As we drove to the church for VBS, Emma asked me which church we were going to. I gave details about when we had visited the church previously on a Sunday, and she said, that's not a church - it's a school.
I paused for a long moment and contemplated her words... when is a church not a church and only a school in the mind of a 4 year old? Then I realized - it was because in that church on that given Sunday, she didn't have a chance to worship.
We've been visiting churches in our first weeks here in Northern Virginia and many have the same Sunday morning setup - the children are ushered to the loud brightly colored children's wing and the parents go enjoy a morning of adult worship. Take away the cross at the front door and the kids' wing sure looks like a school to me.
As I thought about her observation, I realized a deep danger. What happens when she "graduates" from Sunday "school". If her primary association with a church is that it is a place to sit in a classroom and learn bible stories then I fear someday she will consider herself wise enough to graduate, move on, and replace the Sunday morning learning with leisure. Isn't that what we adults do? Upon graduation from high school or college, we set aside formal learning and become quite content with the level of education we've achieved. The ambitious among us return to school, but for the most part, once school is no longer mandatory, we flee the formal structures.
But what if, from a child's earliest memories, church was about worship? What if they witnessed adults - rejoicing, grieving, worshipping - among a family of believers committed to a lifetime of seeking the Lord. What if she participated in that same worship, hearing the same songs and messages, and seeing that those who worship in Spirit and in Truth do so clear into eternity. Maybe, just maybe, that child might not be so quick to graduate from church just because she graduates from high school.
We've always enjoyed having our daughters with us in the worship service. We love to hear them sing, love to see them smile when they catch a pastor's joke. We love to watch them grow. So as we continue our church hunt - I'll resist the modern urge to ship them off down the hallway so I can finally have some ME time. The worship service isn't me-time, it's God-time, and my girls are welcome to sit at His table every Sunday.
(disclaimer- young believers and single parents face a huge challenge in keeping children with them in the church service, it is essential that we support these families and train them to teach their children, and, depending on circumstances, give them the opportunity to focus in church without their children present)