I grew up going to church with my family. We sat together in church, me and my brothers and our parents, and our grandparents. There was a nursery for the babies, and parents could take their little children out into the foyer at the back of the church if they needed to. But this was in the 1960s, and the idea of “children’s church” really hadn’t caught on yet. Once children got to be five or six years old, we sat in church with our families.
Of course, the kids got squirmy and bored…or at least, I did. I would look around the church auditorium and imagine what it would be like if Batman or Spider-man swung down from the rafters or the balcony. I’d look around and stare in amazement at the ladies with their beehive hairdos piled on top of their heads, or at the usher who had a really long neck and reminded me of a giraffe. I loved it when my grandma would whisper, “DAVE! YOU WANT SOME CANDY?” She could whisper in church louder than most people talk. And usually she handed me a piece of hard candy wrapped in cellophane. I would try to unwrap it quietly, but inevitably I earned a frown from my mother and a terse “Shhh!” To keep me quiet they gave me a pen or pencil and something to draw on. So I would sit in church and draw pictures.
But while I did all that, I also was listening sometimes. I remember sitting or standing by my grandmother during the singing. She would hold her hymnal down so I could see the words, too. (Kids, a hymnal was a book with songs in it. It used to be that churches didn’t sing off the wall.) And I would listen to my grandma sing harmony along with the hymns or Gospel songs that the congregation sang together. Some of the songs I liked a lot, like, “Sing, Hosanna!” (Though I didn’t know who Hosanna was, or why she wouldn’t sing.) And some of the songs stuck in my head, and I still remember them to this day. And I would sing those words to myself sometimes, especially if I felt down or worried about something. I still do that. Songs like that make good prayers.
And I wasn’t just imagining what would happen if a super-hero showed up in church, or drawing silly things. Sometimes I drew pictures of the things the preacher was talking about. Sometimes I drew a picture of the preacher. I’ve had children do that to me, too: draw a picture of me as I was preaching. I save those pictures. They’re in my files. I even have one an adult drew of me preaching. (Hey, whatever it takes to pay attention. Dr. James Dobson always took notes and drew little illustrations in church. He said it was the only way he could focus on what was being said.)
Somewhere along the line we started separating the little ones from the adults. I certainly understand the reason why. The book of Nehemiah says that all the Jewish refugees who had returned from Babylon gathered in the square in Jerusalem, to listen to the scribe Ezra read and explain the Law of Moses. The congregation consisted of “both men and women and all who could understand what they heard” (Nehemiah 8:2; also v. 3). At the very least this meant they were trying to listen to the Scriptures being taught without the distractions of those who weren’t capable of attending to what was being said.
And even to this day, there are very practical reasons for church nurseries and “cry rooms.” Attending to little children makes it possible for their parents to hear the Bible taught and explained. Even Christian parents benefit from this. Watching over and teaching little ones (as much as they can be taught) is a demanding job. But it is a vital ministry that makes it possible for the parents to hear the Gospel. But care must be taken to make sure that those who do this vital ministry have plenty of help, and get to rotate off and sit in the worship services themselves. Otherwise, the workers get worn out, and nobody wants to see that. There might be repercussions.
But children aren’t an annoyance; they are an incredible blessing. Psalm 127:3 says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.” I used to only think of that in terms of families. Recently, though, I read it again and thought of our church. We have come through too long a time with too few children in the hallways and rooms of our church buildings. Maybe God humbled us for a time. Maybe He was reminding us that, as nice as our church buildings are, it isn’t our mission here to keep them nice. Children are a blessing from God—an incredible, precious, demanding, exhausting, messy blessing! And our buildings are here for the walls to get banged and marked up, and stuff to get spilled on the carpet, and crumbs to get all over the floor. Not because we don’t respect our buildings, but because the purpose of the buildings is to have people in them—big people and little people—so we can teach them the Gospel and point them to Jesus. And when there are crumbs on the floor and gum wrappers in the pews, it means we’re using the buildings for their intended purpose. So let’s sweep up the crumbs. mop up the spills, and pick up the trash (and our wonderful custodian Nadine can use all the help we can give her). And let’s open the doors again next week and pray God would give us the privilege of having our buildings messed up again by people coming to hear the Gospel and worship together.
One more thing: The older I get, the more I realize how deeply the generations need each other. Rae Anne and I once went to a church that had completely segregated their older folks from their younger ones. They called it the “traditional service” and the “contemporary service.” We went to the “traditional service”, and I don’t think I’ve ever sat through anything so sad. Older ones need the younger ones! We need your life, and energy, and exuberance.
And I’ve been to plenty of worship services with just twenty-somethings, and can we be honest? You guys need us geezers, too. You need the benefit of our life experience—all the dumb stuff we’ve done, the mistakes that we’ve made, and the horrible consequences we’ve endured because of them. There are things we’ve gone through that we’d give almost anything to keep you from going through. Unless we’ve grown old and cold and we’ve forgotten, little ones are precious to us…even when they’re grown up and have their own little ones.
The older generations need the younger generations to help us remember to smile and laugh in the midst of all our aches and pains and the challenges of getting older. The younger generations need the older generations to encourage them in the hard stuff, to tell them, “God saw us through our hard times, He’’ll see you through yours, too!” Without the younger generations, the older ones forget the joy of living. Without the older generations, the younger ones don’t know how to grow old and face heartbreak and die with hope in Jesus. Psalm 78:5-6 says “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments…” Did you catch that there are four generations in view there? “…fathers…their children…the children yet unborn…their children…”
Generations need each other. Why? So we might remind each other to set our hope in God and not forget his works, but keep his commandments. Because life is hard, but God is good, and we all need Jesus!
Now, go buy a kid an ice cream cone. And give a geezer a hug.
Soli Deo Gloria!