We had a really strange experience this past Sunday morning at our church. Our congregation is small (100 folks or so), and with the flu going around and folks traveling, etc. our crowd was especially small this week. A young couple walked in with two small children – looked like they could have been twins – maybe two years old. A few of our members chatted with them briefly before the service and then one of our elders introduced me to the husband. “He was asking about the nursery,” I was told. As we have such a small church, and so many of our families have little children, we find it difficult – well, impossible – to provide a staffed nursery for parents. Some of our parents will take their children out of the service if their child is particularly fussy or restless, but for the most part, we try to incorporate our children into our services and generally welcome the distraction of them crying out or running around. It can be a little hectic and often is distracting . . . but so is life. But it’s not just because “we can’t staff the nursery,” that we don’t have one. It’s actually pretty intentional on our behalf.
Well, in regards to the young couple, it was a little difficult for them to understand and so they slowly and quietly left – before our services ever started! I was astounded. They never gave it a chance. They, like many other people who visit our congregation’s Sunday services, they were looking for an hour-long service when they can focus on God and energize themselves without the distraction of their children. And I get it. We’ve got three kids of our own, and I remember the challenge of the years between when they became mobile and when they could sit down quietly and be entertained. I know how difficult that was, particularly for my wife – and nothing I am about to say is said without that very legitimate concern and realization.
There’s nothing wrong with a church offering a nursery during their services – I need to affirm that as well. However, there is something very pure, authentic, and important about our worship gatherings being truly family-oriented. There is something to be said for having a time for age-appropriate messages and expressions, but that can never come to dominate our structure – as if that is the rule instead of the exception. The idea that we need to “sanitize” our services of all distractions is disingenuous to what life really is. We fall into the temptation of making them smoothly packaged with the outcome predetermined – a far cry from the realities of life. I know that it can be difficult for older folks to “drown the noise out.” I understand it can make it challenging for those without children to empathize. We should be cautious and thoughtful about affirming that to those people often. However, again, I wonder if that should be the exception instead of the rule (that is always making concession for those people). At the same time, it is an opportunity for us to be humbled.
In my not-so-humble opinion, I think alot of this discussion revolves around the pastor’s ego. We don’t want an entire week’s work (ie. sermon) to be “wasted” when the most poignant moment is drowned out by a screaming child. I have been there. I have done that. And . . . now . . . it honestly just makes me smile. I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously. I think that’s what more church folks need to do. Most people could probably affirm the fact that a baby’s coo or a little child’s outburst is just as God-honoring and glorifying as my exposition on Ecclesiastes. Postmodernism has knocked us off our pedestal, and we need to continue to let it due so. Our worship gatherings should be collections of numerous worship experiences throughout the congregation. It’s not dictated and directed by the leaders up front. I look at it as if we are hoping to help create an atmosphere (with the guidance and participation of the Holy Spirit) where people can connect to God. I hope that happens through the sermon, sometimes, through our worship in song, and our other public experiences. However, I think more often, and more powerfully, those experiences are happening through side conversations, shows of affection, spontaneous prayers, a cup of coffee, and even (GASP!) unruly or disruptive children.
My wife probably had the best perspective on this event from Sunday. A couple from our church recently adopted a baby – after waiting for several years and going through the ringer as nearly everyone who goes through the adoption process undergoes. We prayed with them for years that this day would come. And in my wife’s great wisdom she points out, “How can we go through those many years of praying and longing, and then finally celebrating alongside them . . . and then expect them to spend most of their time together with us . . . out in the nursery? That little baby is as much a part of our church and a part of each and every service as the oldest members among us.”
This is where we come to terms with being an intentional and missional church that doesn’t do things because they are “more palatable” or “attractive” to outsiders, but instead, are driven by our theology to make decisions that are holistic, God-focused, and . . . often times . . . more difficult. Ironically, in our sermon on Sunday, we spent some time talking about not making your family your idol . . .