09.07.2011 The Blog 2 Comments

“I Love Bananas”

In a recent article posted on Group.com, Debbie Rowley discussed the benefits of children worshipping in a separate setting than that of their parents. Some of the reasons she listed included allowing children to get up and worship, an apparent disinterest in the sermon on the part of the child, and the freedom to sing such songs as, “I Love Bananas.”

Granted, I read this article with an extremely biased eye, but what I found myself doing as I read was questioning the health of the various “benefits” that Rowley listed. She begins her article by talking about a boy named Joshua who struggled to sit still due to a diagnosis of ADHD. Her conclusion was that because Joshua was allowed to stand up and lead a song with motions, that Joshua “was able to focus his attention on Christ, and become an active participant in worship.” Two thoughts crossed my mind. One, how does she know that he was focusing on Jesus and not the motion of his hands or the attention of his peers? Second, why can’t Joshua be an active participant in worship with his parents? If he is not an active participant in worship with his parents, then why not put our energy into helping the parents understand that worship, in all of it’s many facets, is a participatory experience.

The author further suggests that children need a different type of music in order to worship more effectively. She suggests that, “Songs in an adult worship service are chosen to be meaningful to adults, but the songs often include terms and concepts children can’t grasp.” Two thoughts on this statement. One, the music we use to worship should not be meaningful to child or adult, it should be meaningful to God the Father, Jesus Christ the Messiah, and the Holy Spirit. Second, many of the songs in adult worship often include terms and concepts that adults cannot grasp. Music, as an act of worship should also reflect our theology. Unfortunately, too many Sundays consist of singing the same songs because those are the ones we know best, not because we know the meaning, necessarily, but because we know the tune. Use this apparent ignorance as an opportunity to teach adult and child, alike. Kristen and I catechize our children. One of the questions asks, “How does God exist?” This is answered, “He exists in three persons.” This is followed with, “Who are they?” The answer, which I pray is obvious, is “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Why do I bring this up with you my reader? Because I brought it up with my children after singing the Doxology one evening before dinner. The truth I desired for them to learn through catechism was enveloped in this song that I taught them to sing. If my children are learning songs separate from me, regardless of the theological nature of bananas, how can I effectively connect the gospel truth to their learning?

Rowley says, further, that “fun elements ensure that kids will want to return.” Two thoughts on this statement. One, parents will be the ones to ensure that kids return at this age. And if all we do to attract kids to the gospel is suggest that church is all a bunch of fun and games, then when they are old enough to return on their own, they will be greatly disappointed that the clown, videos, and game stations have disappeared. Second, the gospel, taught through loving, caring relationships with positive interactions among the generations will ensure that children will want to return. They will want to return, not because they expect to be entertained at church, but because they expect to be a part of something that God has designed in His Word.

In her suggestion that children do not need to listen to sermons, Rowley states, “Parents don’t realize they’re training their kids to see church as irrelevant and Bible teaching as something to ignore.” This statement is directly tied into the idea of children coloring during the sermon. Two thoughts on this statement. One, believe it or not, children are listening, even when they are coloring. As a father, it brings great joy to my heart for my four year old daughter to look up from her coloring page and whisper, “Daddy, that’s the verse we talked about this morning.” And if she is not present to listen to the sermon, how can I say to her and my other children, “Let’s talk about what Pastor Jon said this morning.” Instead we would be left with a query of “So what did you talk about?” most likely followed by “I don’t remember,” or “Nothing.” As far as coloring, look at how many adults “color” during the sermon. Some adults doodle, while others write notes about things that need to be done. Maybe they should join the children next door. Second, Parents do much more damage teaching their children that Bible teaching is something to ignore by minimizing it to something that is only done at church. Regardless of how long the sermon at church is, parents can teach their children the importance, value, and necessity of Bible teaching by doing it regularly at home.

