Welcome to this weeks edition of 4 Moms, 35 Kids: How Moms of Many Manage. This is the second post in The Large Family Goes to Church Series
and we’re talking about keeping your little ones with you in worship.
One of the most frequently asked questions that our family gets in real life is, “How do you teach your children to be still and quiet during church?”
We aren’t teaching our children to sit still and be quiet during church. We are striving to teach our children to worship God to the best of their ability.
But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. John 4:23-24
When we began keeping our children in the worship service with us were brand new parents of one newborn baby and we didn’t know anyone else who kept babies in the worship service, we didn’t even know if it was possible.
And lest you think highly of us, we kept Amber with us because she was painfully shy and would have been miserable in a nursery.
However, as we sat in worship week after week with our infant, God began to reveal Himself to us through His Word and to challenge our assumptions about babies, toddlers, young children and church.
“12Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, 13and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” ~ Deut. 31:12-13
But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. ~Mark 10:14
Our reasons for keeping Amber with us in worship changed and it was no longer because it was easy or nice to be together as a family, but because we believed that Scripture taught that children should be partakers in corporate worship and that Jesus delights in the presence of children.
We believe that the act of worship is not for the one who is worshiping, but rather for the one who is being worshiped. So to have our children in the worship service, in the very presence of God eating a snack, playing with toys, drawing, coloring or in any other way purposely disengaged from worshiping God, no matter how quiet and non-disruptive they are does not further our goal. Since our goal is not still and quiet there are a lot of techniques for ‘still and quiet’ that we don’t employ.
Our goal is to disciple our children so that from the very first moment they are physically and mentally capable of worshiping God in spirit and in truth, they have the ability and the opportunity to do just that.
We do not want to train them to sit in the midst of a worship service by finding creative ways to distract them from that worship.
Just as education begins at birth and continues throughout our lives, so is learning to worship God in spirit and in truth. Each age and stage has it’s own challenge when it comes to learning how to worship.
- Newborns: The goal is quiet. I generally nurse the newborn and hold them while they sleep.
- Young babies: They learn to sit contentedly in my lap and not ‘talk’ and babble. (We teach them, “no noise with your mouth”.) However, most of our 7-11 month old babies love singing with the rest of the congregation and this is something that we encourage.If the worship service falls during the child’s regular nap time we allow them to sleep in our arms. Once they give up the nap we encourage them to stay awake.
- Toddlers: They learn to control those little bodies to follow along with the order of worship (stand when the congregation stands, kneel when the congregation kneels and pray when the congregation prays). They also learn to pay attention and begin to be able to answer questions about the worship service.One way we help our toddlers practice self-control over their bodies is to give them concrete instructions, so they know what is acceptable and what is not. We DO NOT say, “Sit still.” That might mean “Do not run around and jump off the backs of the pews.” to a two year old. We do say, “Fold your hands in your lap and look at pastor.”
- Young children: They grow in their ability to listen, comprehend and apply God’s Word to their lives.Each Sunday on the way home from church Mark begins with the youngest verbal children and asks them about the worship service. Each child must tell him something that they heard during the service in order to have Sunday dessert. Our little one might say, “He talked about Paul.” and that would be sufficient, but we expect more as they get older.
Tips for training children to worship:
- Set high expectations. The goal is worship, so set the expectations high and you may be surprised at your children’s capabilities.
- Remember that they are children, they are not always going to be still and quiet, they are going to have bad days, they are going to get distracted and they are going to embarrass you.
- It’s not about you, it’s about the process.
- Be considerate of others. Training our children to worship God is a high and important calling, but it shouldn’t be accomplished at the expense of others being able to hear and follow along with the service. I’m not talking about the occasional squeak or short cry, but if your child is being so loud that others around you cannot follow the sermon then please, please, please take them out. The place for this type of training is family worship.
- Sit in the front. Sitting in the front makes it easier for the children to see the pastor and less likely for them to be distracted by others.
- Sit in the back. Depending upon where you and your children are in the learning process, sitting in the back may be a better option.
- Find a supportive church. The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches is a good place to start.
- Ask questions. Mark’s quizzing of the children on the way home from church is an important aspect of actually teaching them to listen and a good way to evaluate how plugged-in to the service they actually are.
- Be consistent. Most of our younger children have needed little to no correction to learn how to behave in church simply because they watch their older siblings. So don’t get discouraged, your hard work will pay off.
- Enjoy. Even though it’s not the purpose of keeping our children with us in worship, it is a beautiful benefit to be able to look down the row and see all those little profiles looking up at pastor and participating in worship.
I posted about some of the specific ways we train our children to sit through family and corporate worship.
I originally thought this would be two posts, so if I’ve left something out or you have questions feel free to ask or just visit the other moms of many to see if they already talked about it:
Life in a Shoe
The Common Room
This post is part 2 in the 4 Moms series on church and large families:
For more Moms of Many posts visit the 4 Moms page.