Forbid them not

Forbid them not

Children are a gift from God and they contribute so much to our lives. So why are our colleges and seminaries such child-free zones?

In keeping children away from the business end of theological education, we create an un-natural feeling in our colleges, make a true family atmosphere un-attainable and manufacture one more divorce from real life for our students. What are the main reasons for this?

The first is historical. Theological education today comes out of a long history of training “the men” for the ministry – and sometimes putting on occasional classes for “their wives” when they are not busy with the children. The Bible college movement broke this mould, following the Faith Missions of the 19th century which they served, and trained men and women equally, but they did not greatly consider the children, who often were sent away to school to give space for service.

The second is attitudinal. I can only quote the great theologian Abelard on sending his new-born child via Heloise, away to his sister “Who intent upon sacred and philosophical reflection could endure the squalling … and constant dirt of little children?” It is one or the other and he knows which he will choose.

The third is hermeneutical. We have so emphasised the “come apart for a while” sayings of Jesus that we have forgotten that, while he was teaching his disciples, he set a little child in their midst, and another time, when the disciples thought along the lines of Abelard, he rebuked them and invited the children to come to him.

No-one can deny that the thoughtless presence of children can harm the concentration required for theological education, but are there areas in which their presence gives more than it takes?

Worship times would be such occasions when the presence of children would be a lovely thing. Meal times would be much more fun, so also the coffee breaks. The residential areas of the campus would benefit from children and so we should build married flats – and run a creche. I have even experimented with prams in the lecture room, with some success, so we can give opportunity to their mothers to be in on the teaching. OK, they take their little one out if he starts to “squall” to use Abelard’s term, and rightly so. That happens also in sermons in church now and then. Children should never of course, enter the library with all the frowning notices requiring “silence”. But why not a children’s section as they have in municipal libraries? It’s just that we haven’t thought through much of this concept until now.

If we are teaching students to be missional, we should remember why Jesus told the disciples to “forbid them not”. It was “for such is the kingdom of heaven”. And if we are into teaching and learning we might just learn something from them.

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2 Comments on “Forbid them not”

  1. Drew Gibson Says:

    My mind goes back twenty years or so when my daughters were young and used to come to work with daddy at the college where you and I used to teach. They, and their friends, loved it there and the teaching and admin staff welcomed them with open arms. It was a really great atmosphere. There was a creche and a strong family atmosphere that was richly rewarding.

    In my current college, we have occasionally welcomed a number of children, some of students who were single mums but also children of married male students who, now and again, found no other option and, once or twice, children of more than one staff member.

    ‘Family Friendly Theological Colleges’ – a great idea.

  2. KiwiAllan Says:

    Was it watching kids that led you to this, Graham? Your focus warms the cockles of the heart of one whose doctoral research was on intergenerational processes in Christian faith communities. How can we expect pastors and church workers to live and breath intergenerationalism in their churches if there is no modelling in their training?


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