by Dana Menzies, Wendy Michaelson, & Lisa Miller
"So how's your home church coming along?"
"So, whaddayah do with the kids?"
We can't tell you how many times this conversation has been repeated. Children have never been easy to deal with. How many church adult programs and events are structured around the needs of the children? The question of how to integrate children into a home church is often asked by people who seen overwhelmed by the prospect. We have found it to be a challenge worth tackling.
The responsibility of "churching" our kids is solely ours; we cannot leave it with anyone else. We have no nursery by choice. One of the "Big Church" structures we rejected was that of separating the kids from the adults for worship. And yet, adults need a meaningful time of worship and fellowship free from the encumbrance of little ones.
Our evening in home church begins with a combined fellowship time for adults and children. The kids eat together, under our supervision, and then play while we eat. In summer months, we may all eat together outside, but usually we have separate sittings for the meal. The table isn't large enough for 14 adults and 9 kids, and the little ones just can't sit still for very long. Feeding them first allows all the adults to enjoy a peaceful communion and meal together.
In our house church we have church school. The couple responsible for church school that evening exits near the end of differ and corrals the kids for cleanup and bible teaching. The structure and content of the activities for the children vary from week to week. The teachers work in pairs and follow a weekly rotation. Not every adult is obligated to participate. Currently we have four pairs who meet quarterly to brainstorm possible topics and set goals for the term. Methodology lies with each teaching pair.
While this takes place, the other adults are finishing dinner, cleaning up dishes, tuning guitars, and preparing to meet with the children for a communal song and prayer time.
This is the focal point of the evening for our kids. Here they are singing worship songs with their peers, parents, and other adults who have a vested interest in their spiritual well-being. We have watched even our youngest children learn about God through music. Sometimes a child will share a piece he has learned on an instrument or we will all learn a new song together. Often their ``joyful noise'' with the instruments overwhelms the sound of their voices. Each week is different.
"Let's pray." Andrew begins to search his little body for this week's "boo-boo." Children are very open about sharing their concerns. Their prayers are very revealing, and often healing. It took several weeks of repeated prayer for one little girl to resolve the death of a grandparent. As parents we often have to fight the urge to squash their repetition and enthusiasm (we've prayed for many dogs), but it is important that the children feel they can bring everything before the Lord and that they will be heard. Faithfully, they bring each other's needs before the Lord, and know their concerns are legitimate as they hear an adult raise the request among the group.
Home church offers the unique opportunity for the church body to become involved in meaningful relationships with each other's children. It is this prayer time that opens the door to service. As Mike senses the tension in one child's voice he is led to reach out. The next day he invites the child for a ride in his new truck and offers an open ear. We believe that taking time to build these relationships will have increasing importance as our children become older, especially during their adolescent years. With listening hearts, encouraging voices, and willing bodies, prayer time becomes a meaningful interchange of God's love.
Have sleeping bag, will travel. It makes a lot of sense for any house church with children to meet at night. And what kid doesn't like a sleep-over? Only during the first week of a new house might the problem of ``who sleeps where'' arise. It soon becomes clear which combinations are most conducive to sleep. Older children may read, but we say that they must remain in bed.
This transition from prayer to bed may take 15-20 minutes. We'd like to say that this transition takes place flawlessly in record time with adults continuing in song and prayer. Ha, ha, ha. In fact, it's a lesson in flexibility and patience. Twenty minutes and a few extra hugs and kisses later we are back in song and prayer. We've been here for two hours, and frankly, we want to move on to more worship and the adult teaching time.
Children are not allowed to disrupt this adult time. In the case of a crying infant or toddler, it is the responsibility of that child's parents to handle the situation.
We currently have one pre-teenager who is ``in flux.'' She has started to occasionally join the adults for dinner and teaching. We have seen her grow naturally through this transition because of the relationships that have developed between her and the adults in the group.
We have also learned that there must be an openness among adults to express their feelings about the presence of older children in the group. Some prayer concerns are inappropriate for children's ears. Right now the clock decides when older children must join the younger ones in bed, leaving ample time for adult intimacy. Hopefully we will be able to convey to our future teenagers that should they be asked to leave at some point in the evening, it is not a personal reflection, but a respect of privacy. Children need to see us in weakness as well as in strength, but only as their maturity allows.
When home church is over, we simply pick up the kids and head home. As our church changes, so do the ways in which we deal with the problem of how to give our kids the spiritual food they need while still allowing ourselves the time we adults need to be together, focusing all our energies on the Lord. We have found no easy answers or pat solutions, but we trust that the Lord will guide us, through His nurturing example, in the right direction.