According to no less of an authority than a recent Google search, the phrase “Elvis has left the building” has become a cultural catchphrase meaning the concert or event is over; it’s time to disperse or leave. In that vein, I’m wondering if “The Family” has left today’s church. As a follow-up to my book Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for The Church, I’ve been wondering if today’s church structure is actually hurting the family unit. Let me share our family’s story:
When our children were young I would lament the idea of age-segregated Sunday School classes and church-time children's programs that seemed to divide our family. My wife and I have three children who are each two years apart. So, for their growing up years in the church, our kids were in different children's or youth departments based upon their respective ages. For instance, our daughter would be in the junior high class, our oldest son in the junior department, and our youngest son would be in the primary department.
During those years we lived in Michigan, Iowa, and Pennsylvania where each church we attended was characterized by age-specific children's programming. Making matters more interesting for our family was the fact that during that same time frame my wife and I actually served in different departments as well. Our family literally said goodbye to each other each week in the church parking lot and then greeted each other again the parking lot after the church services were over.
That scenario led us to finally say, "Enough is enough." It was time to get out of that rat race. Our children may have been learning at their own educational level of understanding and may have developed positive relationships with their peers; but we believed that it was hurting our family - and it had to stop.
Ultimately we decided to have our 3 kids sit in the church services with us instead of participating in the children's church program. We didn’t make that decision hastily and we certainly didn’t want to hurt our churches’ educational programs for children. It’s just that we wanted our family – as a unit – to experience church together. We realized that we were making a commitment. We knew that discipline could be an issue and we knew that it was our responsibility, not the church’s, to do everything we could to make that experience a positive and constructive time for our family, especially for our children. We didn’t want them to think that church services were boring, irrelevant, or designed just for adults. And we realized that it was our responsibility to craft their experience in the church services.
Please don’t get me wrong. I do not believe that the church is defined by Sunday morning services as the only gathering or serving place. (In fact, I will speak about family units serving as a team in future posts.) However, it became increasingly important to us for our family to attend church, to worship the Lord, and to hear His Word proclaimed TOGETHER. At least for our family, we came to the conclusion that we wanted a shared church experience for our family. Our family’s Sunday morning schedule looked like this: we continued to attend our churches’ Sunday School classes and then kept our family together during the worship services.
As I mentioned, we made it a commitment. My wife and I developed ways for our children to participate in the worship. We looked for ways to introduce the same musical styles and songs into our home life via (in those days) albums and then cassette tapes. We also looked for interactive means for our children to hear and then to apply some of the basic Biblical principles from our pastors’ messages. In our family that took the form of all of us taking simple notes – either identifying the outline or writing out meaningful quotations from the messages. So, we made sure that each child brought and used their own Bible and we provided paper and pens/pencils (sometimes even crayons) for all of us to take notes.
I want to make this clear – our children are not perfect, and neither are their parents! There were times when we needed to discipline them by taking them out of a service or by communicating our displeasure following the service. But again, we came to the conclusion that a shared church experience was important for our family – for all of us. We wanted our children to value inter-generational corporate worship and we wanted them to learn the importance of the preaching of God’s Word.
Thanks for reading this very personal post about our family. At least for our family, we wanted us to be in “the building” worshiping and studying God’s Word - together.