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
Our story starts before we even wanted to plant house churches and definitely before we had any kids. We were college students at the Forerunner School of Ministry (now IHOPU) and were attending a church that encouraged us to get into small groups that they were calling house churches. At that time we didn’t have much of a grid for what churches were or why they were important.
Our second year there, we felt called to start a house church of our own within that church. My roommate decided to join us and Christy had just started rooming with a woman named Ana who had four daughters. Ana had recently been through a terrible divorce and had come to Kansas City to recoup and spend time at the house of prayer. Ana and her daughters joined us, along with a number of friends and we became a spiritual family.
What we quickly learned through that experience was that Ana took her daughters with her EVERYWHERE. They were homeschooled, so they could do that, but whenever Ana went somewhere, her daughters were in tow. These girls ranged from the age of 4 to 14, but they were miles ahead of most kids we knew because they gained experience tagging along with their mom. Ana, as we came to find out, was a gifted prophetic individual who could hear the Lord like few other people we knew, and her daughters thought it was the most natural thing on Earth to prophesy just like their mom. The lifestyle was more caught than taught.
These four girls would participate in our house church of 10 to 15 people, but they would also pray and deliver accurate prophetic words at meetings with hundreds of people gathered at them. It was all very normal for them. They also became an important part of our spiritual family and kept things from ever becoming too serious. If you’ve ever heard me talk about the defining moment when I knew I would start house churches, one of Ana’s daughters was the girl who spoke at the retreat I was at that had everyone in tears. We loved these girls.
So, this was our first experience with kids in house churches. We saw young, young kids who modeled what they saw the adults in their lives doing and understood the power of that practice. Ana’s girls thought hearing from the Lord was normal, so they did it too. Ana’s girls participated in the meetings and grew because of what they heard. Ana’s girls became part of our spiritual family. It was what we had hoped would happen with everyone in our house church, but it was happening with the young children.
Fast forward a couple of years and we had moved back to our hometown and started a house church. We started our first house church with friends that we had made since we had come back from Kansas City, and like most organic things, these people were mostly in the same stage of life as Christy and I were. They were young, recently married, and each had one small child. I specifically remember the small line of car seats we had parked in my living room during those early meetings. It was kind of cute back then and none of us thought much of it because we all had one kid that was fairly immobile at the time. Our biggest difficult was making sure each of them got a good nap sometime while we were meeting.
What we couldn’t know then was that we would continue to attract primarily people in the same stage of life as us. More young families with young children. What we also didn’t know was that, while we weren’t quite “full quiver” people, we all ended up having more kids than we expected. As the years would go by, it wouldn’t be unusual for the families in our house churches to have four or five children. I remember specifically one point in one of our house churches where we had twenty kids between five families. It’s definitely not unusual to have more kids in our house church than we have adults!
Now, we didn’t plan to end up here. We actually had hoped that our house churches would become intergenerational and that we’d have a chance to learn from older saints who had gone before us on raising kids, integrating them into the life of the church, and following Jesus in general. We prayed and fasted for believers in their 40’s and above to come be a part in what we were doing, but they never came.
Instead, we set about the hard task of figuring out how to raise our children in the participatory atmosphere of a house church. We had to figure out how to navigate meltdowns of children while we sang. We had to figure out whether to let other adults in our house church discipline our kids. We had to figure out how to parent in a spiritual family when different members of that spiritual family had different values and priorities that we did.
The interesting thing was there was no map. As I said yesterday, there was no how-to book or article written as a guide to instruct us. We had to do the best we could with a little advice here and there from our parents, other believers we respected, and the parenting books we were reading. We kept trying to involve the kids in the life of the church at the same time to see how that would work. Every couple of years, we would stop what we were doing, have a discussion about what was working and what wasn’t, and start over with the best of what worked and a couple of new ideas.
Fourteen years later, here we are. We’ve learned a few things about what works and what doesn’t. There’s still a lot more to learn. But we’re getting to the place where some of our oldest children are approaching that season where they leave the nest. They’re still young, but they are becoming a real part of our church. They are learning to follow Jesus. I would put my kids’ knowledge of the Bible up against many adults’. Most importantly, they love Jesus.
Much of what will follow is from the press of these years. We’ll talk about what has worked for us and what we think we could have done better. But none of it is theory. It’s real life experience and trial and error that has born fruit. I hope it helps you and the house church you’re part of grow spiritually and numerically.
What about you? Do you have kids in your house church? How has that process been? What has worked and what hasn’t? Let me know in the comments below.
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!