This article tells the story of a special needs boy who was removed from the Easter Service at Elevation Church for being too loud. Elevation is the church where Steven Furtick is the pastor. Furtick is known for planting Elevation and writing Sun Stand Still: What Happens When You Dare to Ask God for the Impossible.
In this article, we are not given the details of what the distraction consisted of or of where the family was escorted to to "watch" the service.
The approach that Skye Jethani, the author of the article, used in a church plant he was participating in appears to be a good approach.
When this boy [a special needs boy in their church] was in attendance a worship leader would often let the congregation know at the beginning our time together. And he’d inform visitors that, "If he makes any loud noises during our time, rather than allowing it to frustrate you, use it as an opportunity. His presence with us, and the noises, remind us that we are all welcomed by God no matter who we are."In saying that is a better approach, I must be careful because I do not know all of the details of what went down at Elevation on Easter Sunday. Elevation could have done the right thing. Without being there, we don't know how much of a distraction the boy was being. Jethani talks about the conflict of "entertainment versus hospitality." But what would it look like if the people with the distracting child were focused on hospitatlity to their neighbors rather than their own entertainment? Would they allow their child to be a distraction? Or are all distractions just supposed to be accepted by the gathering as the life of the church?
The family with the special needs child obviously wanted to stay, worship, and hear a message from Pastor Furtick. In attempting to do so, they were causing those around them to not worship as they intended, nor to hear the message. Maybe people shouldn't have an expectation of worshiping God through song and hearing a message from the Bible when they gather together. Maybe they should just go with the flow.
Most of us can relate to children. Most of us with children can relate to having an uncontrollable child. Most "hospitable" parents would take their kid who is crying uncontrollably into another room to calm them down. Jethani seems to make the case that a person should not desire to have a distraction-free worship experience, as if having a distraction-free worship time is an unholy desire. Is it? What if that is one of the purposes of the gathering? Is that an evil purpose? Is it wrong to for a church to provide people with that experience?Should a church not provide a gathering time where the people are there to encounter God through worship through music? Is providing that wrong?
Not attacking the family because I don't know the situation, but Elevation might not be the evil culprit that Jethani makes them out to be. In our church, we do not currently have a nursery. Unfortunately, we have had friends who have not come back to our gathering because of that. I struggle with whether it is better to have a nursery (we did it for a few months but have since stopped) to allow the parents to focus on worship and hear the spoken good news or to alienate parents who don't want their children in worship because WE like families worshiping together.
At times, I have explained at our gathering that we love to hear the cries of children during our service. The cries remind us of life and vitality, but if a kid was crying uncontrollably for a while, that love might dwindle because I didn't gather together with other believers to hear a baby crying uncontrollably. Listening to a baby cry uncontrollably for a half hour might be a good exercise, but most of us try to avoid that happening. We take our baby out and calm the baby down. There is a responsibility for the parents of an uncontrollable kid to calm him down or to go to the provided nursery. Maybe there is never a case where a family with special needs children should excuse themselves from the service. The struggles and blessings of raising a special needs child is foreign to me, so I don't know for sure.
The dilemma a family with a special needs child has is that they do not have the hope that the crying will stop some day. We know that the crying baby is just a phase that will progress into an ornery kid into a well-behaved child who participates in the gathering like everyone else around them. With the case of a special needs child, they do not have that hope. Their child will always cause distractions to those around them. Most of the time, those distractions are probably just things that the congregation can overlook. But what happens if the distracting noises and actions get out of control? Should the family expect to draw all of the attention onto themselves or take their child out of the room?
One of the commenters on Jethani's post stated, "I wonder how many followers Jesus would have had if he had focused 'on worship, not ministry'." I wonder how many followers Jesus would have had if nobody could hear Him. Furtick and Elevation know that some of the people in that congregation might be hearing the good news of Jesus for the first time. They don't want to provide a distraction. But is removing a special needs child who is a distraction a contradiction to that good news? I don't know if it is as simple as Jethani makes it out to be.