Children Really Need to be in Church!

I’ve posted before about the importance of bringing children to church, from pretty much the moment of their birth on. I was reminded of why this is so important this morning. Even I can be surprised once in a while!

Chickadee was being her normal toddler self in church this morning, while our pastor was preaching on the Gospel text of John 4 about Jesus and the Samaritan woman. She was coloring on the bulletin, climbing on the pew (and falling off of it), and turning pages in the hymnal. Basically, doing anything other than paying attention to the sermon.

Or so I thought.

Suddenly, she looked up and (embarrassingly) shouted, “Drink water!”

She was listening.

She heard our pastor preaching about the Living Water that only Jesus gives, heard him and repeated it. Now, I’m not saying she understood what he was saying. (Because I can’t fully understand how the Holy Spirit works, however, I’m also not willing to say she didn’t understand on some level.) But she was listening, in her own toddler way.

That’s why we bring children, even very young children, as young as possible, to church, instead of leaving them at home or in the nursery, or giving up on church ourselves until they’re older. Because they are hearing, even when it looks like they’re not, and we know, because the Bible tells us, that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

That’s why we’re there every Sunday, even when it’s hard and our children do embarrassing things and it seems like they’re never going to get anything out of the service. Because they are getting the very most important thing out of the service. They are hearing, and their faith is growing.

That’s why our children need to be in church!

Distractions in Church

My recent musings about children in church sparked a lot of discussion. One thing that came up frequently was how much of a distraction children can be to others in worship, even when they’re well-behaved. That got me thinking–at what point do we have to take ownership for the things that we allow ourselves to be distracted by, instead of placing the blame on the person (or thing) that is distracting us?

Everyone has different things that cause their attention to wander, be it in church or somewhere else. For example, unless a total meltdown is in progress, I very rarely notice any child-noise in church, unless the noise is coming from my own children, of whose noises I am hyper-aware. Maybe it’s because I’m a mother, and I just tend to block it out; maybe it’s just not something that tends to cross my radar, I don’t know.

On the other hand, there are things that *do* distract me, to the point that I will suddenly realize I missed a big part of the service because I had been focusing on the distraction. But whose responsibility is that? The person who had been distracting me? Or myself, for allowing my mind to focus on something other than the Word on Sunday morning?

My guess is that the real problem there is me. Again, I’m not talking about something that is almost impossible to ignore, like the complete meltdown of a child, or someone collapsing in the service. I’m talking about rather innocuous things–things that might bother me, that you’d never even notice, or things that make you crazy, while I’m left wondering what the problem is. It’s the minutiae in life that tends to get us, after all.

There are so many things in worship that can distract us if we allow it. The innocent noises that come from babies and toddlers. The way someone is dressed. Adults whispering a few pews away. The scent of perfume or cologne (or even the flowers in church that Sunday). The sound of coughing or sniffling. Even our own thoughts and plans. Any of these little things can encourage us to move our focus from where it should be, to something, anything else. Who among us hasn’t drifted away, only to realize that half of the sermon has gone by, without our hearing a word? And worse yet, *the* Word? I know I have. Mea culpa.

Yes, as fellow members of a congregation, we need to be sympathetic to those things we do in worship that may cause our brothers and sisters to become distracted and take their focus of Christ. I would never suggest that we concern ourselves only with our worship, and what works for us–we should be concerned with the whole body of Christ. But we also need to be responsible for our own minds, and the direction our thoughts take when we allow ourselves to look away from Christ, and focus on anything else when we are in His presence. And in everything, whether as distractor or the distracted, we should all keep in mind the words of Galatians 6:2–“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ.”

Children in Church

I hate church nurseries. At every church I’ve attended that has *had* a church nursery, I’ve been offered, encouraged and harassed to use the nursery. I know people have good intentions, but I grew so tired of hearing people to tell me to “let myself have a break,” or “let the children come and play,” or whatever other way they so nicely suggest that my children didn’t belong/didn’t need to be/weren’t wanted in church. This is why I am so glad that they church we go to now has no nursery in sight. Places where you can take your child during the service? Yes. Staffed nursery? No. So grateful.

