Yesterday, worship was more crowded than usual. As a result, by the time I finished getting ready for Sunday school and then snuck into our sanctuary, my usual seat was taken, leaving me with no choice but to sit somewhere new.
Doing so meant sitting near strangers. Inadvertently, I landed in a section of the sanctuary heavily populated by small children. In my congregation, such children worship with their parents.
At one point, I watched as a young toddler started getting a little rambunctious. In response, a caring family member quickly shushed him. As she did, my conflicting reactions surprised me.
There's not a doubt in my mind that this youngster was shushed for my benefit, quieted out of respect for all those worshiping around him. After all, everyone knows that worship is supposed to be an orderly affair, a time to be reverent and in so doing, show God the respect he rightly deserves.
And maybe when I'm a parent, shushing my kid will also be my default reaction. After all, as someone who's not yet a parent, I admit I have no real understanding about just how mortifying it might be to be that family with the kid who's constantly chattering, screaming, or crying in worship.
But even so, as I watched this exchange happen, I couldn't help but wonder what message the weekly shushing of children communicates to them.
By repeatedly quieting kids in worship, are we asking them to be someone they're not? If that's the case, then how will kids ever really learn that God accepts them as they are, for who they are?
In a congregation that says it values the presence of children in worship, aren't we being hypocritical when any one of us says, “You're welcome here... But only if you're quiet”? If we really value the presence of kids in worship, then shouldn't we be prepared for a few disruptions in worship, especially during the season of advent when we celebrate the way God disrupted and forever changed the world through the birth of his son?
Beyond that, I can't help but wonder if one reason why so many teenagers and young adults are leaving the church is because they've learned – from years of being shushed in God's house – that church is not for them; That church is boring; And that they have no voice in church.
Again, I'm not a parent, so I don't know any of this for sure.
That said, what I do know is this: Your chattering, screaming, and crying kid is important to God. Therefore, he's important to our church family and to me. As a result, please don't feel compelled to shush your child on my account.
Instead, I hope our church is a place where you can let your kids be who they really are, inside and outside of worship.
If you do, worship will, on occasion, be interrupted. But I bet we'll learn, together, that sometimes those interruptions are actually holy moments. I bet that together, we'll start to redefine and maybe even re-imagine what true worship looks like. And maybe then we'll understand that when the Psalmists sang, over and over again, “Make a joyful noise to God” they weren't just talking to adults.