My husband and I love God so very much and have always wanted our children to experience His grace and love and to have a relationship with God, and we have brought our children to church since they were little babies. Even when our children were babies we have liked to keep them with us during church, and to take care of them ourselves if they started to get upset or loud during the service, rather than using church nurseries. Churches which encourage parents and children to be together and worship together, even as babies, during the church service, rather than sending them to a separate class or off to the nursery, have come to be known as “family integrated churches.” I’m not sure if it had a name back then when our daughter was little or not, but we just really wanted to keep her with us. The idea of worshiping together is so lovely!
Because of wanting to have our children in the church service with us and wanting to worship together with them, we have always sought out churches where our children would be welcomed in the church service, without having to be totally still and quiet. We found it harder than one might think to find such churches. Also, we have always wanted any church we joined to be a conservative church that takes the Bible very seriously, and to be pro-Calvinistic, and until about five years ago, it was also important to us to join a church which believed in waiting to baptize people until they professed faith in and a desire to follow Jesus Christ (rather than a church which baptizes infants).
With the criteria we had we always seemed to be drawn toward churches which were very strict towards children. The churches loved children so much and the families had many, many children. The especially hard thing was, though, the parents were punitive, loving, yes, but very punitive.
The church we attended for a while when our first daughter was little had many large families. The women wore longish dresses and skirts. They enjoyed the teachings of Michael Pearl and Gary Ezzo. The first time we visited that church, many of the mothers were in the lounge part of the women’s restroom, an area with a couches and chairs and a carpet, and many had their little children with them. The mothers were chatting among themselves, and it was very pleasant and reassuring to see so many mothers who also took motherhood so seriously and loved taking care of their own little ones at church. I was surprised when they started talking about what type of rod they used to spank their children. I felt sad after hearing them talking about that since I didn’t believe that children should be spanked, but even so, we ended up going to that church for quite awhile. And there were a lot of kind people there. Many of the mothers had midwives which attended their births, and a lot of them had homebirths, things which I could relate to since I loved those things and around the time we were attending there I had my first midwife-assisted homebirth. Also, many homeschooled, and my husband and I planned on homeschooling our children as well. So in many ways it was a good fit! But in some ways it wasn’t. When we left that church I wanted our next church to not be pro-Ezzo, and that prayer was answered.
The church we had been attending was about 45 minutes from home, which we thought was a pretty long drive. When we heard that a new church that welcomed children in the church service, and one that was Reformed and Baptist, was starting in a nearby city, we were thrilled and checked it out the very first Sunday they met. We really liked it, and continued to go there for eight years, until finally God led both my husband and I to decide it was time to leave.
The first Sunday we went there I was so excited when I talked with the pastor’s wife and found out we agreed on some things regarding breastfeeding and caring for little babies. When she told me she had concerns about a Christian author–a man named Gary Ezzo!–I thought that was a very good sign. And it was a good sign, and there were a lot of good things about that church. Yet again we had found a very punitive church.
Sometimes I wonder how we could have attended there for so long, since it was so punitive, but I think that somehow it was where God wanted us at that time. At the least I believe that He can build good things out of those experiences, and so many experiences there I am glad I had. The pastor’s wife is such a kind person, and I met a dear friend there, and truly so much about that church was a good fit for us for a long while. But there were some experiences which were hard on my husband and me, and some which were hard on our children, especially on our older two children.
I don’t want to bash that church at all; we clearly have some differences in the way we interpret the Bible, one thing being that they felt that pain is really important. The pastor told me shortly before we left that I needed to have a theology of pain, and I disagreed with him deeply on that issue. The parents that I knew, though, and some I still know, are such loving parents. But part of the reason I am sharing this is in case there might be someone reading this who is attending a very punitive church. I would like to encourage you to remember that what your children see and hear at church does truly affect your children, and it helps shape who they become as they grow older. I’ll show you an example of this by sharing below something that I wrote almost two years ago.
I feel so sad! We used to attend a very punitive church, a place where the pastor’s wife assured me that the Pearls’ book would never be placed on the church’s book table due to theological reasons, but she seemed to think the methods they taught were okay. They loved [the book] Shepherding a Child’s Heart and the church was slowly was being more influenced by Vision Forum.
Anyway, one reason we left that church is because so many children would get spankings during the service (it was a family integrated church, and they seemed to think that spanking was the prime way of teaching a child to sit quietly and still through the service). It was overwhelming to me….
and apparently ever more overwhelming to my older daughter (who is now 15).
Today she told me about a time back when she was nine or so (so this is about 6 years later!). She told me that she remembers a family where one of their children, probably about three or so, would sit through the service on a parent’s lap. Then after the service, she noticed that the parents would take their child outside to the side of the building and spank their child in rapid succession for about two minutes. She didn’t see them do it each time, but once she heard the noise and apparently peeked to see what was going on. And so each time she would hear that she knew what was happening.
And what is especially breaking my heart right now is that she admitted to me today with a quietly emotional and broken voice that she has a hard time hearing clapping because the sound of clapping reminds her of that.
So six years later, she still has a hard time hearing clapping. I am so angry that people do that in church, of all places, where children should be shown the most grace. Jesus never treated children like that, never, ever. I’m not posting this as a judgment on the parents, but rather I feel upset that there is such a church culture that leads parents to think that doing that is good and right. And I feel so sad that my daughter was exposed to that. I can only hope and trust that God will bring beauty out of ashes, and that He has a wonderful plan for my precious daughter. She has such a tender and beautiful heart.
The second reason I’m sharing this is to give you hope if you have attended a church like this and fear your children have been hurt by seeing such things. We haven’t experienced this at the church we are now members of, in part because they have a nursery for little ones, and in part because this church (which baptizes babies, by the way) doesn’t have such a punitive culture. I am happy to tell you and I praise God that my daughter, now almost 17, has grown to be okay with hearing clapping. There can be healing by God’s grace.
I would encourage you to please be careful of what you allow your children to be exposed to at church. It may be God wants you where you are at, He may have you there for a reason. He may want you to be an example. He may want you to speak up. He may want you to leave. Whatever it may be, I urge you to listen to His voice.