The Littlest Disciples

If you come to our church on any given sunday I hope you are not easily distracted. Or if you are, I hope you find our little distractions amusing. Because at my church, it is acceptable for the little ones to run up and down the aisles, dance in circles, crawl around on the floor, and generally giggle, coo and squeal for the sheer joy of it. Because at 1027 kids are allowed to worship as kids do. Messy and simple, but honest and pure. They sometimes bump into each other, the tiny bodies in the front, as they spin circles before the Lord. It causes a ruckus as they find their respective moms and get their little heads kissed. This is what happens when your worship leader once seriously considered being a kindergarten teacher. This behavior is accepted.

Not only is it accepted, but I know that when the Peanut has called out for “EIEIO” too loudly and too many times (I think she thinks that Jonathan takes requests) I know that his prayer will sound something like this. “Dear Lord, thank you for our children, thank you for their example to us, that they show us how to worship.” My worship leader believes Jesus when He says “let the little children come.” So he does. And they do.

As a parent it is sometimes hard. It would be easier for me if my kids would sit quietly hands in their laps. But that is not what my kids do. (Some kids seem content like this and that is okay too.) It is sometimes scary, taking people at their word and letting your kid be so kid-like in an enviroment that historically has been reserved for quiet reflection, reserved reverence. What if they are all talking about my naughty monkeys behind my back? Some one elses kid tossing a fit because they are not allowed to play the piano doesn’t bother me that much. Kids are kids after all. But mine? Terrible. Worst mom ever. Whose kid throws a fit in church. (mine does.)

Yesteday the Peanut was putting her hands in the air and spinning around on her tip-toes. I have seen this move a million times done by Elizabeth’s girl. She was runnning between peopled who loved her and squealing with glee on both ends. She was crawling around with her friend Josiah. She was worshiping with her church family by simply being a part of the body, and it took everything I had to not tell her to stop, because I was paranoid about what people thought.

Lately there have not been any 3 foot tall worship mobs running around up front. I don’t know if the kids grew tired of it, or if the parents were worried about it all being distracting, but I have heard people talking about the kids. My church family, they say “How come the kids don’t dance in front anymore?” and “I miss watching Marin dance before her Lord.” They say “It distracted me at first, but when I opened my heart, the Lord allowed me to see the kingdom there in front of my eyes every Sunday with the under 10 set.”

This week I had the privilege of sitting with some new comers. Two 5 year old boys, and a set of sisters 6 and 8. They behaved beautifully. I could tell that my new friends had been told that they were to conduct themselves in a church-appropriate manner and they did. This is good parenting, preparing your children for what is expected. But I could also see the glint in their eyes when I was bopping around with my babies and the way one little boy was carefully shuffling his feet and swinging his hips. He didn’t want to embarass his parents, but he longed to join our little dance party.

I don’t blame the parents. They have a lot on their plate lately, the effort it took to get themselves to church on Sunday was enormous. I was humbled that they would do all that, what I might not be willing to do, just to worship with us. I have been to churches where childhood exuberence is frowned upon. Jesus loves the little children who sit quietly next to their parents thank you very much. I wish his parents had been told ahead of time that kids being kids was okay with us. I pray that they come back soon and join the little mosh pit up front. It ministers to me. Jonathan taught me that.

Note: This post has been edited from the original version.

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12 thoughts on “The Littlest Disciples

  1. Abby,
    I love reading your blog; I’ve been following it for quite awhile now. That being said, I don’t necessarily agree with this post. I am very glad that 1027 welcomes families to worship together, but I don’t believe that kids running around dancing to music is an example of childish worship. A 4 year old twirling to music that she enjoys isn’t automatically worship. It could be, if the child is aware of the presence of God and wanting to give Him reverence and honor, but I don’t believe you could just assume that was the case. I do believe that Jesus welcomes children to Himself and calls us to have some childlike qualities in our faith, but running laps around the sanctuary isn’t exactly what He meant. And I’m not sure that you meant it to come off this way, but it seems like you are passing judgement on parents who train their kids not to dance in a worship service. You allow that the parents could just be tired and are doing well to just get to church. But what you are implying is that parents who actually want their kids to be still and quiet are doing something wrong. Not to mention that there are children who would never want to dance and run in front of people at church. I am glad that 1027 fosters freedom and self expression, and I don’t mind that there are plenty of kids and babies present on Sunday morning. It doesn’t bother me when babies and toddlers make noises, talk, and cry, but I don’t think that having decorum in worship is something awful that should be banished for childish enjoyment and freedom. Having rules and respect for others isn’t a bad thing, no matter what your age.

