Category Archives: children

On Children in Church

Sometime after his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a child to him and “he put him in the midst of them.” Then Jesus said, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:1-4).

The disciples (church) continued to argue over greatness. Even after the Sermon on the Mount, in which all our categories are flipped on their heads and everything is turned upside down, they were arguing over greatness. Even after Jesus had blessed the poor, the hungry and the persecuted, the disciples were still fixated on greatness. Worldiness is a hard habit to break.

In response, Jesus called to himself a child – the essence of one who is powerless, dependent, needy, little, and poor. He placed the child “in the midst of them,” as a concrete visible sacrament of how the Kingdom looks. Jesus’ act with the child is interesting. In many of our modern, sophisticated congregations, children are often viewed as distractions. We tolerate children only to the extent that they become “adults” like us. Adult members sometimes complain that they cannot pay attention to the sermon, they cannot listen to the beautiful music, when fidgety children are beside them in the pews. “Send them away,” many adults say. Create “Children’s Church” so these distracting children can be removed in order that we adults can pay attention.

Interestingly, Jesus put a child in the center of his disciples, “in the midst of them,” in order to help them pay attention. The child, in Jesus’ mind, was not an annoying distraction. The child was a last-ditch effort by God to help the disciples pay attention to the odd nature of God’s kingdom. Few acts of Jesus are more countercultural, than his blessing of children.

Hauerwas and Willimon, Resident Aliens (Nashville, Abingdon: 1989), pp. 95-96.

Why a Meal? Where’s the Teaching?

NYNO’s theology emphasizes the body of Christ, family, hospitality. It is hard to miss the centrality of all those things in the gospels. Luke notes that Jesus came eating and drinking (Luke 7:34). Part of what drives us is our dissatisfaction with ‘all-age worship’ services which usually cater well to the needs of one group of people. Perhaps the toddlers win, or the teenagers, or primary-school aged children. Alternatively, the service is enjoyable for adults, and children of all ages are overlooked and their needs forgotten about. How do we as NYNO attempt to do something different? Is there another way of doing things where we can all meet together, and no-one is overlooked, and everyone joins their hearts in worship and is uplifted and has a sense of belonging to the body of Christ, joined with him and with one another? Is this pie in the sky?

Each time we have met together on a Sunday, we have emphasized the centrality of the Lord’s supper. Our first innovation in that meeting place was to change the seating so we were all gathered around the table. This eliminated the sense of someone being at the ‘head’ of the meeting. It is a visual spatial sign that we are all equals as we gather before our Lord. We have emphasized in our teaching that communion is central to our faith, and we have made clear that we will persist in gathering around the table even when we are not able to partake.

Another concern which might arise with Sunday worship in this form is teaching. How do we achieve good teaching for all ages in one gathering? How do we make sure that the youngest child to the oldest pillar of the faith, who has known Jesus for eighty years has some sustenance? We believe that the answer for us as NYNO is to make our meal-gatherings the main meeting. We gather around the table; we serve one another; we take communion; we recite liturgy; we worship with our songs; we are all literally singing from the same hymn-sheet. Turning people into strangers is one way to make people distant, less dangerous. There is no way to hide in the back pew if we all sit side by side, united in Christ and to one another, from the youngest to the oldest. In these practices there is lots of ‘teaching’. Each time we meet we are reciting, praying and sacramentally participating in the basis of our faith.

It’s possible that some may look at our gatherings and question whether we have enough ‘proper solid bible teaching.’ Several things can be said to this. Firstly, we are not against teaching. If your gathering has willing able teachers, by all means let them teach. We are anxious however, that those who do not have such gifts from God should not be impeded from developing their own churches. We hope that our corporate acts of worship will be deeply significant and beautiful and rich.

In a situation that is diversely aged and there is a need for age-specific education, for children and adults, it may be most appropriate to provide that somewhere other than in the main meal gathering. Our reasoning for this is that adult oriented sermon can be difficult for children and their parents. Equally, a child oriented presentation can be dissatisfactory for adults. With our approach, separate ‘Sunday school’ classes for particular age groups could meet before the main Sunday meeting, or at another time in the week, to study the word together. Perhaps they will focus on a book of the bible, or a topic, and use different media as appropriate such as storytelling, drama or Godly Play.

All that to say, our meetings around the table are the most important part of our fellowship. They are what define us and make us different. Hopefully, they are the distinctive part of what make us truly inter-generational. Teaching need not be compromised. It will just look different than a forty-five minute sermon for the adults, or a children’s talk, or separate children’s church, or an all-age service which is all about primary-school aged kids and leaves nothing for the grown-ups.

Julie and Matthew