I may be about to upset a few people here, but it is my view that not all churches treat children as equally as the adults.
Jesus said, do not stop the children from going to him. What was happening was the disciples didn’t want the children bothering the master. But Jesus gathered them in his arms…Jesus also said their angels in heaven are nearest the throne! (Matthew 18.10)
Children remind us adults how simple faith must be. Its my mission to keep it that way, and to encourage churches to keep the child in the midst.
One problem is that of course adult expression of faith is different from a childs, and there is the sense that if you aren’t careful you can dumb down the service. But imagine taking a child out for a days trip, would you insist that they go round something they find boring? Would you give a child an adult roll and wonder why they didn’t enjoy it?
The other thing I see happen is often that the children do something out of the main service, and when they come back they are encouraged to share something. But rather than share what God has said, which might slap the adults round the face, they are encouraged to show a poster or something, and people give ooos and aaaghs….in other words the adults aren’t prepared to hear from the child what God has for them, but rather it falls into show and tell.
This isn’t always the case of course, but its worth reflecting on.
As a minister now, I have also had it said to me as I tell people that I am a priest for children, that I am told I am not a children’s worker anymore, but a priest for everyone. I point out to them that if it is true that a vicar/priest/minister is for everyone, do they spend an equal amount of time with the children as with adults?
So, with all this inequality going on in some places, how can we look at it? This info graphic, and as it came up on my facebook timeline I have no idea where it came from originally, says things quite clearly.
We are fast to try to make sure things are equal when we regard disability, but in some ways children are not treated equally.
In the first picture, we assume that worship must work in the same way for everyone. If it helps the adult to worship God (er…a band maybe), then it will also help the children. Equally if we have an action song to help the children, then it must help the adults. This isn’t the case of course.
Second image, we try to keep everyone happy in the service by doing different things for different ones. Yes, that’s not bad at all. But someone at some point has to make adjustments for each other. It assumes too that God is only to be approached in one particular way, and that we need to make adaptions so that everyone can fit into that particular way. So the worship is the same (for example), but we will give the children some flags, or some instruments so that they can join in with the one way of worshipping God.
In the third image we see the barrier removed completely. Now God is big enough to be God completely to whoever worships him…but here’s the challenge. How do we worship God together, allowing him to meet our individual needs?
Its a very long discussion that one, but its one I keep coming back to, over and over. Why do we say there is only one way when we are all together to worship God? Thats a question that starts with us though assuming that God is only worshipped in one way and we have to all be doing the same thing at the same time, and so have to adapt those ways to fit. A bit like everyone walking around in the same pair of shoes, but there are adaptions. For the children, the shoes may be far to big and look like clown shoes even though they fit, they feel foolish.
For the adult, they may be asked to wear too small a pair of shoes, and then they will feel crushed and restrained.
But what if we start with Jesus, and realise that he can meet us equally if we free ourselves to not have to have those constraints.
Now we begin to ask another question…what is the fence that we are asking people to look over? What is seperating us from the Holy of Holies?
What in worship is the systemic barrier that needs to be removed? Then how do we remove it?