Friday, March 6, 2009

You had me at "hello"

A little over a year ago we were "church shopping".

Oh, how I hate that phrase... it suggests that we flit from church to church, as if they were nothing more than shops in a mega-mall and we were trying them on, like outfits, to see which we liked best. (Or which made us look best? Even worse.)

I could use religious language and say we were "seeking a church home." And we were.

Sometimes you have to leave a church. Or, rather, you have to acknowledge that the church has left you. In an unintended ironic twist, our former church once had a message with the theme 'The Church has left the Building." Sadly, it seemed all too true. So we searched.

Having belonged to only two churches for most of my 40+ years, visiting new churches was a bit of an adventure, a chance to sample from the smorgasbord of Christianity. So many to choose from. Different sizes, different styles, different beliefs...

It was also exhausting.

Years ago I helped deliver a sailboat from Portland to Honolulu. During the night, especially, we depended on the radar to warn us of any other boats we might encounter. (Though that may seem unlikely, in the middle of the Pacific, it happened at least twice. And when you are in a 42' sailboat, under sail, and a huge container ship is bearing down on you in the dark, it's fairly alarming significant.) But sometimes the radar showed "ghosts". (Not that kind of ghosts, but things that weren't there.) With the rocking of the boat, it was probably reflecting off waves that were larger than the others. False alarm.

As we visited unfamiliar churches, I had a similar experience. My radar was working like crazy, analyzing everything I saw and heard - what was said, what was meant, who was saying it. The Bible praises the Bereans (Acts 17:11), but I began to wonder if my "radar" was pinging on things that weren't there. I was always evaluating what we experienced - "Is this right? Is this wrong? Is this just different than what I'm used to? Does this really matter?" It's hard work. It's tiring to be that vigilant all the time. I wanted to find a church where I could rest.

And, thankfully, there were churches we visited that didn't ping our radar. I know that no church is perfect, but there were churches that were oases in a dry land.

So, why did we choose the one we did? Honestly, I knew the first day we visited. They had me at hello.

Oh, I loved the aesthetic beauty of being in an architecturally traditional chapel with snowy fir trees in view out the window. But that's no reason to choose a church. I loved the enthusiastic hymn-singing by everyone in the chapel, led by (*gasp!*) just the pastor, the pianist, and - for a couple of choruses - two guys with a guitar and a bass.

Even more, I love that the Pastor opens God's Word and preaches it. Every. Single. Sunday.

And then there was the card in the pew rack. (Yes, the chapel has pews.)

They welcomed my children. The chapel is full of families, with children. Right there in the worship service. Not off being entertained by some high octane willow-creek-wannabe children's program.

Oh, there is Sunday School, where the kids are in age-groups, and taught the Bible at their level of understanding. And I love that. But they are welcomed into church. They are a part of (not apart from) the church family.

The card in the pew rack was adapted from an 28 year old article in the Presbyterian Journal. (Our Pastor is PCA, the church was originally a reformed church plant, but it is non-denominational.) It starts out like this:

Worship Is For Children!

Somehow we got the idea that worship is an adult activity that is inappropriate for children. Therefore, we have devised ways to keep children out of worship services, if possible, or at the very least, keep them entertained so that they don't interfere with our worship.

Our Lord disagrees. Jesus found the worship of children to be not only acceptable, but exemplary for us. The unadorned, unpretentious songs and prayer of children are exactly what God wants!

So, it is high time we find ways to include these children whom the Lord finds so delightful. How can we do that?

General Considerations

1. Sit together and worship as a family. A part of parental training includes worship training. No children should be left sitting alone or with other children; all children should be attached to some responsible adult. Keep in mind that we are one large family of believers and can help take responsibility for one another's children.

2. Be willing to allow for a certain amount of noise and distraction when children are present. At the same time, be sensitive to those around you who may not be accustomed to children's ways.

That was followed by 17 suggestions (not rules) of ways to help your child prepare for and participate in the worship service.

And it's working. I see families together in church. I hear children's voices singing along with the adults. All the kids are encouraged to take notes, and leave them stuck to the fridge in the kitchen, for the pastor - who acknowledges them by name from the pulpit the following Sunday. Little whispers ask questions when they don't understand. And - yes - sometimes moms or dads have to excuse themselves with noisy or wiggly little people. (1 Corinthians 14:40)

And this church is a family. Salt and light in a dark world. Quite a contrast to churches following the "sinner-sensitive" model. Churches that remind me of George Orwell, with their so-called "Pro Kids" orientation.

So there, that's my soap-box. I don't climb up there very often :0) We stayed for a lot of reasons, but they had me with hello.


Denise Portis said...

You have an incredible church! I love their attitude towards worship and children! Awesome!

Julie said...

Well, no church is perfect, certainly. (If for no other reason, than because I'm there!) And honestly, I don't agree with every single point of doctrine.

But these are believers I can "walk with".


Shinar Squirrel said...


I love the pew card (re: children in worship.) I once told a man, whose wife complained that the church he was contemplating taking his family to didn’t have a “children’s program or something for the kids,” that his children needed to see him worship, to know that it was important to their Mommy & Daddy. I agree that the children should be with their families in worship.

Could you e-mail me the entire text of the card with all of the suggestions? E-mail is at my profile.

The Squirrel

Annette said...

i like that. would love to see a copy of their suggestions. Might I?

Doug Hibbard said...

I *hate* being without a church family. When I left my last pastorate, before we knew where the Lord was sending us, it was the hardest thing to go find a new church. And it's hard to know what to call it that doesn't sound either self-centered or like religious coverage for self-centered.

We're trying to learn at our church that 'family-friendly' does not mean 'we have a place out of the worship service for you to get your blasted kids so they don't disturb our precious time' but instead means that we are strengthening families to serve God together.

Julie said...

It IS hard. Although we firmly believed (and still do) that we were in God's will, to leave our 'old' church, I know I struggled with guilt - not wanting to be a "tourist", just dabbling in churches, but wanting to find a church HOME.

TRS said...

Hi Julie, sorry to comment on an old post but I love this.
I didn't even know churches were trying to keep kids out of church!

I'm Catholic and have always attended churches connected to a Catholic school. The kids get kid sized Mass during the week... and join the grown-ups for Sunday service. I'm single (no kids) and I love to hear the questioning whispers and enthusiastic youthful singing from the children. While it sometimes makes me sad that I don't have my own, they also take me back to my own youth and thats a blessing.

My friend Kimberly sent me here to check out your blog. I'm sure you miss her as I do!

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Any friend of Kimberly's is a friend of mine :D

And good for your church! I, too, like to hear and see the kids being involved. If they're disruptive their parents will deal with it, but a little bit of squirming and whispering is just natural.