Rowley concludes her article by introducing an acrostic, REAL. She states that the R stands for relations, the E stands for experiential, the A stands for applicable, and the L stands for learner-based. She says that “relational activities are what church is all about – growing in relationship with Christ and with one another.” I cannot agree further! Why then does she seek to separate the children from their primary relationship with their parents, rather than reinforce the relationship? She also claims that “kids also need friendships with other Christian kids.” She is making a big assumption that the children in children’s worship, Sunday school, or youth group are Christians.  This is what I would consider a dangerous assumption as some contend for the presence of these ministries, suggesting that the youth need each other for peer support and someone to go and talk to. And what about the needs of the children who are not Christians in these ministries?

The author explains experiential by stating that “sermons are the opposite of experiential learning, which is learning by doing.” True, experiential learning and lecture-style learning are two different modes of learning. Experiential learning, however, is not limited to children. There is a movement in higher education towards more experiential learning. Think about your college or high school experience, did you ever do group work, or activities, or take field trips? These are all examples of experiential learning. I beg the question, what is learning aside from application? Next time you greet your pastor at the back door after the sermon, ask him if he expects you to do anything with what you just learned, or does he just expect to see you back in church the next week? Most of us would be hesitant to ask this question knowing that what we just heard will only be truly learned when we go and act upon the learning. Rowley claims, “A children’s church leader lets kids do things that help them understand Bible truth better than they would by simply hearing it.” Let me suggest that a parent throughout daily activities, the week, and all of life, encourages children to do things that help them understand Bible truth better than they would by simply hearing it.

While discussing the concept of applicable worship, Rowley actually addresses pastors at large. She says that the Bible needs to be relevant to children’s lives today. I suggest and defend that the Bible is relevant for all times, no matter who the audience may be. Her suggestion that sermons are written for people “with jobs, mortgages, and car payments” rather than “how Jesus feels about fights with siblings, obeying parents through chores, cheating to get good grades, and other issues,” seems to suggest that pastors are not doing their job. If a pastor does not preach the Word faithfully to all who are in attendance, then the pastor has failed, and this is no fault of the child. Just to be clear, I am in my mid-thirties, I have a job, a mortgage, and a car payment and I still need to hear how Jesus feels about my relationships with my siblings, obedience, cheating, and other issues.

Rowley concludes her article with her explanation of learner-based. Her point here is that people, including children, learn in different ways. Depending on what study you consider the numbers will vary, but it has been suggested that 75% to 85% of learners are visual learners, as opposed to auditory or kinesthetic. This means that 75% to 85% of the adults in the pews would do better to learn from a pastor who would do an interpretive dance about the passage than align three alliterated points. Have you ever considered why you take notes during a sermon?

The reality is that children’s worship does not prepare children for real life. This is the same reason we should not bribe children to eat their green beans or celebrate every time a child obeys. This is not preparation for real life. Let me ask you when was the last time you were pulled over by a police officer who said, “thank you for going the speed limit, here is a Jolly Rancher”? This doesn’t happen. Children need to learn to do certain things because it prepares them for adulthood. Could you imagine suggesting that we wait to potty train a child until they are 18 years old because the process might interfere with their “natural” instincts and shortened attention span? Even as adults, it is nice to get verbal rewards and small tokens of appreciation for things we do. The same is true for children. There is a time to reward children and tell them how proud and appreciative you are of them for how they have obeyed or what they have accomplished, but not every time.

I think Rowley makes my point when she wraps up her article by quoting Psalm 46:10 (ESV), “Be still, and know that I am God.” Adults and children alike would do well to learn how to sit and be still before God. If only we could learn to listen to God on His terms, through His Word, then we might realize that when Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14) He wasn’t ushering them out of the sanctuary to go to children’s church.

About the author

Ryan is the Founder & Director of Daddy Discipleship and the Associate Editor for The Journal of Discipleship & Family Ministry.

2 Responses to ““I Love Bananas””

  1. Rick Ragan says:

    Rev Steenburg, great web site! Good luck with your mission to spread God’s word.

  2. Tim says:

    Hi Ryan,

    Nice to find your blog. I like how you’ve responded here. I think that in terms of experiential, attending worship is itself an experience. Children will lean experientially by the medium as much as the message. By attending worship with their parents they are participating in an experience just by showing up.


    Tim Brown

Leave a Reply