House Churches and Kids: What We Mean When We Say Church
Whenever we start a conversation about how house churches handle kids, we have to stop and ask ourselves what we mean by church. That may seem like an odd statement, but the reality is, if we never question what we mean by church, we may be aiming toward a goal that we should never be shooting for.
Nowhere does this ring true more than in the realm of children. If the idea of what we mean when we say church is a time of singing we leave feeling really uplifted by, followed by a speech by someone that is designed to inform, confront, admonish, and even convert it’s audience, then children become a difficult part of the equation. If worship and preaching for the benefit of the audience is the highest priority, then kids can be a part of the church meeting but should never interrupt. As the old (and I believe, wrong) saying goes, “Children should be seen and not heard.”
But, if church is more than just a time of singing and speaking for the benefit of an audience, then perhaps incorporating kids in what we do might be a little bit easier than we thought. If church is more than a production, then kids interrupting what we’re doing isn’t such a big deal. Maybe it’s even the point! Understanding what we mean when we say “church” can change the equation for us.
Let’s first talk about what Jesus meant when he said “church.” Believe it or not, Jesus only mentioned the word “church” twice in the Gospels. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus promises that he would build a church that the gates of hell couldn’t win against. This is a primarily symbolic picture of a triumphant church. In Matthew 18:7, Jesus refers to the church as a gathering of believers, larger than two or three people, who a believer could bring another believer before as a final confrontation step. What we learn from this use is that, to Jesus, the church is a group of people.
Throughout the rest of the New Testament, we see the church being mentioned as a people, not a place or a thing. Consider how Luke describes the church in Acts: The church has people added to it (Acts 2:41), is gripped by fear (Acts 5:11), has peace (Acts 9:31), hears (Acts 11:30), is called together (Acts 14:27), decides (Acts 15:4), welcomes (Acts 15:4), has joy (Acts 15:31), and were strengthened (Acts 16:5). All of these references are to the church as a group of people, not a building or event.
Peter emphasizes this strongly in his first epistle. He says in 1 Peter 2:5, “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.” Later he says, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light,” (1 Peter 2:9).
The message is clear. There is a temple in Christianity–one made of people who are fashioned together into a people who bring praise to Jesus. God’s people are a corporate priesthood and a holy nation–a called out people to show God’s goodness.
What does any of this have to do with church or children? Well if church is primarily an event–a combination of sacraments, teaching, and singing–then kids are an obstacle to overcome. If church is a group of people who follow Jesus, though, then the kids who are following Jesus aren’t an obstacle to church–they are a part of church!
So here is the first of many bold statements that I’ll make as we talk through the concept of kids and house churches–Kid’s can’t interrupt church because church isn’t a show. Saying “kids interrupt the church” is like saying “kids interrupt the family.” Kids can interrupt a family conversation or a family song, but they can never interrupt the family. The family was made for kids.
We’ll talk about this more tomorrow, but for now, let’s leave with this thought: If we start with church as a people and not as an event or a show, we can start to re-evaluate the place kids have in a church.
Other Posts in the House Churches and Kids Series