by Nick Batzig
August 14, 2015
At New Covenant Church, we enthusiastically encourage parents to keep their children in the worship service – the whole worship service. Being with the congregation in the worship service from childhood is one of the greatest privileges that God has given to children growing up in a Christian home. That begs the question, however, ‘If our young children can’t understand what is being said from the pulpit, why would we keep them in?’ Here are five reasons – with a few caveats – about why you should consider keeping your children in the service:
1. It is the pattern of Scripture.
Just after (and in connection with) the institution of the Passover (Exodus 12) – the Old Covenant sacramental meal that finds its counterpart in the Lord’s Supper – the Lord gave the Israelites instructions concerning the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Law of the Firstborn (Exod. 13). Twice in the course of charging them regarding these gospel types the Lord said, ‘When in time to come your son asks you, “What does this mean?” you shall say to him, “By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery”‘ (Exod. 13:14). There was an expectation that the children would be with their parents as they gathered with the other Israelites (i.e. Old Covenant church members) in order to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread; and, an expectation that they would ask their parents about what was happening in the worship service. In the same way, when we keep our children in the service – instead of dismissing them just before the preaching and observation of the Lord’s Supper – they will ask us why we do what we do – thereby giving us an opportunity for gospel instruction. The worship service becomes a time in which all the parents of the congregation can explain that ‘By a strong hand the Lord has brought us out of bondage to Satan, sin and the world by the broken body and shed blood of Jesus – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ If we send them out prior to the preaching and the Supper, we are potentially losing a significant opportunity to nurture them with the Gospel.
In the New Testament, there is – by way of good and necessary consequence – the example of parents having their children in the gathered assembly. The Epistles were written by the apostles to churches to be read before the entire congregation. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul directly addresses the children in the congregation. Surely, parents or Sunday school teachers can teach these portions of Scripture to the children in a congregation in settings other than the worship service, but something is lost if they are not taught to the children of a church in the service. There is a flow in the applications that Paul makes in his letters. In Ephesians, he addresses the church as a whole (Eph. 4:1-5:21), then wives and husbands (Eph. 5:22-33), then children and parents (6:1-4) and finally, servants and masters (6:5-9). There is an expectation that the entire body of believers and their children will be present to sit under these apostolic admonitions. This is one very big reason why we should keep them in!
2. It is a model for our children for life.
Our young children may not know and understand all that is being said from the pulpit, but they will forever have the example of sitting under sound biblical preaching. My friend, John Larson, once told me how he had grown up in a church with a faithful pastor who preached God’s word expositionally every Lord’s Day. He said that while he didn’t remember much of what that minister said from the pulpit, he remembers the example that man set by faithfully getting up before the congregation week in and week out – to open and expound the Scriptures to the people of God. The example of a man who gives himself to a diligent study of God’s word in order to preach it to the people of God every week will impact our children for life. If we dismiss our children immediately before the sermon we are essentially taking that example away from them. Keeping your children in the service sets before them the model of God’s minister doing what is most important. This is why we should keep them in.
3. The worship service is the place of God’s promised blessing.
God has promised to bless the worship of his people. He does this in the benediction at the end of the service (Num. 6:22-27), as well as through the administration of all the means of his grace that his people are the collective beneficiaries of by faith. If God has promised to bless the pure worship of his people – especially through the word, sacraments, and prayer – then we should understand that our children (no matter how young) may be the recipients of that blessing during the service too. I have, many times, heard people suggest that our infants and toddlers can’t understand what is going on – therefore, we shouldn’t keep them in the service. While that may be true for some (even with regard to many), the Scriptures teach us that God made John the Baptist to hear the voice of Mary, while he was in the womb of Elizabeth, to understand the message that was joyfully shared and to leap in the womb with understanding. That may not be the norm for the unborn or most infants of believers, but, it is in the Bible! The Holy Spirit, and the blessing of God, are not limited to the intellectual capacity of an individual. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it in the following way:
Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word (WCF 10.3).1
The writers of the Confession are not suggesting that all infants are elect. Neither are they suggesting that God ordinarily regenerates apart from the intellectual reception of the gospel (Rom. 10:17). Rather, they are suggesting that the Holy Spirit can work to regenerate and give understanding to infants or those with serious mental deficiencies in order to unite them to Christ and bring them to glory. If this is true, this is a third reason why we should keep the children in.
