Monday, August 06, 2012

Why I'm not sold on 7 year olds in big church

Last week, the Sunday School wing of our church went under construction. Our leadership decided that meanwhile, we'd all "do church together," kids (over 5) and adults combined for 5 weekends. In theory, it sounded like a great idea. How fun to worship God as a family, all together!

Turns out, it wasn't quite as touching as I'd imagined.

I did, however learn the practical difference between a 10 year old and a 7 year old. One can sit quietly for 75 minutes and one cannot. I also realized what a beautiful thing children's ministry is. If you have ever volunteered to serve in children's ministry, thank you. Serious. Thank you from the depth of this mommy's heart, not only for helping to meet my needs, but for helping to meet those of my children on their level. I want to bake you people little mason jar pies.

My Sunday morning in church usually looks like this. I sing my heart out to the Lord for twenty minutes or so, I chuckle through the announcements, maybe more singing, and then I get to absorb some excellent teaching from God's word. Then I go pick up my kids in Sunday School and we haggle over whether or not it's a donut day.

Today, within one minute of the music starting, I was digging for crayons. Then I was picking up all the papers that fell into the crack between the seats. Then, I got persuaded into holding my son, who is nearly 60 pounds, in my arms while I tried to sing, since the look on his face said that he was sincerely suffering for having to be with the boring grown ups.

When I couldn't hold him anymore, I got to listen to him tirelessly complain of boredom and crawl his entire body up into his chair in thirteen different ways. That was just the first ten of the 75 minute service.

What started out to be a bit stressful for me (ie. 7 year olds in big church) started becoming pretty funny. Next, he started drawing. First it was our wiener dog. Then Star Wars vehicles. There I was, trying to worship, and my son was yelling (so that I could hear him over the loud music, of course), "MOM! Look at my AT-AT and my land speeder!"

But the kicker was still to come. Our church observes communion once a month. When we walked in and I saw the tables set with candles, cups of grape juice and the matzo crackers, I decided this would be a good teachable moment (you know how I like those). My daughter has been in big church with us before and has participated in communion, but my son had not. So I resolved to walk him through the symbolism once the pastor stopped talking. But he hadn't yet finished explaining the first communion at the Last Supper. As our pastor quoted the traditional passage of Scripture where Jesus explains how the cup is a symbol of his blood poured out for us, I saw that clearly, a light had gone on in my son's head. Perhaps he is remembering something deeply spiritual I've taught him, I thought. With a big smile, he turned to me and said loudly, "That's just like in Indiana Jones!"

Okay. He's sitting there thinking of how Indy had to choose which cup was the real holy grail and I'm planning on describing the symbolism of communion. A for effort? In case you're wondering, we don't watch the part of the movie where the bad guy melts for choosing poorly. I'm sure I made parts of that movie a "teachable moment" too, which explains why I was in this Sunday morning debacle in the first place.

The way our church observes communion is that during the quiet music, we are permitted to get up and file past the table, taking a cracker, dipping it in the grape juice, and moving on. My husband and I have a tradition of then stepping aside to pray together and take our crackers in unison. We attempted this with the kids. But mini-Jones refused to eat his. "I don't like grape juice," he protested. I replied very matter of factly, "Well, I actually hate grape juice but I eat it anyways because it's a symbol of something important and it honors the Lord." Still, the cracker was a no-go.

The music then turned into singing time again, as everyone went back to their seats. Several minutes later, I glanced over to see my son, cracker still pinched in his fingers, very cautiously sniffing it. This went on for a few minutes, the sniffing of the cracker wet with juice. Next, I saw the very tip of his tongue extend and graze the cracker like it was a live bomb, which resulted in him twisting up his face into the funniest expression of disgust I've ever seen him make. There I was, trying to worship, and I was left giggling instead. I couldn't stop. It was too funny. I flopped my upturned palm next to him and said, "Give me the cracker." Like a mother, I ate it.

Moral of the story: 7 year olds are really, really great in Sunday School. They sing, crawl around, talk loud, draw wiener dogs, and most importantly learn about Jesus, all on their level.

Moral of the story, Part 2: I thought, for a minute, that my worship was being interrupted. Instead, mothering was a very true form of worship I offered to God this morning. I almost forgot.

My final thoughts are that Jesus has a really good sense of humor. I think he wants us to lighten up in church sometimes. If yours needs some of that, just invite the kids in. These next few weekends are going to be interesting.

