We are living in a day and age where the screen has power! iPads, smartphones, tablets and computers are integral parts of everyday lives, so that most of us don't leave home without at least one device on us. After all we may need to connect with others, complete everyday tasks, shop, educate and entertain our children. But there is one place where they should surely not be used.
That short time of worship before the children leave for their own groups (because we believe in all generations worshipping together, right?) or even the whole service where the children's team volunteers have a week off, sees parents reaching for their devices. After all we don't want to be distracted from our worship? Some parents even come prepared with headphones, allowing their children to be zoned out, completely cut off from their surroundings. It’s time to reverse this trend. It is easy as parents to reach for the most pain-free option - after all we don't want our children to be fidgeting their way through the service. Yet in the Old Testament children were expected on occasion to sit through a reading of the entire Pentateuch (that’s the first five books of the Bible!).
We can make the excuse that today’s generation of children simply cannot sit still because of over-stimulation, yet in doing so we are denying them the option to learn to be still and tuned in to what God is doing. We are allowing our children to miss out on an opportunity to tune into God. Not only that, but the same screens which grab the attention of our children, also serve to distract others around them.
Now, I understand that some children struggle to sit still, I have a 4 year old daughter who not only struggles to sit still, but is still learning that asking me a question in her loudest voice during that quiet moment of waiting on the Lord is not the best thing to do. But I am determined to help my children listen to engage in the worship and to listen to the preacher, after all this is a prime opportunity for God to sow more seed into their lives.
If we actively teach them to disconnect from church while they are sitting in the same room as the adult service we are not doing them any favours. In helping them to tune in to the service, it may distract me from giving my all in worship, but this is also a part of their discipleship. The more we help them, the sooner they will be able to listen, engage and even grow during the ‘adult’ ministry. After all it’s not exclusively for the adults - it’s for the whole church. The last time I checked my Bible that includes the children.
After sitting through one service recently that the preacher confessed was not intended for children (the children's ministry had been cancelled with very little notice), my four year old repeated part of the end of the sermon that she had sat through as I tucked her into bed. 'Mummy, I know you and God both love me because I’m your daughter. The preacher had been speaking about the Father's love and my 4 year old had received the revelation of God’s love.
Let’s not allow the 'prophets' Apple and Samsung to direct the future of our children. It’s something we can choose to be intentional about, but let’s not take the easy way out and allow our children to zone out from the service.
If you don’t have children yourself, please be patient with any parents who choose not to take the cop out option, but instead try to help their children participate in the service. Perhaps you could even offer to sit with the children of that harassed mother who has made it to church and needs every single second of down time she can get.
The Sunday service is a key time for the Church. Let's encourage our children to tune in, not zone out.