After spending five years serving as the youth pastor in a church that held its weekly youth service during “big church”, I knew I wanted my next congregation to be one in which families worshiped together, where worship and faith formation (or age-appropriate worship services) were held separately from one another.
Because it's better for families when they worship together.
Young people (from babies on up) learn to worship by worshiping with other worshipers who aren't necessarily the same age as them. They learn to sing by imitating their parents and the people around them. They learn to listen to sermons by following the example of those near them. They learn what different things in a worship space are by physically being present in it and asking questions.
As a youth pastor, I constantly cast the vision with parents that we are partners with one another; that parents are the #1 spiritual influencer in the lives of their kids. If that's true, then as a youth pastor, I want to be able to encourage students to worship with their parents and for parents to worship with their kids. You can't do that if church is a one-stop shop where families, through the encouragement of the church, outsource the faith formation of their children to age-specific programming. In contrast, giving families the space to worship together helps center faith-formation in the home.
In addition to being better for families, it's also better for the church when families worship together.
After my husband and I had our daughter, our church's very gifted music director told us about baby silences – the moments of silence embedded in our liturgy when inevitably, babies cry. He described how the liturgy is designed so that everyone participates – even babies. Silences are their chance to be heard. He also shared how when he takes service recordings to the elderly, they seldom comment on the music or the preaching; They always rejoice when they hear a baby cry. Those sounds may be horrifying to young parents but they're beautiful to the church. They remind the church of its longevity, legacy, and role in the future. It also reminds people that worship is never about or for ONE person; It's always for the community.
Speaking of which, when families worship together, it unifies the church. When you pull people out of worship for age-appropriate worship gatherings or faith formation, you communicate certain groups are not actually welcome in worship – a message that is contrary to everything we see in Scripture about the kingdom consisting of all different kinds of people.
Finally, young people learn their place in the church when they're actually given one. When young people are given chances to serve – not just their peers but the larger body of Christ – they discover their presence actually matters; that they belong. They learn to be members of the body of Christ by actually being with other members of the body of Christ.
So many people lament the absence of young people in their congregations. But maybe it's because they never actually allowed young people to truly worship with their congregation to begin with.
In my experience, it seems like decisions to pull kids out of worship are always tied to convenience. Churches want to meet the needs of their families; They want families to be able to get in and out of worship in the least amount of time possible in order to get on with their day.
But convenience is not the primary purpose of the church. It's not the church's goal to be a 24-hour 7-11 that's trying to meet its customers needs by getting them in and out of its doors as quickly as possible.
The church is about the Gospel – the good news of Jesus. The church is about relationships.
And neither relationships nor Jesus have ever been convenient.
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