Thinking Out Loud

September 1, 2011

Are Crying Babies and Noisy Kids in Church from The Devil?

When I was a kid, church platforms never looked like these

In the church where I spent my early teens, I clearly remember the pastor once saying that “the devil” will use a crying baby to distract you from hearing the message. Yes, this is true. He really said that. Hey Mom, your toddler’s fussing is Satanic.

So I was intrigued when Christianity Today took on the subject yesterday, Should Churches Try to Minimize Disruptions?

The timing on this was also interesting as we just finished listening to a sermon from Mars Hill Grand Rapids that was recorded on the 4th of July when the children were all part of the main service.You could hear the occasional crying, and the pastor actually celebrated this by inviting the kids on the platform as part of an excellent illustration.

The link above takes you to the article with the comments all displayed. If you want to see a news story about the child removed from Elevation Church, here is a local news report, which I found in this excellent piece by Skye Jethani. (I should add that I’m a fan of Steven Furtick, I’m reporting a single issue here, not trying to tear down someone’s ministry.) This blog covered the Perry Noble situation in July.

If you go to a small-town church, you may not get the need for this discussion. On the other hand, in some mega-churches the services are ‘produced’ like any Broadway show, with state of the art sound and lighting; and the idea of everyone not being 110% focused on what is happening on the stage platform is unthinkable. I do like the way Andy Stanley handles this though: He chooses to sell the parents on the quality of their children’s ministry rather than make the same kind of proclamation as Perry Noble. (In a recent message on sexuality, they were firm about the subject matter not being appropriate for younger kids; but in so doing, were admitting that the kids do show up in ‘big church’ at other times.)

Once again, here’s the CT story link with comments.

Have we all gotten too professional about weekend worship events?  Is the Church responding sufficiently to the increasing percentage of special needs kids in the general population?

I had forgotten that closer to the time of the Elevation Church incident, we did a blog repost here from Rachel Held Evans.  Check out It’s Hip to Be Un-Hip.


UPDATE: (Sept 3rd) — Turns out Pete Wilson covered this topic the same day as I.  Be sure to read the 70+ comments.

PHOTOS: Click the images themselves to link to Church Stage Design Ideas.


  1. Good grief, what have we come to? I cannot believe that the means justify the end result in this case. I can think of many many other things that Elevation church and other churches could’ve done that would’ve been a positive, rather than risking personal hurt to someone who was visiting.

    Didn’t the disciples try to shoo away the kids in order to produce a “distraction-free” worship environment? Weren’t they checked from doing so by Christ?

    In any church of a few hundred or more (including the one I’m a worship pastor at), this can, does, and will happen. Simply put, there is a right way and a wrong way to handle situations. I know there are 2 sides of every story, and I got that feeling when I watched the linked video. However, the good of the professional presentation/stuff going on stage should *never* become such an idol that we risk neglecting or even hurting those that we as pastors are blessed to serve with and lead.

    There are well known evangelical pastors who have justified divorce by saying that it was “getting in the way of their ministry” (or some close paraphrase). Are we really that essential and important to the Gospel spreading that we neglect *people*? Especially our friends and our family?

    Elevation’s quote was bogus. The quote where they said they focus on worship, not ministry. How do we expect to reach people and love people without ministering to them? How can we as leaders lead them to the throne in worship without first reaching out to them, their needs, and their families through organized ministries?

    I sure hope that mom finds away to minister to those on her heart. Wish my church was closer – I’d reach out personally!

    I won’t even get started on the Perry Noble article :)

    Comment by Harvey Earls — September 1, 2011 @ 9:32 am

    • Yes, there seems to be a direct scriptural precedent on this one; but I keep half-expecting someone to say something like, “Well, actually, in the Greek, what this really means is…”

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — September 1, 2011 @ 9:41 am

      • Isn’t that the truth? It’s like a game of chess. I think i know a great move, but inevitably, someone who knows more than me smashes my little tactic. Simple things rarely are simple, and that includes theology. It was a great read regardless, and I look forward to reading more! Adding you to my fledgling blogroll!

        Comment by Harvey Earls — September 1, 2011 @ 10:11 am

  2. I remember commenting on the Perry Noble article, mentioning that I supported keeping distractions at a minimum. But since then, and especially in light of the incident you have highlighted and the excellent article you linked to from Christianity Today, I am beginning to see that I too have been swayed by a westernized expectation for Sunday worship. This quote from one of your linked pieces was very convicting for me “When I come freely to worship the Living God and gather with his people whom he describes as the foolish, weak, and despised in the world (1 Cor 1:26-28)–I do not expect a distraction free environment”. There is of course a common sense limit as I remember my father bravely trying to preach over the wails of a toddler until he would have to say “Could I ask that you please take your child to the nursery”. But as I think over even my own churches rule, I am beginning to think that we are meant to worship as a mass of mixed humanity.

    Comment by Cynthia — September 2, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

    • I really appreciate that your willingness to re-examine your position. That’s probably more significant than any positions we eventually arrive at. It’s also in keeping with my belief that we should “write our convictions down in pencil, not pen.” At least, this kind of convictions.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — September 2, 2011 @ 4:15 pm

  3. My sister Michelle was a wheelchair user. A number of years ago, we attended a service held in a church building that was over 100 years ago, and the present ministry doesn’t have the funding to make it fully wheelchair accessible. The public washrooms are located in the inaccessible lower half of the building. The only available washroom is in the lobby, which is three steps up from the church sanctuary. The church has a portable ramp for lobby access.

    On one occasion Michelle had a desparate need for the washroom and we left the sanctuary (with the aid of the ramp) as quickly and quietly as we could. When we returned from the washroom we were told that Michelle couldn’t go back into the sanctuary as she was a distraction and we’d have to wait until the end of the service. We couldn’t even leave the church as the only accessible exit was through the sanctuary. They wouldn’t even allow us to keep the sanctuary doors open so that we could be a part of the service.. Needless to say, we were extremely upset. We brought this matter to the attention of the pastors and they apparently made some changes. I don’t know that for sure, as we stopped attending due to Michelle’s extenuating health needs. It’s a great church, so I really hope those changes have been made.

    Comment by Dot McFarlane — September 13, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

    • Thanks for sharing a rather distressing story. All I could think of was the guys who brought their friend to meet Jesus and cut a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus was speaking. I would have started some renovations right then and there!

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — September 13, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

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