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House Church and the Children

Posted: January , 2010

Submitted by: Dan Trotter

At a recent house church conference, before a panel discussion was about to begin, I whispered to Les Buford that I bet the first question was going to be: “how do we handle the children?” Sure enough, it was. This, in my opinion, is the number one question asked by those contemplating doing house church. It is a tremendous stumbling block. But it shouldn’t be.

This issue will examine three things: one, the differing philosophies or mindsets that the institutional and house church have toward children and the church; two, practical issues that arise; and three, the advantage to children of the church in the home.

“Jesus never, ever said: ‘Suffer the little children to be packed away in the nursery.’ Can you imagine the children being led to Children’s Church during the Sermon on the Mount?”

In the very first issue of NRR, I asked the question: “What do you do for the children?” I am ashamed to say that the first draft of that issue read: “What do you do WITH the children.” I had subconsciously succumbed to the philosophy or mindset of much of the institutional church: children are a problem, they interfere with the almighty “service,” where important, paid professionals in robes or coats and ties give important speeches, and where serious, quiet, and holy listeners sit deathly still in pews. So, the question becomes, what do we do WITH the children while we are doing the important things in the “service”?

Neither Jesus, nor the apostles, ever worried about what to do WITH the children. Jesus never, ever said: “Suffer the little children to be packed away in the nursery.” Can you imagine the children being led to Children’s Church during the Sermon on the Mount?

The Scripture doesn’t say much, if anything, on handling children when believers gathered. But I can’t imagine that the believers back then didn’t have children. I imagine nothing was ever said, because the early Christians didn’t make such a big deal about the issue. The churches were in the home, families lived in homes, children lived in families, and therefore, children met with the church in the home. And despite the Scriptural silence on kids and church, I can guarantee one thing: there weren’t any Sunday Schools and Children’s Churches.

Doug Carty of High Point, N.C. (along with many others) makes this point: “If Sunday Schools are essential adjuncts to church life, why is the Bible silent on this subject?…His building plan, the Bible, is complete in every detail. Where is the Christian who would deny that the Bible is a perfect blueprint? Interestingly, there is not even a hint of Sunday Schools in God’s blueprint.” Doug goes on to point out that Sunday Schools were not even originated to teach Bible stories or Christian morality, but were started in nineteenth-century England to give poor children of mill and mine laborers a chance to read and write. So who had primary responsibility for training children before the appearance of Sunday Schools? The family. I think it is the contention of most house churches that the family still has the primary responsibility for the instruction and nurturing of Christian children. That may be the reason most home churches (just like the biblical NT church) don’t have Sunday Schools. And this really is a barrier to Christians who contemplate leaving the institutional church for the home church. It is amazing how many Christians worry about the spiritual welfare of their kids to the point that the parents will poison themselves to death on the corrupt religiosity of the institutional church, just so long as there’s a good youth program. I am convinced that many institutional churches realize this, and capitalize on it by providing jam-up “youth ministries,” in order to keep their “tithe-payers” from leaving. (Of course, I realize that often there are other, sincere motives involved, too.)

Although it is the family’s primary duty to raise children up in the Lord, it does not follow that the home church should be uninterested in their welfare. Quite the contrary. If kids see their parents’ church as a drag, they’ll tend to think Jesus is a drag, too. In the next section we will discuss practical ways for the home church to make children know that the church belongs to them as well as their parents.

“Relax – there’s going to be more noise and interruption in the house church. People with children need to quit feeling guilty about it.”

In discussing practical ways to integrate children into the life of the home church, we must understand off the bat that if parents bring the traditional mindset of the institutional church into the house church, nothing will work for the kids. The system church has the mentality of juvenile segregation: push them out into the Sunday School wing, so everything can be Holy and Quiet. This, of course, is unbiblical. How quiet do you think the kids were during the Sermon on the Mount? The system church is liturgically rigid in its “order of service,” and kids, being as unprogrammed and unpredictable as they are, can never fit within that rigidity. So: the first practical thing to do in the church in the home is to relax– there’s going to be more noise and interruption in the house church. People with children need to quit feeling guilty about it, and people without children need to exercise more tolerance than they would in the institutional church.


For Scriptural Evidence of:

Sunday Schools

Children’s Churches

youth ministries

The second practical thing to do is to develop close relationships between each parent, and between each parent and child. This is possible in the home church, as it is not possible in the organized church. With close relationships, when little Johnny is about to flush the cherry bomb down the toilet, an adult not Johnny’s parent can firmly request that the little hellion extinguish the wick, without fear of alienating little Johnny, or little Johnny’s mom. Close relationships are extremely important.

The third practical thing that should be done is to find creative, workable ways to involve the kids in the meeting with the adults. Where did the idea come from that the meeting (or the church) belongs exclusively to the adults? I know of one house church in which the children are generally musically gifted. The young folks play guitars, violins and flutes, and feel free to lead out in song or music. Other home churches encourage kids to share testimonies, or to recite memorized Scripture, or to ask for prayer requests. My particular home church one meeting had the teen-age young people lead the service with Scripture and music. The meeting was entirely different–it gave us variety, and helped the young people join in. During another service in my home church, one of the sisters conducted a “Sunday-School lesson” for the young children with the adults present. The adults were forced to adapt to a young child’s viewpoint (something that all adults should do periodically). And the kids got to have fun with their parents as they learned the spiritual lesson being taught.

The fourth practical thing I would suggest is not to be hidebound by “house-church theology.” Sure, we don’t believe in Sunday Schools, but the world’s not going to end if someone has something special for the kids, if he or she takes them aside in another room once in a while. And we don’t believe in pacifying the kids with entertainment to keep them out of our hair, but there’s nothing wrong with showing them a video once in a while (even, heaven forfend, if the video is a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and not spiritual).

A fifth practical suggestion that one house-churcher has suggested is for each meeting home to have announced house rules, so that children and parents might not inadvertently harm anything.

A sixth practical suggestion is to tolerate fussing infants as much as you can, but if they get too loud, make sure the parents understand that the baby should be taken out of the meeting until he cools off. If a parent doesn’t do this, the parent should be communicated with. Remember, relationships are important.

My seventh, and last, practical suggestion, is to never let the meeting become boring–neither for the children, nor for the adults. If the meeting is dead or too long for the adults, imagine what it’s like for the kids! Their attention span is probably about half of ours. We need to constantly put ourselves in the shoes of our brothers and sister–and our kids are, in the body of Christ, our brothers and sisters. Let’s prefer them in love.

We finish these thoughts on children and the house church by presenting the manifest advantages of the home church for young folks. We should not look upon children as an obstacle to getting folks into the house church. We should look at the advantages of the house church for kids, and point these advantages out to potential house church converts.

One big advantage of the home church for young people is that the youth get to see their parents in loving, supportive relationships with one another. They get to see their parents open their hearts to God in a real, personal, non-religious, un-phony fashion.

Another tremendous advantage is that the kids are not given second-class status in the church: they are not segregated, put out of sight, out of mind in nurseries, Sunday Schools and youth ministries.

One of the biggest advantages, in my view, is the close relations that develop between adults and children of other adults. In my home church, I constantly pray for the children involved. There are only six couples in the church, and only fourteen children. It’s very easy to find out what’s going on in the kids’ lives, and easy to pray for them daily, individually, by name. I submit to you that this doesn’t happen too often in the mega-church.

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