    • Yeah, I will probably go back and edit as the last thing I want is to sound like a kid just sitting there is bad. It isn’t. To each their own and at other stages in my life I found being still before God while others sing around me has been the most worshipful thing I could do.

      I guess I assume that the twirling is an act of worship because I have heard parents explaining what worship is a should look like before the service so that is the frame that I have.

      Maybe I didn’t say it well, (again I will probably edit) I also agree that respect and decorum aren’t bad things, but asking a kid to just sit there for a solid twenty-thirty minutes is unrealistic. At best they will be bored when they could have been engaged and felt a part of the community and loved on. And I suppose I put quite a bit of value on having a child’s experience with church be a positive one.

      • I can understand not wanting to sour a child’s view of church. It would be awful to feel like you pushed a child away from enjoying church and corporate worship. At the same time I think that there is a valuable lesson that isn’t being taught kids anymore. The truth is that we shouldn’t only value and pursue things that are enjoyable. There are lots of things that are good and beneficial and important that are very un-enjoyable. I know that it’s probably something that is a bit too heavy for a 3 year old to comprehend, but you start imprinting these patterns and attitudes early. Also, depending on age and personality, 20-30 minutes of sitting/playing/drawing/reading quietly/quiet-ish is completely within the realm of possible. It might take more work, but it’s not at all what I would call unrealistic.

  2. Hey, this sounds like a denominational schism to me. Jordan can lead the 4 year olds sit down and be quiet during worship Baptists [be still and know that I am Lord] and Abby can lead the let 4 year olds twirl on their toes with their arms extended during worship Baptists [David (who was four at heart) danced before the Lord]. I would of course join Abby’s denomination and it is not just because she is my daughter. It’s because I find it more seeker friendly for four year olds, and also one of the four year olds is my grand baby so she should be allowed to twirl to the Lord. [this is where I quote scripture about how blessed are the merciful and explain that the Greek for merciful actually means twirling four year olds] I personally loved the post, Love 1027 and like the dust up but I don’t think Abby was criticizing parents choices just celebrating the blessings of 1027 worship
    .

  3. Honestly, I am troubled by the term “decorum” because it is necessarily ideologically charged. Basically by this I mean that decorum is a term we use to describe what a select group in power historically have decided is appropriate behavior in a given situation. I can honestly remember no scriptural basis for the argument that kids (or anyone really) should not act in the ways described above in worship because to do so would be disrespectful or irreverent. I was drawn to the same verses that John previously alluded to (2 Samuel 6) in which David’s wife Michal disdains David’s “undignified” behavior when the ark of the covenant arrived. David did not act with “decorum.” I am not insinuating that everyone should dance and tear their clothes during church but the point is that the norms of decorum are socially created by man (and can just as easily change to become more or less strict). I am uncomfortable putting such constraints on worship. Specifically I can bring up Matthew 19:13-14 where the disciples rebuked people for bringing children to Jesus (against decorum) but Jesus again tosses those norms aside. Overwhelmingly, in Jesus I see an individual who was overtly critical of norms and decorum. I agree that we should not deride parents (or kids) who choose not to participate in these behaviors. However, to say that dancing in the aisles is somehow improper is completely unpersuasive to me. I would also question to what degree a 2-4 year old needs to cognitively comprehend the presence of Jesus for such actions to constitute worship. If a child does not cognitively grasp that concept, is then anything that child does not constitutive of worship? If so, what, if any, role do children play in worship? Finally, I would be careful of judgment statements like “it might take more work” which connote that parents are lazy if they do not follow socially pre-prescribed notions of what a parent should be.

