Today we became members in the church we have been attending since we moved here in July. We first visited the church last December when we were visiting family for Christmas. At the time, it seemed like a good fit for our family, for several reasons and we knew that if we ended up moving back to MI, this would become our church.
We belong to a CREC church. This means that we are 1) Reformed and 2) belong to a church that is family-integrated. To find out more about family integrated churches, you can visit http://www.ncfic.org. What family-integrated basically means is that we keep our children with us and do not send them to Sunday School or Children's Church. We worship together as a family. We were not always of this mind-set, but came to it slowly over the course of a year through a series of happenings, as well as reading some good books and talking to some great people in the faith. One instrumental book was "Family-Driven Faith" by Voddie Bauchum. In this book, he lays out why we are losing our young people, why they are leaving the church in droves following high school. He directly links this to Sunday School, without attributing causation, but instead showing how the reasons and motives BEHIND Sunday School are contributing factors. It gave us much to think about. Honestly, we had already felt our consciences pricked by the Holy Spirit and this book just spurred us further in the direction in which we were headed. God had already been working on our hearts.
Until a year ago, Anna, Jonas, Katria and Elyse all attended Sunday School while Cameron and I went to our own class. Then we would collect our children from their age-segregated classes to join us in church. We used to have our children join us for the worship service around age 3. Well, actually, I kept the baby with me until they were done nursing and then started to leave him or her around 12 months. Haven was the first little one to start sitting with us around 18 months. She used to scream in the nursery when we left her and it struck us like a ton of bricks one day, "Why are we leaving her? Why are we trying to teach her that she doesn't need us? She is crying because she wants to be with us! That's great! By letting her cry, we are training her to NOT want us. We are telling her that she can't have us! Is that what we want to teach her?" So we brought her with us. She was a very easy child to teach to sit still, having a very laid-back disposition. I honestly believe that you don't have to teach a child to be independent--they have a sinful nature from birth and a child's natural bent is to want to be independent. No, in my experience you have to teach a child to want you, to be dependent on you, to trust you, to obey, to submit. The older they get the more difficult this becomes. So, doesn't it make sense that while they are still in that stage in which they WANT you, in which they are still dependent on you physically, that you should encourage this desire? When Semaiah was born, we kept her with us in Sunday School and in church. It was not always easy and many, many times I had to take her out. Indeed, she STILL has a difficult time sitting still, but we are working on it during family worship time each night at home. I really can't expect her to sit still through worship if this is the only time during the week she is required to sit still. She is proving not to be as laid-back as Haven was, but we are making progress and we believe it is worth it in order that we can worship as a family.
Just additional food for thought that occurred to us one day: We homeschool. We keep our children with us each and every day. We limit their extra-curricular activities and social interactions. So why when we attend church do we send our children away from us? This is the most important time of the week yet we are not worshiping with our children together as a family? This did not seem right to us. Basically, we homeschooled during the week, but followed the public school model of age-segregation at church. This is not what we personally have chosen for our children when it comes to academics, so then why when it comes to worship?
In addition to the importance of worshiping together as a family, we began to understand that it was OUR job to teach our children about God: Bible stories, theology, Biblical history, their faith, etc. not the church's necessarily. Instead the church is to equip US to do our job! We go to church to be encouraged and fed so that we can do our job during the week of teaching our children. We came to realize that WE are responsible for our children's Biblical growth.
So, we are excited to become a part of a body of believers who is on the same page as us in this area. It is one of the many convictions we have in raising our family.
You can find a local family-integrated church on the website I listed. They cross all denominations. However, we attended a church for many years that was not family-integrated, but was very supportive of our decision to bring all of our children with us to worship service. Many families in the church held a similar conviction. If a church would not have allowed us to bring our children we would not have stayed at that church, it is that important to us. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them," therefore we believe this includes worship on the Lord's Day! We should not hinder our children from coming together with a body of believers to worship and hear God's Word. Yes, it won't be easy to keep your children in service, but it is worth it! :)
However, let me say as always that this is our personal conviction that we believe God laid on our hearts and is what is right for our family. This is not a judgement on those who choose to do something different with their family. Indeed, someone shared their conviction in this area with me when Elyse was a baby and I thought they were being extreme! It took us 3 or 4 more years for God to change our hearts and consider, for us, that our children would be a blessing in worship instead of a burden, a hindrance, and a distraction. Honestly, that is what I used to think!--that my children would just hinder my time with God and I didn't want to deal with them. It was SO much easier to leave them in the nursery, children's church, and Sunday School classes so that I could focus all of my attention on God. Now, I see those times of distractions AS PART of worship. It is ALL worship. Worship isn't just singing praise to God. No, worship is getting up early on Sunday morning so that you can get to church on time. Worship is laying our church clothes the night before. Worship is looking your best for God on Sunday (would you wear casual clothes to a wedding? NO! So why to the celebration of the week with the KING?!). Worship is preparing our hearts in the car on the way to church. Worship is reminding our children to sit still, showing them where we are in the hymnal, making sure they follow along in their Bible, and taking them out when they need additional "encouragement" to be obedient in service. Just make sure you make your decision in faith, prayerfully, before the Lord, and not out of convenience or what is popular. And remember, God is THEIR God, too, and we want to teach our children that it is jstu as much THEIR church as it is ours; otherwise they may leave it when they reach college-age as are 85% of young adults. May our children NOT be part of this statistic! May we do all that we can to keep our children's hearts! May it be our highest priority! And may THE FAMILY be the medium through which they experience God and His Word. Honestly, we have seen such a change in our children's hearts now that we have changed OUR hearts to not only SEE them as a blessing, but to SHOW them each week by demonstrating that we would rather be with them than without them.
In Christ, Laura