I truly believe (and always have) that children belong in church from the time of their baptism on. I also believe that children should be baptised within weeks, if not days, of their births, ergo, children belong in church from the time they are days (or weeks) old, hearing the Word. And don’t tell me it’s too hard, because I don’t buy it. When I had one, or even two children, mothers with more “experience” would knowingly say that I’d change my mind when they were older/more mobile, or if I had more children. Well, I’m here to tell you, I didn’t change my mind, not when I had four children four and under, not when I found out that one of my children has autism (which can make sitting through church a challenge), not when my husband is out-of-town and I have to take them all by myself, not ever. Children are part of the body of believers, they need to be taught how to worship, and they need to be in worship.

So, to everybody who talked down to me like I had no idea what parenting was like when I was a younger parent: you were wrong. I stand by my belief that children *always* belong in church. To the other parents out there who are struggling to do the right thing and keep their children in church with them, here are a few ideas for you:

  1. Sit in front. This is just common sense. If you’re sitting in the back, facing the front, when your child is loud, that loudness travels in front of you, toward all of the rows of people sitting in front of you. If you’re in front, the sound is mostly just traveling toward the pastor, and he’s usually more understanding than the people sitting in the pews.
  2. Limit distractions. I know a lot of people swear by “church bags” full of toys, books and snacks. I used to do that, too. But I found that all that stuff really just provided more distractions, more noise, and more problems when they were dropped, lost or fought over. If you *must* bring something, bring a quiet toy (stuffed animals are great at being quiet) that doesn’t rattle, sing, squeak, or have wheels that make lots of noise. Better yet, bring a church related book. A Bible story book, or one of my favorite books for toddlers–The Things I…series from CPH. I think those are actually best used at home before and after church to talk about what you will be (or what you have been) seeing and doing, but in church would be OK too, if you have to bring something.
  3. Sit in front. I know I said this once already, but I’m saying it again for a different reason. Children love to see what is happening in church. There is so much to watch and listen to, and the closer you are to the front, the better children are able to participate. Yes, you will need to whisper to them what is going on, and yes, they will need to be taught to whisper their questions to you, but this is how they learn. They need to see, hear and understand what is going on in the service–this is how they learn to be part of the service themselves when they are older.
  4. Help them participate. Help young children learn to stand when you stand, sit when you sit, and fold their hands at appropriate times. Also, a benefit of attending a liturgical church is that even small children can learn when to say the appropriate responses, and what those responses are. And young children who can’t yet read still like to follow along in a hymnal, so show them the correct page, help them turn the page at the right times, help them to learn how to treat the hymnal with respect (just as you’re probably teaching them to do with story books at home).
  5. Talk about church. Talk about how you behave in church before you go. Talk about what happened in church on your way home. Play church with stuffed animals during the week, modeling correct church behavior. The more children know what to expect, and what is expected of them, the better they will do on Sunday morning.
  6. Be consistent. Go to church *every* Sunday. Yes, there are weeks when illness makes us miss out on worship, but those instances are usually few and far between. There will be Sundays that you won’t want to go. Go anyway–these are the Sundays you need to be there the most. The more often you go, the better you children will behave, so go regularly.
  7. Leave when you need to. Even with practice and help from parents, even the best child has a Sunday with a meltdown. So, if you need to leave because your child is being a distraction, just leave, as quickly and as quietly as possible (I know this is embarrassing when you’re sitting in front, but hopefully if you’re sitting in front, and your children are engaged in the service, you’ll need to leave less often, anyway). And when you get out of the sanctuary, sit with your child, or stand if there are no seats available, but keep participating in the service. No running around, no playing with toys, no going home. Even if you’re not in the sanctuary, your child needs to learn that Sunday mornings are for worship, and if they are not willing to sit in the pew (preferably in the front), then they are going to worship in the back, where they can’t see as well, and aren’t as much a part of things. I know from experience that this is not more fun than sitting in the pew, and the child will eventually realize that in the church, where they can see and hear well, is the better place to be.

Helping children to learn how to worship is not always easy–at times is may seem like a never-ending task. But, one Sunday you will realize that your toddler is singing the words to the liturgy, and you will realize that your elementary-school age children are listening to the sermon, and you may even notice that your special-needs child is at his best in church, and you will know what an important and rewarding task it truly is!