Friday, June 13, 2008

Sunday Morning Worship Prep.: Preparing Young Children

This would fall under the "blind leading the blind" category since we have only twice taken our toddler into church with us. The first time, she had spiritual Turrets syndrome: she would recognize a Bible and blurt out, "Bible!" during a nice, quiet prayer. Or, she would hear the pastor say, "Amen," and echo it loudly (in a Presbyterian service, echoing "amen" is just not done). The second time we tried it, she made it into the sermon....

Even given our daughter's charming recognition of all things spiritual, we feel we must begin this process. Sunday evening services seem an ideal place to begin because they are a bit shorter and there are fewer people to, ahem, "charm." I've been gleaning the following wisdom from a variety of sources, and am passing it on to any of our readers who will be facing similar situations in the future. If you have had success in this area (i.e. have a child who sits beside you on the pew making few disturbances and is genuinely eager to be in church), please share your insight in the comments!!

Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship
Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship by Robbie Castleman and Ruth Bell Graham
First, many people have recommended Parenting in the Pew. I've now read it and it is a great place to begin as far as perspective goes. For instance, my goal should not be a perfectly behaved child on Sunday mornings. Rather, my goal should be to instill in my children a love for and respect for the holy worship of God. (This goal covers everything from obedience in church to the tenor of your home before church on Sunday mornings.)

Second, several sources have pointed out that training your children in general obedience goes a long way towards a general display of obedience during the worship service. In other words, if my child doesn't obey me at home, why should she obey me during church?

Third, several have mentioned consistency. If you decide to take your child in for the first 1o minutes of the service, do it. Don't back down or not follow through one week because you are tired.

Fourth, practice! I have one friend who taught her 18 month old to "wait"--they practiced on their couch at home, beginning when he was much younger and with a very short time limit (1 minute). He had to sit quietly. When he was 18 months old, she was able to take him to a wedding! I have another friend who takes her children into the sanctuary and shows them what goes on (standing up, holding a hymnal, etc.). Then, they practice at home, so the child knows what to expect. I think this is a wonderful approach. Why don't we take a proactive, training approach to the things of the Lord like we might with school?

Fifth, of course, pray about it--this includes, for me, praying that my heart will be in the right place, that my motivation is not what other people think of me/making sure my child can sit in church by the "right age" (in our church, very young children often sit through the service), that I will truly set my eyes on eternal things--the condition of my child's heart instead of outward appearances, and that my child's heart will be softened to the things of the Lord.

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