  4. Abby as always I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability in sharing your fears of what others think while squiggy enjoys herself during church. I agree that it speaks to the culture of our church and how loving, accepting, and open our church is to all kinds of worship. Not just for the kids but if I feel like kneeling, spinning, raising my hands, dancing I certainly feel like I can. And who knows if Juliet is “worshipping” i.e. thinking about Jesus/God/Holy Spirit while she spins around but I don’t know if it matters. Just watching her and the other kids reminds me of letting loose in my own worship, letting the Holy Spirit take me to whatever place it wants to. Now I like to believe that kids are so connected to God that they are sensitive to the Spirit and don’t need to focus per say like we adults may struggle to do. They are not sitting there during worship going.. “Jesus Jesus Jesus… what do I have to get at the grocery store after church… shoot sorry Jesus, back on you”, like I too many times ashamedly do. They are not thinking, they are just dancing, loving, experiencing joy (and when they collide, tears). I enjoyed the banter back and forth and like the different perspectives.

  5. I can see both sides to all of this. I completely understand wanting children to experience great things at church. I guess it comes down to two things for me:
    1.) I don’t believe that worship dancing is an integral part of corporate worship. I am not a member of a charismatic denomination for a reason. I don’t see any support in the New Testament that this should be practiced, but I do see passages pertaining to order and “decorum” in corporate worship settings. Now, I don’t think that being overcome in the moment and abandoning yourself to some spontaneous dancing is sinful, but yes it can be distracting and something that I tend to leave at home in personal praise and worship time. I’m not really wanting to debate this. I understand that my opinion is just that. People vary and everyone’s experience is different.
    2.) I don’t believe that children running around the sanctuary is appropriate during a corporate worship service. I don’t think less of you or your child for running and dancing, but it’s not something that I support. Maybe it speaks to a spiritual weakness, but it is very distracting and it’s hard for me to focus when children are running around. And while I don’t think that just because a parent is letting their kid run free they are lazy parents, I do admit that I believe that child training is hard work and in my opinion it is easier to just let them go and be happy running and dancing. Again, please don’t think that on Sunday morning I’m sitting in judgement on you and your parenting, but I am having trouble singing and worshiping myself when there is a kid mosh pit down front and children are running laps during worship time.

    • Jordan, I value your input. “People vary and everyone’s experience is different.” It is good for me to remember this. I come from a more charismatic background than you. I was attracted to 1027 not because of it’s denomination (I probably would not have ever tried it had I known it was a baptist church.) but because of the freedom I felt in the service to express myself. It is good for me to remember that not everyone is edified by such liberities and I should be aware of that and teach my daughters to be aware of that as we best stumble through teaching them to love Jesus and his church.

      • I think that’s exactly why I enjoy following your blog posts. I like reading about other people’s spiritual outlook. And also the reminder to live with constant grace extended to others. I love you, neighbor!

  6. I know I’m really late to this discussion…but Abby, let me first say that I completely empathize with your feelings of fearing judgment at your child’s behavior. Jordan, let me sincerely apologize for every time my child has been a distraction to your worship. I hope you can fully trust it has never been the intent of me or any other parent in the church to let that happen. It has honestly been a struggle as a parent to figure out and teach J the balance of participating in the ways in which he is able and also respecting others. We nearly weekly have discussions about how corporate worship is a time in which people are thanking and thinking about God, and we don’t want to distract them so they think about us instead. That being said, he is still at an age that is very impulsive by nature and frustrated that he doesn’t always know the words so he can sing along. I try to vigilantly monitor his behavior, but it is truly impossible to monitor his behavior and be deeply present with the Lord simultaneously. Some might argue the solution would be to remove the children from corporate worship all together so I might focus and you might not be distracted, but I value that he has the opportunity to see and learn corporate worship as modeled by all of you grace-extending people and I have the opportunity ask my Lord, “What about this do you want to see in me?” I appreciate that you can extend grace to all of us with the crazy kids as we navigate this territory and raise children in a church family that doesn’t rely on sameness for Oneness.

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