disruption of patrons is expected, tell me again this free-range church conduct philosophy of yours as a parent which permits the unceasing or intermittent rattling and loss of composition by your child at the expense of others when in a far more serious setting, where fellow believers are seeking spiritual food for their edification that they may be transformed and become more Christ-like and further directed into a more God glorifying way of life? Because if you can explain it with Biblical principles, I am all ears, friend.
Does this mean I believe no infants, toddlers or children should ever be present in a corporate worship? No, but more often, yes, they should not be present. Why? It’s simple. Most children are unable to restrain themselves in a considerate manner until ages three or four and even then it is not the rule, rather the exception. Once a child enters into first grade they begin receiving comprehensive formal training related to the practice of having regard for others. This is one of the many wonderful things which school brings. Children get grades for their behavior with a set of expectations and ultimatums to be enforced.
Children learn to sit still, by enforced humility, via classroom behavior codes, even if their parents have done a poor job of teaching this at home (with some extreme exceptions for wholly unruly children). And with respect to children who are behind the curve, they may simply require delayed graduation into corporate worship until they demonstrate sufficient mastery over self.
But this is squarely the reason why we have nurseries and childcare for infants, toddlers and small children at a church, out of respect not only for those in corporate worship but out of regard for these young ones. Children who are not capable of restraining themselves appropriately or have parents that cannot (sometimes, will not) control them, still have the need for instruction and ministry. It simply must be at their level and in a setting in which they are not guilty of offending others with their immature outbursts and childish fidgetiness (and again, their parents share a far greater culpability here in such offenses).
It is not fair to those in the congregation nor the children when we impose on the majority, the impulsive insistence of a child. In a more intimate and fitting setting, we are able to give deference to the needs of ministry for both parties.
Ideally, even when children are introduced to corporate worship, they aren't going to be perfect gentlemen and ladies. It is like riding a bicycle. I suggest, during this period, you sit toward the rear of the sanctuary so that you may remove them if they begin to struggle with their composure.
Finally, consider what many possibly do teach little children in corporate worship by bringing them and licensing them to either exist as a distraction or permit their children to draw, color and play quiet games during the corporate worship (which is still a distraction to the parents and anyone in the immediate vicinity). You aren’t really teaching them much more than to subordinate worship to their own personal interests.
The reason they cannot sit still and pay attention is because they lack capacity either for sufficient self-control or to appreciate what is going on. Making them be present and then allowing them to be preoccupied with childish activities might make you feel good as a parent, as if you are teaching your offspring to get used to “church” or something, but you aren’t actually teaching them that. Instead, they are learning to endure church. It is likely what you are doing, at best, is neutral and in many cases, harmful in the habits it forms but worse and the point of this essay, think again about what it potentially steals from others.
Children will develop capacity at some point in life to manage themselves and participate in the corporate worship in a benevolent and mindful manner or at least sit and not distract others. And this should be the expectation of your children when bringing them to corporate worship. And if this threshold is not met by your child, the parents/guardians need to act as thoughtful patrons of God’s people and remove the little one until otherwise.
We live in a world of narcissists. Possibly it has always been this way but public decorum and the respect for others and the worship of all things nascence has accelerated since the late 1940’s, even in the Christian church. I and others, have great concern for this unhealthy emphasis. Thus, it is no doubt to many I am mean and hate kids. I won’t defend myself against such accusations, they would be ridiculous from the start and nothing I have written could reasonably lead to such conclusions.
And in case you wish to pull the “forbid them not” card - Teaching your children it is acceptable to intrude into the worship of others, impose their immature conduct onto others or to endure church with personal preoccupations which only serve to distract themselves and others, isn't "permitting" them to come to Christ with such personal policies and practices but you may be preventing others.