Children's Church or Children in the Church?

Where should your children be during corporate worship? What does the Bible say about it? Does church history help us answer this question?

Over the years, I have tried to read various positions regarding the inclusion of children during Sunday service or the departure of children, whether just before the sermon or during the entire service, to an "age-appropriate" lesson. To my knowledge, no book has been fully devoted to a biblical and/or historical exposition of why we should exclude children from all or part of Sunday service. John Frame, in his book, Worship in Spirit and Truth: A Refreshing Study of the Principles and Practice of Biblical Worship, provided one paragraph on the topic. Although this was not the point of his book, he, nevertheless, stated, 

It is important that teaching be intelligible, clear, and edifying (1 Cor. 14). When Ezra and the Levites taught the law to Israel, the assembly consisted of those "who could understand" (Neh. 8:3). Those who could not understand, evidently, were instructed in other contexts. Some Reformed people insist that all children should be present in church during every sermon, rather than being sent off to nurseries and "children's churches." There is certainly value in families worshiping together as much as possible. God deals not only with individuals in Scripture, but also with households. The family is vitally important. In worship, however, edification (1 Cor. 14:26) is more important than mere togetherness. Ideally, everybody should be taught at his own level of understanding. (92)

It seems that Frame embraces an "age-appropriate" model for worship. If so, he is not alone. Throughout many denominations, people have concluded that children must learn the Bible in a manner that is fitting their level of intelligence. Amid these conclusions, some have ventured to write books that oppose this point-of-view.

At just 60-pages, Rev. Daniel Hyde offers a brief historical and biblical account of why he believes children should remain in worship. What follows is an outline of his book, The Nursery of the Holy Spirit: Welcoming Children in Worship.

In the introduction, Hyde suggests that he is writing this book "to take away that strangeness and scariness of having children in worship" (xvi). He also shares the two groups to whom he is writing. "First," Hyde notes, "I am writing to those of you who worship in a church that encourages and welcomes little ones to join with the rest of the congregation" (xvi). Second, Hyde writes to those "who may only know the Sunday school / children's church model of ministry..." (xvi). His desires in addressing these two groups are: first, "to make a case that welcoming children in worship is a practice consistent with the examples we see in Scripture and is a highly beneficial practice...", and secondly, "to offer some practical advice on how you can bring children into worship and help them make the most of their worshipping alongside of you" (xvi-xvii).

While Hyde believes his conclusion is historically and biblically grounded, he recognizes that "including children in worship is of the wellbeing (bene esse) of the church and not of the essence (esse) of the church" (xvii). He says that he believes "it is the best practice, but [he] cannot say it must be the only practice" (xvii).

In chapter 1, he provides a brief overview of the history of children's church. He claims that children's church is a derivative of Sunday school, which originated in England, as an outreach to unbelieving children (p. 1). As the model of Sunday school transitioned from outreach to Christian education, the purpose of Sunday school became a means of educating children during corporate worship. Since parent(s) were concerned that their children get something out of the sermon, the Sunday school became a place for them to understand something about the word of God at their level (pp. 2-4).  

Despite current Sunday school, or children's church, practices, historically, Hyde claims, children remained with their parent(s). After this suggestion, Hyde provides a Reformed covenantal view that grounds his position. Hyde's covenantal approach should not restrain people from reading this book, however. He recognizes that "you may not have this same theological understanding;" nevertheless, "experientially we most likely view our children the same way" (p. 11).  In other words, Hyde believes he is providing a book to argue his case for children remaining in the service that reaches beyond those who hold his covenantal position.

In chapter 2, Daniel provides several scripture references that support his conclusion. He uses both the Old and New Testaments to provide several examples of children incorporated in the corporate worship of the almighty. Attempting to state his case somewhat provocatively, Hyde says, 

To put it in a provocative form: imagine if the practice of so many churches today, which have children's church during the entirety of corporate worship or which dismiss children to children's church just before the reading and preaching of the Word, were going on in Paul's day. While Paul's letters were being read to the congregations, his practical exhortations to the church's children to obey their parents would have fallen upon deaf ears if all those children were not present" (p. 32). 

In chapter 3, while he recognizes the difficulty of having children in worship, he provides some practical ways parent(s) can bring this to pass. He suggests that training children at home, preparing for worship the evening prior, and participating in various aspects of corporate worship are all practical ways to train your children and keep them in service (pp. 43-52).

During Hyde's concluding thoughts (pp. 55-60), he makes a final plea to reconsider any practices that are contrary to his, and in closing he writes, "I pray that as you reevaluate your understanding and position on this vital issue of our children in worship, not only will you come to include them, but also that your children will include theirs for generations to come" (p. 60).