The beautiful chaos of kids at church

Third Way Family

February 27, 2019 | Opinion | Volume 23 Issue 5
Christina Bartel Barkman | Columnist
Church can be a beautiful way to be still and meet with the Lord, but it can also be a place where kids are fighting, stealing way too many cookies and running laps through the sanctuary, Christina Bartel Barkman writes. (Courtesy of Pixabay)

As a mother of four little ones, I find church can be pretty chaotic. For six years while living in Manila, our Filipino church gathered in our home while my kids played around the family room. I usually cooked dinner for everyone, ensured the kids were being fed, and then later I’d put all the kids to bed while the house was still full of the laughter and liveliness of our Filipino church family.

It was a work day for me and rarely a time of rest to meet in God’s presence. But despite the chaos of the day, I loved watching our church family care for, laugh with and read books to our kids, and I felt God’s presence in this immensely. I would not have traded those community gatherings for anything.

While the format of church has changed a lot for me since our move back to British Columbia, it still involves a lot of work, and yet I still wouldn’t want it any other way.

My husband is the pastor, so each Sunday I get all four of my kiddos ready and bring them to church on my own. I’ve relaunched the Sunday school program and sometimes I’m teaching while watching my active one-year-old.

Monitoring the activities and needs of four kids can get tricky, like the time my four- and six-year-olds were Mary and Joseph for the Christmas Eve concert—not my plan—and I watched in helpless horror from the upstairs nursery as my little girl kept moving the manger farther and farther away from her brother, nearly tossing it off the stage! Later, Mary ran away with the shepherds, and there were tremors of giggling all over the sanctuary while Joseph, the now-single dad, sat there lonely, making silly faces! 

While there are times I wish I could leave the chaos of my kiddos at home and actually listen to my husband’s sermon, church is a beautiful time to create community, and I welcome the loving helpful hands of the many people who welcome our family. The first time we came to our church, while still candidating, my littlest one, seven months at the time, fell asleep in the arms of a loving grandma and she happily carried him around for the rest of the evening. That simple act of love made me feel so welcome and at home. 

Church can be a beautiful way to be still and meet with the Lord. It can be a place to rest your weary soul, hear God speak to you and praise his name in song. But it can also be a place where kids are fighting over the baby Jesus, stealing way too many cookies, and running laps through the sanctuary while waiting for Pastor Dad to finish up his Sunday rhythm.

For me, church may not be a place of calm to meet with the Lord but it’s a place where we feel at home, where we feel loved and cared for, and where we see God in all the chaos. It is a beautiful picture of the community God calls us to. And whether God speaks to us in the peace of a moving song or the smiles of a wiggly one-year-old lighting up the faces of the pews behind him, God is there in it all and we welcome him into each chaotic and love-filled moment. 

Christina, with her four little ones and her pastor husband, seeks to live out Jesus’ creative and loving “third way” options.

Read more Third Way Family columns by Christina Bartel Barkman:
The love it held
A 'village' in our home

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