What Is a Three-Year-Old Doing in Church?

What is a three-year-old doing in a church service? Really, it can seem hard for a thirteen-year-old to gain something from the service, so why bring in a young child? Isn’t there a better place for children? They might be disruptive, so maybe mom and dad should take turns staying home with them, each coming to one service. Or maybe the church should facilitate something for these young children to do. If they can have crafts and entertainment, at least they can take something home. Plus, that would make sitting in the pew easier for mom and dad. But when they do this, they miss out on so much.

I was thinking of the little children when I went to church during a trip to the Netherlands. The whole service was in Dutch. And like a child can grasp some basic concepts but loses it when things move too fast or the minister uses larger sentences, so was I quickly lost. I know very little Dutch. The minster preached on the sower and the seeds, and I recognized some of the words; he talked about seeds and birds and weeds, and he preached about Jesus and the Word of God. But it was impossible for me to say what he said about how it all related. As is true for children, I was thankful that my mom and dad could explain some of it to me afterwards.

When it was time to sing, I thought of someone who is six or seven. I could read the words, but I did not know what they all meant and I could not pronounce them either. I tried to sing with everyone else and some of the tunes were familiar, and though I am certain the songs were good, I did not know what I was singing. And this is the way it is for our children in church. So is it worth it for them to be there? Absolutely!

What struck me about it and what brought us back to the evening service was that even though we did not comprehend everything, I knew that I belonged there just as much as the next guy who understood every word. I knew that I had gathered to worship the same God we worship every week in our home church. Because I too belong to the Lord, I belonged there in that gathering of God’s people. I knew that the promises proclaimed were also for me and the calling to obedience was also for me.

Would I have been better served if I understood it all? Certainly. And if I moved there I would make a point to learn the language. If I came only to be present, that could be superstitious. We must recognize we have come to be addressed by God’s Word and show our love to God. This is why with our children, as they get older, they must learn to be more attentive and to grasp what it means that they are worshiping and what God’s Word has for them on that particular Lord’s Day. But while they are young, may they be content to grasp the things they can and be patient where it is over their head, and may they and their families rejoice that they belong there in the gathering of God’s people.

Those who believe that there is no purpose to bringing children into church have forgotten why we come to church. We come not only to be fed by God’s Word, not only to know our God and His blessings more, but we also come to give, to worship. The reason we come to church is because God invites us and so that we may give to our God the glory He is due.

If the three-year-olds or the thirteen-year-olds think time would be better spent doing an activity, craft, or being entertained, then they have missed the point. They have missed out on worshiping God. They have missed out on following the command to gather with God’s people in His name, to together worship Him. Worship Him in song, prayer, offerings, and by giving our ears and hearts to receive His Word.

Rev. Simon Lievaart is pastor at Doon United Reformed Church, in Doon, IA. He has been a minister for five years, married for ten years and has four children.