And maybe just the refreshment we, as a body of believers, need.

I'll leave you with Legoland's rendition of Indy and the mini-Jones,
who threatens to never eat the cracker.



  1. We are Catholic and there is no Sunday school or nursery at Mass. All kids come to Mass. There is a cry room with big windows if kids get a little crazy but only a few go in there.

    I was a little reluctant to bring E to Mass since when I started going she just turned 2. But a year later and while she doesn't sit perfectly still she doesn't make much noise.

    My 7 year old is fine. We just have issues 'getting' him to go without whining, lol.

    God Bless

  2. our church has no sunday school in the summer--age 4+ sits with parents..Our little guy is 4 1/2. He sits with us through worship, then gets to go with one of us to the restless-room for the sermon. LOTS of snacks + books. He has pdd-nos, I've just learned to be flexible. But I very much wish we had a children's church for him in the summer!

    1. I love that name: the restless room! Perfect. At least the summer is coming to a close, right?

  3. dear leslie,

    it's always a nightmare when we have to keep our two with us for the service for whatever reason. our service is at 5:00 Sunday evening, so by this time they are exhausted and acting up. it doesn't happen often, but when it does, i find myself sweating and grinding my teeth through the service!

    also, read over 1 corinthians 11:17-34. what do you think of what it's saying in regard to your son taking communion?


    1. Hi Sara! I did read that passage and thanks for the reminder of it. The cool thing was that before we walked up for communion, I explained about examining our hearts in prayer first (in kid language, of course). My son took the longest time talking to God of our whole family. It was cute. He just had the issue with the darn juice. I did feel he understood the symbolism, he was just mentally blocked by the food issue. When I thought about it, I decided I'd rather have a child who understood the meaning and didn't eat the cracker, than a child who followed the instructions but didn't care about what it meant in his heart. Thanks for pressing into God's word on the matter and sharing that passage for others to read too.

    2. that's so great, leslie. i was afraid as coming across as a know-it-all, but truly just wanted to see if you have read it before and what you thought. because - it wasn't until fairly recently that my husband and i even knew about it. and we were so glad to have read and understand it now!!

  4. I love your honesty! So much easier to read your mom posts when they aren't all "well, my kids are the best, most holy children in the world." You are so great at mixing your authenticity with humor and truth. Good, good stuff.

    Also, when my kids were younger and they came to the gathering with me it made me appreciate the kid church teachers so much more. I think kids should go into services at least once a quarter so parents don't start taking kid church for granted. But then again, I can be a punk when it comes to stuff like that.

    1. Thanks Angel :) and that is actually a really good idea - quarterly "family church" so we don't take those volunteers for granted!!

  5. Thanks for the giggles. Mine have only gone into big church for a baby dedication and I was sweaty the whole time. Let me know if your seconds of communion give you super powers. ;)

  6. it's like your in my head lately with all your posts :) I've been wresting with this idea because we are in a small faith community and my husband & I are "directors" of the kids 1st-6th grade. In theory I love the idea of family church but I also wonder how it would play out in real life. I like the idea above of possibly doing in quarterly just to give volunteers and kids workers a break. I also love the IDEA of kids watching and learning from adults in corporate worship but not sure how that would play out in real life. Pretty sure there's not an easy answer but its good to keep asking the questions. Thankful that you shared your experience.

  7. This one is a hard one. I want my children to have real experience with the Bible and God and not just be babysat. I also want them to learn how to sit and listen.
    But I all so really want them to know how FUN God is! That learning about Him and following His Word is awesome! We had to search long and hard, but found a church that has an excellent children's ministry. She is getting deeper into the Word even at 5! I think there is lots of time for her to stay with us in big church as she gets older but I am thankful that she is getting the foundation in a way that is appealing to her. It will make the corporate worship mean so much more since she will have a basic knowledge of what the pastor is talking about!

    Sidenote: I also think it is our job as her parents to be teaching her the Word at home. I'm ok with church being a social event for her to make some like minded friends since I know that her main training is being done at home.

    1. Nicole, I love your sidenote! My husband and I are children's directors at our church and we do our best to give the kids great bible teaching & lots of fun. I think many parents send their kids to sunday school thinking that that's all they need to learn about God but forgetting that kids are watching and learning from their parents so much more often. I am always trying to think of ways to engage parents and help them realize what an important thing it is to teach and live the Word in their home on a daily basis!

  8. This cracked me up! :-) Thanks for sharing!