Okay, Let’s Talk about that Crying Baby in Church

If you take your baby to Chruch & sit in the front rows while it cries You not only lack respect for the whole Chruch…but also for the pastor & the message he spend hours and hours creating. You’re self centered behavior is disgusting to me…. yes, I am judging you.  – A recent post on Twitter

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.  When Jesus saw this, he was indignant.  He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.   – Mark 10:13-16, NIV

Recently, my Twitter feed erupted with pastors, ministry leaders, and mothers all responding to a Tweet from a man frustrated by a crying baby in his church’s worship service.  From what I can tell in subsequent Tweets, this man didn’t seem to be anti-children.  He just felt that this crying child was an obstacle for the rest of the congregation in hearing the well-prepared sermon.  He wished that parents would sit in the back of the church or take their distracting child to the nursery or out into the lobby so that the adults can focus on what’s important to them – the sermon.    

Okay.  I hear you.  You are right.  Children can be distracting in the worship service.  (So can some adults, but that’s a conversation for another day.)  I also appreciate that my pastors work very hard to bring God’s word to his people.  But there is more to the worship service than just a sermon.  Worship is the primary work of God’s people.  God delights when all his people gather together and come just as they are to worship him, including a crying baby.  

When I see a baby crying in church, I envy them.  It’s okay for this child to come to worship and let out an authentic cry for help.  I wish it was the same for me.  But the point of this blog is to not envy the child’s authenticity among the worshipping community. Let’s take a look at Jesus and his disciples and see how they dealt with distracting children when Jesus was teaching.  

In Mark 10, we find Jesus teaching the crowds about divorce.  As most adults know, this topic is probably an adult conversation, not an easy one for children to understand. And after he finished, Jesus and his disciples move into a house, and they continue their conversation.  In the passage following, we see that there was an interruption – maybe it was a knock on the door when one of the disciples was asking a serious question.  Whatever the case, people were coming to bring their children to Jesus.  

Can’t you hear the disciples?  I wonder if they were feeling exhausted after a long day of being around people and engaging in a conversation that was challenging to their accepted norms.  

Knock-knock. Is Jesus there?

Really?  Visitors now?  

Knock-knock-knock.  Can we see Jesus? 

Don’t these people realize we are having an important theological discussion here?  

But that didn’t matter to the people.  What was most important to them was that their children experience Jesus.  On the other hand, the disciples disapproved and scolded the parents, attempting to keep the children away from the important work that the adults were doing.  

I wonder if sometimes the modern church is a bit like the disciples.  We don’t like distractions in worship services or from whatever important ministry task we are doing.  In my denomination, we often place a higher value on biblical learning and theological discussions than on the importance of tactile faith experiences.  Children…like a crying baby in the front row…can be disruptive.  They wiggle and have a hard time sitting still and just listening to the words of faith.  I wonder if we have embraced the same attitude as the disciples.  Maybe it is better if we just keep the children away from the important work that we adults are doing in the worship service. 

Let’s take a closer look at how Jesus responded to this situation.  

He was indignant

Indignant is a strong word.  Jesus was angry, not at the children for interrupting, but at his disciples for keeping the children away from him.  Instead of ignoring children or telling them to go to another room, Jesus rebukes his disciples and advocates for children, physically embracing them. This is incredibly important to note: Children are not a distraction to Jesus and his work.  When we are giving our worship to Jesus, he is not distracted by that crying child in the front row. Instead, Jesus embraces the noisy, the runny-nosed, the laughing, and the crying children right in the middle of his theological work.  

Jesus places children in the midst of the community’s actions.  Not only do they belong here, Jesus reminds us, but they have something to teach us.  Children have a place in our faith formation.  They are models for us in how to receive the kingdom of God and remind us what it means to live like a Christ-follower.  Have you ever wondered what children bring to the faith that we adults might be missing? 

The question we should be wrestling with is not how do we remove distracting children from our worship services, but do we, as the body of Christ, embrace the same high view of children that Jesus does? Do we welcome them into our space or do we try to remove them like the disciples did?  How do these children, these fellow-image bearers of God, testify to Jesus and his kingdom?

How do these children, these fellow image-bearers of God, testify to Jesus and his kingdom?  

In the Gospel of Matthew, when the disciples are wrestling with the question of who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, once again Jesus responds by placing a child in the midst of a theological conversation. He doesn’t keep children away, but he invites them in, making them the center of the discussion even when they might not understand what is going on around them.  You want spiritual greatness?  Become like this child.  You are really serious about being my disciples?  Change and become like this little one.  

Dear church, in our earnest attempts to meet Jesus on Sunday mornings, to welcome him with our songs of praise and worship, it is essential that we place the child in our midst. “When you receive a child into your presence, you also receive the presence of Jesus. A space is opened up where God can work.  It is a space where God in Christ not only transforms children’s lives but the adults in the space as well.”[1]

For our spiritual transformation, we need the children in our midst of our worship. They have something to offer us…even that crying baby in the front row.    

[1] Fitch, David. Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission. Downers Grove, IL, IVP Books, 2016, p. 135. 

Photo is public domain and available through https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1192392

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