4. It is an encouragement to other families.
Every Christian family is (or should be) trying to figure out how to bring their children up in the training and admonition of the Lord. Every Christian family fails at points and feels the burden of their failures. It is a great encouragement when families are sitting side by side with other families in the worship service. It is a great encouragement to see young children singing hymns in the service. It is a great encouragement to see fathers leaning over and gently helping their children understand what is going on and how they can focus better. This is lost when we simply shuffle our children off to ‘children’s church’ until they are teenagers. This is yet another reason why we should keep them in.
5. It is an encouragement to the parents.
Though I have – at many, many times – felt my own insufficiency and failings as a father, I have also been encouraged by what the Lord is doing in the lives of my sons – especially during the worship service. The other day, I looked out over the congregation as we were singing and I saw my 8, 6 and 5 years olds trying to sing from the hymnal. I, unlike so many fathers in our church, do not have the privilege of training my children during the worship times. I try to train them during our times of family worship. That sight of my sons participating was a joy and delight to my heart. That evening, friends of ours visited our church. After the service, the husband came up and said, ‘It was so encouraging to see your sons singing “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” without a hymnal.’ This was an enormous encouragement to me – in light of all of the failings and shortcomings that I am so painfully aware of regarding the shepherding of my family. Likewise, when parents keep their children in the service for months and years, they will begin to see these sorts of encouragements. As their children hear the same hymns sung repeatedly, as they tell their parents something that they heard in the sermon, or ask a question about some part of the service, this is a great encouragement to the parents to continue to pursue training their children in the Lord. It makes us want to foster that growth that we begin to observe. This is another reason why we should keep them in.
That being said, we are not proponents of the ‘Family Integrated Church’ movement at New Covenant. We do have a nursery (for up to 4-year-old children) to assist parents with infants and toddlers, as well as those who might be new to a church that encourages parents having their children in church. I do not believe that this is compromise. Rather, we view it as a sensitive and wise approach. If a church has enough competent and willing volunteers, it may be wise to implement a time of worship training (perhaps 6-12 weeks) during the service, where children under the age of 10 could be taught about – in a focused way – the various aspects of worship.
I also believe that there is a ‘common sense’ care for the congregation that parents with infants or toddlers should seek to cultivate. If you decide that it is best for you to keep your infant or toddler in the service, please be willing to get up and leave the service if your child begins to cry or make other disruptive noises. Those with vocal or colicy infants should either make use of a church’s nursery, or get up and take their baby out of the service the moment they begin to interrupt the service. I wholeheartedly agree that the whimpering cry of a baby can be precious; but, more often than not, the crying of infants and whining or talking of toddlers is disruptive to the minister(s) and congregants. It is selfish when parents insist on keeping their crying baby in the service. If a congregant was constantly coughing or sneezing, the loving thing for that individual to do was to dismiss himself or herself from the service until their cough subsided. So too, parents ought to lay aside their right to have their child in every second of the worship service and care for the other members of the congregation who are seeking to listen to what is being said.
So, keep the children in. This is the best way to bring them to Jesus. When we gather to worship, we are gathering around the throne of God in the heavenly places to sing the praises of our Triune God who has entered into covenant with his people. We, together with our children, are coming under the means of his grace that he has promised to bless as they are faithfully administered by his ministers and received by faith. We are coming into the presence of the Lamb who was slain to give him the glory, honour and power due to his name. The One whom we are coming to worship is the One who said, ‘Let the little children come unto me.’ One of the best ways to bring them to Jesus is to keep them in the service of his worship.
Notes:Westminster Confession of Faith, 10.III (page 53 of the Banner of Truth edition).
Rev. Nicholas T. Batzig is Organizing Pastor/Church Planter of New Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA), Richmond Hill, Georgia. He is on the Editorial Advisory Committee of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.