The responsibility of raising a family for the Lord is, perhaps, one of the most challenging tasks which any believing couple can undertake. It is a task which demands total commitment coupled with prayer, love, devotion, patience, compassion, understanding and wisdom, all day, every day. Some tasks are less straightforward than others and there are often sacrifices to be made regarding time, money, and other legitimate commitments.
One essential matter that calls for particular attention is the spiritual welfare of the children. The constant prayer of parents and others is for the children to be saved early in life and to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus, 2 Pet. 3. 18. In addition, there is the spiritual input at home, coupled with attendance at Sunday school, Bible class, or children’s meetings where they are available, or maybe Postal Bible School lessons where they are not.
All such actions are applauded by fellow believers who fully support such activities, but there is one matter which can prove to be difficult. This is the subject of taking children to meetings where all the assembly is gathered and, in considering this, we need to look at the practical implications. With some assemblies now small in numbers and only one or two families with young children, the situation can be more prominent.
Picture a family in assembly fellowship with two small children. On Lord’s Day morning the mother is busy. With her husband, she has prepared and served breakfast and the children are ready. She has shepherded them into their coats, and they have set off for the meeting. Despite parental efforts at home, and quite early into the meeting, one, or both, of the children need to visit the toilet. In taking the child out a chair is knocked over and items fall to the floor with a clatter. Heads turn, grim faces look on disapprovingly. Whilst things settle a little upon their return, it does not seem long before there is a noisy protest from the other child. Heads turn again and grim faces look on even more disapprovingly.
As the meeting continues, maintaining the quiet patience of the children becomes harder. Ultimately, it seems that one of the parents has to take a child out of the meeting. Invariably, they do not go quietly. The once disapproving faces now to turn to scowls. At the end of the meeting, it is clear from facial expressions as well as terse comments that many in the fellowship were ‘not impressed’ and that some ‘did not enjoy the meeting because they found it difficult to concentrate’. Considering the effort that both father and mother have put in to get their children to the meeting, they feel upset, almost guilty for taking their children, none more so than the mother who has tried to look after the children to enable her husband to contribute to the gathering and, consequently, has struggled with her own inaudible involvement in the meeting.
Although we might be accused of focusing upon the negative reactions and feedback, this illustration will be sadly familiar to some, and for a young mother to go home after the Lord’s Supper upset and unhappy is wrong. As believers, do we show Christ-like grace and understanding in situations that do not go well? Are we careful not to praise some and, by implication, criticise others? Are we sensitive to the stress levels of parents after a trying experience with their children? How do we approach the matter of an unsettled child? Do we express our impatience in observing parents trying to calm a child? In seeing a child taken out of the meeting, do we see it as a punishment?
The scenario above is also based upon a family unit with a measure of spiritual maturity where partners have worked in harmony. For various reasons, some companies may have single parents, perhaps not long saved, those who were never given a good example from their own parents in how to nurture a child. Can they be expected to have everything perfectly in order? They will need love and support and we might mention the value of a sister who will take a child on their lap for a few minutes to allow a worn-out mother to benefit from a few precious moments in the Lord’s presence. What practical arrangements can be put in place to make it easier for parents to withdraw and calm children or feed a baby for a few moments when necessary?
These are important issues. Whilst believers should be sympathetic and patient, sadly there are those who are critical and who give the impression to stressed parents that they are an authority on dealing with such problems. Children are different in temperament. They are human beings and not robots and react differently to events. They also vary in how well they can sit and keep quiet. By prayer, positive effort, and the support of the saints, all should endeavour to take their children to meetings.
We have all been children and the Lord Himself was once a child. What is His view of children and the challenge of raising them? We have only to turn to the account of children being brought to the Lord to observe that three out of the four Gospels record this occasion.1
Matthew’s account tells us that they were ‘little children’, so that their parents brought them. He adds that they wanted Him to put His hands on them. Was this that He might bless them or were they sick? In all three accounts, the disciples try to send them away, for which the Lord rebukes them. He had time for the children, and they were not held at arm’s length. He took them up in His arms and blessed them individually. It did not matter what they looked like, what homes they came from, or any of their faults. He displayed a compassion so graciously to those whom the disciples saw as of little value.
In Mark chapter 10, the reaction of the Lord to the disciples who had rebuked the parents who brought the children is particularly heart searching, for we read that, ‘he was much displeased’, v. 14. It is evident that the negative, ungracious conduct of the disciples distressed Him. Thus, He presents an invitation to all children and emphasizes His love for them. It is to be noted that on His way to Calvary to be the supreme sacrifice for the sin of mankind, the Lord takes up children in His arms and blesses them. What a precious scene!
The greatest lover of children is Christ and the word ‘whosoever’ applies equally to them as any adult. In Mark chapter 10 verse 15, the Lord says, ‘Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein’. The Lord used a child to illustrate the simplicity of faith, a subject we often visit in the gospel. If the Lord attaches such importance to both the spiritual and physical welfare of children, why does the subject receive so little attention by us?
Turning to the Old Testament, we will also see that it has much to say about children. We are told that ‘children are an heritage of the Lord’, Ps. 127. 3. Jacob acknowledged to Esau that those with him were ‘the children which God hath graciously given thy servant’, Gen. 33. 5. There is also the beautiful example of a spiritually devoted Hannah in 1 Samuel. Here is one who prayed for a son that he might be a man for God in Israel, 1. 10, 11. When she had given birth, she weaned him and brought him to the house of God, willingly giving him to the Lord for the rest of his life. She had a rich appreciation of what a child can be for God.
In the light of Old and New Testament teaching about the value of children to God, we should nurture the practice of taking children to meetings. The spiritual welfare of children is so vital. Many of them will be growing up through an education system and in a world marked by bullying, both physical and verbal, violence, drugs, sexual misconduct, materialism, paganism, and media-driven ungodliness. They will mix with children who have suffered abuse both mentally and physically. They will be taught evolution theory as fact in an environment where the basic truths of scripture are unwelcome and regularly subject to challenge. The world is racing onwards to judgement and our children need a God-given haven, a place focused upon spiritual realities. The local assembly is that place and our children should feel wanted, loved, and welcomed there. May we never hinder the spiritual welfare of believers’ children by a cold and critical manner, even because of any difficulties experienced by taking children to meetings. There is a need for every believer to be at the throne of grace daily concerning the children of believers, as well as children in general. May we be encouraged to seek their eternal good.
We hope that these little ones, raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, will take their place in the not-so-distant future of assembly testimony, so these are important matters and the next generation may be at stake. It would be incredibly sad if coming to the assembly gatherings became a burden, rather than a joy and source of encouragement, as parents try to press on through the challenges of another busy week. This article asks for compassion for the children’s sake.