Family Friendly Churches and Church Friendly Families

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familychurchthumbEvery gospel-loving local church should be a family friendly church. After all, we want the next generation to know the love of God in Christ Jesus, and this is best preserved through families that believe the gospel. What a joy to observe parents raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord! And what a joy when the local church is both principally and practically supportive of this. Such practicality includes, but is not limited to, providing a patient atmosphere where children—and their parents—know that they are very welcome when the church gathers—especially for corporate worship.

By “patient” atmosphere I have in mind a congregation that is not on razor’s edge because children run when they should be walking in the building. I have in mind a congregation that does not turn around and stare death-inducing daggers at children—and their parents—because they have made some disturbance in the service. By the way, the parents were probably aware of this long before you decided to be the headmaster of your section of the auditorium.

Children are a gift from God to parents as well as to the church and hence to local churches. The Lord is building His house and His preferred means is through believing households; households that believe the gospel. The three-year-old that is kicking the back of your chair during the service, or who is playing too loudly with his books or toy while the Word is being proclaimed, is hopefully—and prayerfully—a future child of God. So being patient with him may be a display of gospel grace to him, as well as to his parents. It would be nice, of course, if all children obeyed as immediately, consistently and cheerfully as your children did when they were young, but since they don’t, perhaps some Spirit-filled longsuffering on your part will help these “irresponsible” and “clueless” parents; and who knows, it might help you as well. So, be nice.

I have in mind a congregation where its members are willing to share working in the crèche so that mothers can enjoy worship more frequently than they often have the opportunity.

I also have in mind a congregation that rejects the worldly philosophy that children are an annoyance and expensive and so their numbers should be few. Therefore, I have in mind a congregation that does not greet the announcement that a couple is expecting their fourth (or fifth!) child with the cynical, “Don’t you know what causes that?” My wife used to answer that rude question with, “Yes, we know. And we enjoy it!” That usually ended the conversation.

Further, I have in mind a congregation that comes alongside a family whose child is chronically ill and offers to stay with the child so that mom can enjoy a worship service with the rest of the family.

I have in mind a congregation where elders pray for the children, know them by name and take the opportunity to speak to them on special occasions such as children’s talks. I have in mind a congregation that is happy for the children to sometimes make a mess with their juice and their biscuits. I have in mind a congregation that is willing to be inconvenienced in their Grace Groups as little children can be a bit disruptive, and yet the Group sees that something bigger is to be gained by the temporary annoyance. I have in mind a congregation that is willing to be inconvenienced by a parking lot full of prams in the foyer. I have in mind a congregation like Brackenhurst Baptist Church.

Pretty much what I have described is the characteristic of our congregation. Though there are perhaps some unpleasant exceptions, overall BBC is a family friendly church. But, of course, there is always need for improvement, and occasional reminders are helpful. So let’s work on it.

But on the other hand, it is equally important that we also have church friendly families. Your family exists for the church rather than the other way around. At least, that is how I read the priorities in Ephesians. Paul moves from church life (5:18-21) to family life (5:22—6:4). This is clearly the case with marriage. We have marriage because Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it (5:25). The family is predicated upon the church, not the other way around. Therefore it is essential that a family be “friendly” to the church.

I have in mind parents instructing their children, before the family heads for corporate worship, that they are expected to behave in a certain way and that there will be painful pedagogical consequences if they fail to do so! I have in mind families—as families—actually coming to church. It is awfully difficult for churches to be friendly to families when those families are consistently absent from the gatherings. If you make yourself invisible by frequent absence, excusing it by the age and/or the fatigue or the imperfect health of your child, then don’t be surprised if you begin to imagine that the church is not family friendly. Self-justification is a powerful vice.

I also have in mind not getting ticked off when someone out of concern asks you about some burden they have for your family or when they offer advice to help you to enjoy the family friendly opportunities of the church. I have in mind families having strong convictions about how to raise their children for Christ, including their education, while at the same time humbly recognising that not all parents in the church necessarily see things as you do. That is, I have in mind being Spirit-filled and therefore meek as you hold strong convictions. I have in mind 1 Corinthians 16:13-14: “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.

I have in mind loving your neighbour as yourself and therefore putting yourself in the shoes (or the church seat!) of those around you when your child decides to exercise his “speaking gifts” during a worship service, which is contrary to things being done “decently and in order”!

I have in mind a willingness on the part of families—particularly younger families—to get involved in the various children’s ministries rather than using them as a babysitting service. I have in mind younger families “digging deep” to become active members of the church rather than waiting until things “slow down” to be more involved. Having raised five children who are now all adults, I must say that things are not any slower now than they were when the kids were in nappies. Or perhaps they are, but my energy levels are not the same. Regardless, there is no time like your present time for you and your family to be church friendly.

Much more could be said but suffice to consider that if each of us is committed to developing a family friendly church, as well as a church friendly family, then BBC will be a very God-honouring friendly place. And those who need a family will perhaps then find that there is one—right here.

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