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When not having a nursery becomes a confessional issue…

When not having a nursery becomes a confessional issue…

And it came about that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them questions. (Luke 2:46)

Most churches have a cry room for mothers with noisy or hungry infants, and with modern sound systems and wifi, those mothers usually are able to hear the worship and preaching.

Our family attended a small church recently where the sanctuary was a little larger than a living room. When our granddaughter began to cry, we took her out into the entryway where we couldn’t hear the sermon, but it wasn’t long before the sound man brought a small radio out, plugged it in, and tuned it to the worship service. It was thoughtful of him.

Sometimes nursing and childcare are done in the entryway or foyer of the sanctuary. Other times there’s a room reserved for women and children at the back of the sanctuary. At Clearnote Church, we have both a women-and-children-only room for nursing at the back of the sanctuary and a large foyer where fathers and mothers tend to their toddlers. Speakers broadcast the service in both places, so although mothers and fathers dealing with hungry, restless, or naughty children aren’t able to give their full attention to worship, if they want, they are able to hear it.

At Clearnote we also have a third option—a nursery. Staffed by mothers and older women of our church, moms and dads are thankful for the help of these women1 which allows them to return to the sanctuary and give their undivided attention to worship. We don’t pressure or ask anyone to use the nursery. No one disapproves of infants and toddlers in the sanctuary. We always have enough children in worship to remind everyone that God has ordained praise from the mouths of babes and sucklings.

There are times, though, when infants and children have to be taken out of the sanctuary. Sometimes they throw up. Sometimes they’re hungry. Sometimes they need discipline. Sometimes they need to walk around a little bit. Other times they just need a hushed place to nap.

In our church during any particular worship service, you’d find a few mothers nursing their infants in the nursing room, some mothers and fathers in the foyer with their toddlers, and a gaggle of infants and toddlers being cared for in the nursery by several mothers and older women of the church.

It’s quite kind of these mothers and grandmothers, actually. The children aren’t theirs, but from their love for their brothers and sisters in Christ, they cuddle and diaper and hold and soothe and burp and bounce and tickle and read to little ones while the little one’s mother gives her undivided attention to the work of worship. There are infants and toddlers there in the nursery, out in the foyer, back in the nursing room, as well as in the sanctuary each week and it’s entirely up to the mothers and fathers which place they and their little ones will be. Again, no one suggests the cry room or foyer or nursery to mothers of little ones in the sanctuary. We just provide everything we can to help parents make their own choices.

Sadly, over the course of the past couple decades, a growing number of mothers have begun to tsk-tsk one of those choices—the nursery—so that today many churches no longer provide a nursery. Some mothers’ refusal to allow any other woman to hold or comfort her infant has grown so intense that they have convinced their husband it’s a confessional issue and they’ve created a mini-denomination. This group refers to themselves with various names, but mostly they are known as “family-centered churches” and the most noticeable thing about them is their dogmatic commitment to condemning the sharing of childcare during worship.

Walk into their churches and what you’ll notice is a bunch of mothers all missing or distracted in worship because they’re each doing alone with one infant or toddler what one or two of them could have done for all of them.

“We believe in family-centered church,” they say. And if you ask them what “family-centered” means, they’re off and running with their criticisms of youth groups and Awana clubs and sleepovers and lockins and public education and nurseries. Especially church nurseries. Listen to them long enough and you’ll become horrified that any church has TItus 2 grandmothers sitting in a rocking chair during worship reading Pat the Bunny to a little one whose mother is with her husband and older children listening attentively to the preaching of God’s Word.

If we’re honest, we’ll admit there are many today who are not concerned about the right preaching of God’s Word and the right administration of His sacraments as much as they are concerned about their wife being free to leave worship and claim it as a theological principle

But have you seen what I’ve observed through the years? Often the departure of parents from the sanctuary is really a sophisticated method of refusing to sit under the proclamation of God’s Word? Having the infant or toddler in the cry room is, for many mothers (and yes, for many fathers in the foyer) a way of avoiding being convicted of sin, righteousness, and judgment. You know, it’s quite possible to nurse in worship; my dear Mary Lee did it unobtrusively.

People refuse to go to any church that is not “family-centered,” but the churches they choose aren’t actually family-centered. They’re “mother-centered.” The mother never lets her children out of her sight. The mother doesn’t want any sister or brother in Christ teaching or rebuking or disciplining or changing her precious children. She’ll do it herself, thank you very much. And her husband will explain it’s a doctrinal matter to any elders who haven’t yet been initiated into the sacred rite of radical familial autonomy.

We used to call it clannish and it wasn’t a good thing.

Has anyone ever wondered what on earth was wrong with Blessed Mary that she allowed Jesus to be off at church with the pastors and elders talking about Scripture while she and Joseph were two days out on the road, headed home? She needed a helicopter mom to explain family-centered schooling and churching to her. And if you read Jesus’ rebuke of her when she got back to Jerusalem and found Him in the Temple, it’s obvious Joseph hadn’t instilled the proper fear of His mother in the boy.

I’m not joking, so don’t be offended. I’m using sarcasm to make an important point many would refuse to see without the steel edge of my writing.

Godly women share the labor of their mothering with their daughters and mothers and sisters and neighbors and schoolteachers and pastors and elders. John Calvin taught the children and Reformed pastors have always, always taught the children. Stop and think about it: Mary and Joseph trusted Jesus to be with his friends and their families because it took a couple days to realize He wasn’t on the road home!

There’s no reason multiple infants can’t be cared for by one person. Concerning worship, we’re not talking daycare, here. We’re talking half an hour.

The good thing about a nursery is that some women get to sit under the Word who wouldn’t, otherwise. But sadly, the rigid definition of “family-centered worship” or “family-centered churches” means noisy infants (and I’m not talking about cooing) drive their mothers out of the sanctuary one by one when there’s absolutely no need for it.

One mother from a family-centered church expressed her exasperation over the refusal of her church to allow one mother to care for multiple infants. She lamented over all the mothers being together out in the foyer, each doing what one or two of them could easily have done for them all.

This is not even to address the issue of visitors/unbelievers. If they desired it, would you not want them to have the ability to have an older Titus 2 woman care for their crying infant so the mother could give her undivided attention to the preaching of the Gospel?

Sure, I’m sympathetic to children in worship, to families sitting together, to our hundreds of children being fully integrated into our church life at every level.

For years now, our Clearnote congregation has had between twelve and twenty (once) women pregnant at any given time. Our nursery with godly mothers helping mothers has been an integral part of our multifaceted approach to the families of our church. Trust me when I say we are truly a family-centered church. Or, as our own mothers prefer to put it, they and their husbands are church-centered families.

There are always infants in worship. Always infants in the nursing/cry room. Always in the foyer, too. This should not be something that churches are rigid about.

Where Scripture is silent, we should be, too.

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1. In our particular case, these women are able to attend the first or second service opposite the service they are in the nursery. But even in cases where there is only one service, women trading off week by week would give young mothers the freedom to attend worship.

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About The Author

Tim Bayly

Tim Bayly has been senior pastor of Clearnote Church, Bloomington since 1996. Married to Mary Lee, the Baylys have five children and twenty-something grandchildren. Tim's book on fatherhood is titled "Daddy Tried" and he is co-author of a book on homosexuality titled "The Grace of Shame.’

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