It is unfortunate that my Bible trivia game opted for a memory blank in this spot: “Let the little ________ come unto me.” (One tends to insert “blankety-blanks” if one is not at one’s best and has urchins or brats in one’s mind.) The game is otherwise pretty well-constructed.
Children are important, obviously. Four years ago, I wrote a letter to the Christian Chronicle, stimulated by the previous month’s editorial about training and young boys to lead in the assembly. It was not that anything terribly unseemly had occurred in my personal experience, although I had witnessed few child exploitations in the name of getting kids involved.
My purpose in the letter (below) was to emphasize the responsibility of public leadership. I would now say things a little differently, at least adding that public leadership is in view too much on Sunday mornings. If we were a bit less official and leader-y, there would be less need for such child “training,” not to mention fewer opportunities for disagreement over a-biblical concerns.
As long as we have pulpits and microphones and pews and audiences, I suppose we do need some training, but I think there are better venues for experimentation and experience than in the full assembly. Sometimes I’ve thought a certain congregation was more interested in saying, “Awww, isn’t little Trey cute up there?” or “Mikey has a squeaky soprano voice … har, har” than in hearing the voice of God in scripture or in singing heartfully to each other or to the Lord . . . while Trey reads or Mikey sings. See what you think.
The April Chronicle’s editorial suggested in its conclusion that young people be involved in assembly leadership roles. Gifted, interested young people should indeed be encouraged in this type of work, but not at the expense of the quality of the assembly’s activities. No person should be leading publicly if he cannot really lead, unless there are no other options in the congregation.
If an individual is typically unable to connect one thought to the next, and if he struggles to pronounce words in succession, he is not a good choice for congregational readings which are, after all, designed to communicate, not merely to fulfill an obligation to mutter. The purpose is to convey the message of the Lord, not to perform or to have some reason to compliment John or little Tommy on his improvement since last time he stammered through a reading.
There may be a time and place for children to read scripture publicly, but not when we really need to hear the message of the reading. I also recommend reserving the lengthier passages for the more experienced, fluent readers. The assembly should engage us with deeper things than the adorable 8‑year-old all dressed up with that cute little necktie on.
Yes, our congregations are Christian families, and we can surely provide some avenues for our little boys to practice leading in these ways (at home, at least!). But simply because our model—not a biblical model—presumes that all immersed men should be public leaders in the assembly does not mean we need to move little boys into significant assembly roles before they are mature enough to do so effectively.
I find more flagrant issues with inept, apathetic adult readers than with child readers. If I’ve heard scripture read 3,000 times in Sunday assemblies, it’s probably been purposeful reading on maybe 100 of those 3,000 occasions. 3% is not good enough, and it is the adults who are wholly to blame.
What we ought, then, to emphasize is effective leadership — whether with training of young men, or with the redirection of older men into other areas of service if they are not cut out to be public leaders.
Let the little children lead songs or read scripture from the mic? Maybe, with some limits. But letting non-leader adults lead from the microphone? If they don’t do that sort of thing well, I don’t see the point, and it’s not cute anymore.