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
Whenever I get a chance to talk about house churches with a group of believers, whether just a few or many, I inevitably get asked the same question:
“What do you do with the kids and the money?”
This question comes up because I’ve already spent a lot of time talking about the dramatic shift that happens when you stop seeing church as an event or a place. I’ve also stared to encourage those listening to see church as a people separated to God who live together and encourage each other to move the Gospel forward. By now we’ve talked about discipleship, accountability, meetings, the Holy Spirit, community, and a whole host of topics. So when we get done talking about how things are different in so many other areas, the implications of these ideas start to hit those who have been really listening.
“Does this mean no more kids church?”
“Where will my kids go if they don’t go to the nursery?”
“What kind of meetings will we have if the kids are part of them?”
“Will I be able to keep my kid quiet during the meeting or will he or she be a giant distraction?”
“How will we be able to learn and grow if we’re constantly having to watch our kids?”
The list can go on. This is a giant stumbling block for parents of young children who are considering joining a house church. Sometimes the thought of their kids and what programs will be available for them weighs on their minds. Other times the idea of missing the break that church provides can be a consideration. The barrier to entry can seem high.
This problem doesn’t get any better in the house church circles that I’ve been involved in. Many of them are filled with older believers whose kids have left the home or singles who don’t have the obligation for children. Those that do have children usually have a handful and they’re doing their best to incorporate these kids, but they sometimes feel like an afterthought to the rest of the church’s life.
Surprisingly, there is very little house church literature devoted to this topic. I’ve read a lot of books on house churches (and I do mean A LOT) and it’s not unusual to have a book of 200 or 300 pages give two pages to the topic with some light thoughts that don’t really address the day-in, day-out struggle of participating in house churches with children.
This is a shame because there is a significant amount of growth that can come, both numerically and spiritually, when house churches learn how to steward the children that make up their body. The Psalms tell us that children are a blessing from the Lord and like arrows in the hand of young man. If we wisely love, grow, and challenge the kids in our midst, we’ll find that like arrows, they will go out and accomplish what we couldn’t on our own.
So over the next days (and probably weeks) I’m going to be writing on how house churches can incorporate children into the life of the church. This is bigger (and more important) than just incorporating them into a meeting, but it will include how and why we need to incorporate them into the meetings of your church. We’ll discover that often we’ve neglected the very arrows the Lord has been giving us for the fights we’ll face in the future.
If you are part of a house church, stay tuned. You’ll find not just good theology, but also practical advise for how to involve kids in ways that will grow you and the kids that are part of your body. If you know someone who is part of a house church, invite them to follow along. Lastly, if you are not part of a house church, you can stick around, too. You’ll find lots of truth here that will help you interact with the children in your life and grow them closer to Jesus.
It’ll be fun. I promise!
I’ll admit, I’m probably the last guy who should be writing to worship leaders. So, full disclosure, I’ve never led a worship team. I’m a mediocre singer at best. You’re not going to get a list of the top 10 ways to get get your congregation to engage in singing from me.
But, as a person who loves the church, let me share with you the burden of my heart.
Your position, whether you are a paid worship leader who has albums available to stream or you are just a person brave enough to sing loudly in your house church, is important. Paul tells us in Colossians that part of the way we let the word of Christ dwell in us richly is to “[s]ing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts,” (Colossians 3:16). We need the whole body of Christ to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs so that God’s message can dwell in us deeply. You are important to helping us do that.
Now, here’s my admonition:
The days ahead for the church are going to be difficult. I’ll let you interpret what I mean by that, but let’s just say for now that I don’t foresee the job of the church becoming easier and I don’t foresee the church’s position in society becoming more revered. I actually see the church becoming less revered and our job becoming more difficult. Paul says “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” (2 Timothy 3:12) and I believe that will become more and more real in the days ahead.
Because of that, worship leaders, we will need you–yes you–to lead us in songs that prepare us for that season. What sort of songs prepare our hearts for that type of event? In my head, there are two emphases that will be important. We need to sing songs that tell of the greatness, glory, and beauty of Jesus and we need songs that emphasize the importance of faithfulness to Jesus in the midst of hard times.
Why songs that emphasize the greatness, glory, and beauty of Jesus? Well, we need to constantly remember that Jesus is the pearl of great price. No one lays down their life for things that aren’t of great value. It’s important for us remember over and over again what Jesus did and why he is worth our lives, whether that means a life lived for him in hardship or a life lost for him to physical persecution. Singing songs about the worth of Jesus doesn’t make him more worthy, it just causes us to remind ourselves that he is as great and glorious as we thought he was at first. If Jesus is more valuable than anything else we have, then laying our lives down for him is an easy thing.
What about songs that emphasize faithfulness to Jesus in the midst of hard times? I think its obvious why such songs are important. However, in our Western culture where very little physical persecution has happened, the theme isn’t often sung about and so we think about it less. In cultures where persecution is more prevalent, this isn’t the case. In fact, Paul quotes an early hymn when writing to Timothy in order to encourage him to be more faithful:
“If we die with him,
we will also live with him.
If we endure hardship,
we will reign with him.
If we deny him,
he will deny us.
If we are unfaithful,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny who he is.”
These were words that the early church used to sing to encourage each other to be faithful. We need to recover this ancient practice for ourselves today. Singing these types of songs won’t in and of themselves make us more faithful. There are plenty of people who sing songs about things they will never do. But as we sing them, we meditate on the importance of faithfulness in our walk with Christ and that will help us in the days ahead.
I never like writing without actionable advice, so before we close, let me list some songs that I find helpful in these two areas. You may not like their style, so I’m not saying you have to sing these songs, but these are examples of songs that make much of Jesus or stress the importance of faithfulness in times of trouble.
Songs About the Greatness of Jesus
Songs About Faithfulness in the Midst of Trouble
The days ahead are going to be tough. My hope is you can become a part of strengthening the body of Christ for the days ahead. If we all do our part, we’ll all stand a little stronger and shine a little brighter when hard things come.