It was a rainy day yesterday as we were walking around the Port of Echuca. It is the home of the largest collection of working paddle steamers in the world. Daily they paddle up and down the Murray river. At one point along the dock you can walk onto a section that looks out over the river. There is a protective fence where the designers have simply, but cleverly, placed glass panels at “little children” height so that they can look out too. We were there as two small boys, fresh from jumping in puddles, saw these windows, raced up, looked out, and were thrilled by the sights.
If only churches could see this wonderful metaphor. Too often in worship the fences are that high that only the adults can “see” or experience what is going on. For children the service is an hour and 30 minutes of tedium, or they are sent out to “jump in a few puddles” while the adults do the real thing.
Too many churches, in my experience, either ignore the fact that there are children in church or send them out to be entertained elsewhere. There are no “windows” to enable them to participate and adults are often unable or uwilling to hold them up to see over the fence. So the implied message children receive is that there is nothing here for you. In other words, the view, or real worship, is essentially for adults only.
Children are people of God too. Children are called by Jesus as well. Children are in fact a model for us to follow. “Unless you become like one of these …” Too often however, children are left behind a windowless fence and not included and left out of the worship dialogue altogether. They are not given a position from where they can be part of, experience and participate in the worship of the whole family of God.
What can we do to give children kid high windows from which, they too, can be part of the worship by the people of God? What can we do as worshipping communities to reduce the walls which prevent children from being part of the singing, listening, praying, reading. giving and hearing that is our dialogue with God on a Sunday?
Churches are losing young people in droves. What are we doing to make worship an unmissable part of their lives? One part of the answer is to ensure that the child’s place in the community of worshippers is real and appreciated as well as age appropriate – that they can see through the fences. This does not mean that the worship service needs to be “dumbed down”, but it does mean that the worshipping community needs to think of genuine ways in which children, in fact all ages, have a meaningful encounter with their God when the community gathers for public worship.
I would even suggest that if we as adults are more intentional about including children, that is, giving them “windows” and holding them up, that we too will be enriched by the process. Moreover, and most importantly, God will be honoured and worshipped with greater integrity, as all His children gather before Him.