I am not a “stick-in-the-mud” when it comes to technology. In fact, I’m about as “techie oriented” as they come. I am open to incorporating technology in our worship assemblies in whatever ways are expedient. So I’m not just a guy who has an ax to grind because I don’t like change.
It’s not the technology I don’t like, nor its use in our assemblies; rather, it’s the way in which I sometimes see it being used. When I see “little heads” huddled together playing and watching a game on a tablet; when I see a child sitting, engrossed in a video game, oblivious to the fact that his/her parents have stood to pray or sing; when I see young people “zoned out” to all that is going on around them because their attention is totally captured by a screen, I am concerned we are unwittingly teaching our children lessons we don’t want them to learn. Such as:
Worship services are just for grown-ups. The prayers, the reverence, the songs, the sermons, the word of God — they’re all just for grown-ups. But this is a tragic mistake in thinking that has tragic consequences. Do we treat other disciplines in the same way? If it were permitted, would we allow our children who are captivated by their tablets on Sunday morning during church services to be captivated by their tablets on Monday during school? Of course not! Math, Science, and Reading are all important to the development of our children, so we would demand they put their games away and pay attention. How much more important are the spiritual disciplines that will last beyond this life? If we would forbid “screen time” in school, but allow it in church, are we not unwittingly teaching our children that school (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic) are more important than (Prayer, Praise, and the Word of God)?
I am aware that some concepts are beyond the ability of young children to comprehend, but I’m also aware that they are able to comprehend much more than the expectations we have for them. I’ve preached for more than three decades, and my first-hand experience from standing at the door and being handing drawings, notes, outlines, and questions from children are proof that they comprehend much more than that for which we give them credit.
Jesus once, with indignation, rebuked his disciples for not letting the little children come to him (Mark 10:13-14). Could the Lord’s ancient rebuke apply to us today when we give our children tablets and tell them to play when they could be “coming to” Jesus?
God has no expectations for children. This thinking too, is wrong. Read Psalm 148:1-14. Notice the expectations of praise. Everything is to praise the Lord. From the heavenly bodies, to the creatures of the earth; from angels and kings to young men, maidens, and don’t miss it, children. They are all expected to praise the Lord. Again, while there are limitations to their comprehension, the level to which they do comprehend should be developed and encouraged, not buried by a screen distracting them.
Parents, while your children may be limited because of their age and maturity, they may not be able to absorb as many concrete lessons from worship that you are able to absorb. However, don’t undervalue the abstract lessons they will miss when their attention is absorbed in a screen. How do you measure the value of a child seeing his father and mother bow their heads in humility before God and pray? How do you measure the importance of seeing a mother and father following along in their Bibles, and taking notes of the sermon? How do you measure the value of watching and hearing a mother and father sing praises to God? Some day, unless distracted and captivated by a screen, children, when they are much older, and their parents are gone, will cling to these memories as a source of strength, hope, and joy.
I know we want the very best for our children, but don’t deny the VERY BEST from our children by stunting their spiritual development through a screen. There is a time for every purpose under heaven, and that includes a time to play, and a time to learn.
- I am not opposed to the use of tablets and phones in church. Use them to learn and teach your children the word of God. I’m not concerned about the “medium” but the content. I’m just as happy for one to be a “man of the Nook” as I am for him to be a “man of the Book.” Let your children use tablets during church. Have them find and follow along using a Bible app. Let them take sermon notes on it, etc.
- Someone might say, “It figures that an article like this would come from a man who knows nothing about how hard it is to keep little children from being a disruption.” Well, you’re right. I know nothing experientially about how difficult it is to keep children from becoming a disruption in the assembly. Even though I have four children, because I am the preacher, I never had the opportunity (privilege) to sit with them in church. My wife had to handle that responsibility all by herself. But she did, and she did so exceptionally well! I plan on following up this article, with positive suggestions that may be of help to parents who are “wrestling” with young children during worship. But, this article wasn’t directed toward parents of children who are still young enough to be disrupting the worship service by outbursts. It was intended to address the needs of children who are older.