Ahh, Sundays with small children! Squishing chubby baby legs into tights. Hoping your toddlers don’t spill food on their fancy clothes. Coaxing a cowlick to lay down on your son’s head, while attempting to do keep your daughter from eating her hair bow. Getting a whole family ready all at once, running out the door to make it to the church building in time to get the kids situated in Bible class with enough time for Mommy and Daddy to dash off to their own classes before they’re late, especially if one or both of them are teachers! And now you’re supposed to shut out the thoughts and cares of everyday life and instantly switch over to heavenly thoughts? Don’t even get me started on the worship service with an active, energetic toddler who doesn’t understand the concept of whispering, and a baby who is a quiet little angel until prayer time or the Lord’s Supper, when she then decides to get fussy, chatty, or worse, gassy! Being a parent of young children is, at best, challenging on Sundays, and at other times absolutely, downright exhausting! While I don’t pretend to have all the answers, at the request of Erynn Sprouse, I offer some absolutely unsolicited advice that may help you out!
First of all, please keep in mind that you’re not just wrestling a toddler, you are training a future deacon.
You are not only hushing a chatty pre-schooler, you are teaching a future Bible class teacher the proper way she should behave in worship. Having a daily family devotional time during the week at home is a perfect way for children to practice sitting still in worship, and for fine-tuning your expectations of their behavior! Daddy may be pre-occupied in the worship service if he is serving in one capacity or another, but family devotional time will allow him to help you with training in a less stressful environment. Don’t wait until you are sitting in the worship assembly to begin teaching your children how you expect them to behave.
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Sitting still in worship is not easy for little ones, and it can result in you missing large portions of the sermon if you need to make several trips up that long aisle to take a child out for a few discipline sessions. I want to encourage you to keep making those trips, and not to allow your children to simply go play in the nursery just so you can catch part of the sermon. It’s important from day one to teach them that worship time is God’s time, not play time. If you need to take them to the nursery, continue to hold them on your lap, as opposed to allowing them to get down, run around and play with the toys. The best piece of advice I ever got in raising children is that children are smarter than you think! They can learn very quickly, and at a surprisingly young age, just what to do to get Mommy to take them out of the auditorium and into the nursery with all the fun toys. Your child will not die if they have to learn to sit still through one hour of Bible class and one hour of worship! I promise!
I’d like to take this time to implore you, if you attend a congregation that offers a separate “children’s worship” PLEASE, do not allow your children to participate in this practice which inadvertently teaches children that grown-up church is boring and undesirable. They already have their own Bible class which is geared to their particular age. I beg of you, keep them with you in the worship assembly. Small children may not understand everything that is going on, but they are learning to be reverent to God, they are watching Mommy and Daddy worship and seeing how important God is to them, and they are learning that not everything revolves around catering to them. If you feel like you aren’t getting fed enough spiritual food because you miss half the sermon due to wrestling a fussy toddler, I encourage you to see if the sermon can be recorded for listening to later. If this isn’t possible, seek out other sources of recorded sermons. GBN (The Gospel Broadcast Network) is an excellent source for this, just pull up their website on your computer and listen to one of many lessons while cooking supper or folding laundry!
I kept a few Bible picture books and quiet, fidget-friendly toys handy for helping young babies to be quiet, along with some Cheerios for hushing babbling tongues. Some training at home during the week can also help. Work up to sitting with them on your lap or beside you on the couch for an hour each day, while reading the Bible to them, or looking at Bible story books, so that when Sunday comes around, they are used to quiet time. This will train your little darling to have self-control, and will also offer you some sweet cuddling time, possibly making it one of the sweetest hours of your day! This is also setting up a lifetime family habit of carrying out God’s desire for us to take His words and, “… teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 11:19). Ahh, but what if you have an infant and a rambunctious toddler, or two or three, and your husband is waiting on the Lord’s supper table, leading the singing or is the preacher, leaving you by yourself to wrangle your little herd? I discovered this is where sweet widows can become wonderful helpers, holding your baby and sitting with your other kiddos while you march your 2 ½ year old up that mile-long aisle for yet another discipline session in an empty classroom or bathroom! So often our older sisters feel like they can’t contribute much. Adopting one or more as honorary grandmothers helps you, and helps them to feel useful!
Encourage your children to sing out during the song service!
Children love to sing songs they know, so keep some CD’s of hymns around the house or in the car, and play them often so your kids can be familiar with our hymns! Then, watch as your child gets so excited when the song leader leads a song and they know it and can sing along! Encourage your kids to look up the songs in the song book, which helps keep them busy, and as an added bonus, they learn to count bigger numbers! It’s a win-win!
Pray at home. Pray at meals. Pray during family devotional time. Pray with them when you tuck them in at night. Your children will learn how to be quiet during church prayers when they know how to pray at home.
As children become older, say around 2 ½ or 3, they can actually begin learning to take notes during sermon time! Yes, really! I would give my kids a piece of paper and something to write with, and tell them to make a mark every time the preacher said certain words, like “God” or “Heaven”. Sometimes I’d even ask the preacher (my hubby) if he knew of a certain word he’d be using more often in a particular sermon, and that would be the word they would mark. This taught them to be still and listen, even if they didn’t absorb every word they heard. As my children learned to write, they switched from marking words to writing down the scriptures the preacher talked about, and as they grew older, this developed into actual note taking!
In a perfect world, when children take off their shoes, they put them in their closet, and they never get stains on the one nice looking outfit that they haven’t outgrown this week. Our Sunday mornings often included the game, “Where are your nice, dress shoes?” and after a mad-dash search throughout the house, the shoes were usually found, but only after much aggravation and gnashing of teeth! I know this may be asking for the moon, but during all the whirlwind craziness of Sunday morning preparation, strive to keep your temper in check. Let Sunday be a day of calmness, even if that calm is only in your head! If your family arrives at the church building tense, it sets the stage for acting out and fussiness in worship. Try to have clothes set out (including those pesky shoes!) the night before. It’s a simple thing, but can make all the difference in the whole world come Sunday morning! This way you know where shoes are, and if an item is dirty or clean, but wrinkly, you can take care of it the night before. I also suggest having everyone line their Bibles up by the door for easy grabbing on your way to the car. Then, to get everyone’s mind in the right place, why not sing along with a CD of hymns as you drive to worship? You may be surprised at how calm the rest of the day goes when it starts out on the right foot!
I once heard a story of a young mother who was exasperated with how grouchy and out of sorts her family always seemed to be when they arrived at the church building on Sundays. One Sunday she decided to secretly record all that went on in the home that morning, and then play it back for her family to hear how they sounded. Imagine her surprise when, upon listening to the recording, it was her voice that was the most contentious, barking out orders here and there, becoming more and more frustrated and angry in trying to get everyone out the door. With a humble heart, she resolved that she would strive to do what she could on her part to correct her own attitude.
In a day when so many children grow up to leave the church, it is of the utmost importance to teach our children not only how to behave properly in worship, we must do so with our mind on their future. Making worship time a thing our children look forward to begins with them learning how to behave properly, so that they can then learn to love the various aspects of worshiping God. Let your children see your joy in serving and worshiping God! Teach your children that Christianity isn’t a two hour thing you do once a week, rather it’s a lifestyle to be lived and that worship is a joyful, pleasant time. In doing so, we are “Train[ing] up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).