Parenting & the Pews
Oh, the wonderful sound of children. Bright smiles. Sweet eyes. Soft voices.
Innocent faces. To see & hear the presence of children when the church gathers is delightful. These sounds & faces are the hope of the future. These are the leaders our tomorrow.
If we train them to be.
Whether you are a new parent, an experienced parent, a grandparent, or someone who worships in a setting wherein parents & young children are present, this article is for you.
Let’s be honest. For families with young children, there are two kinds of Sunday mornings.
First, there is the ideal Sunday morning: the parents arise on time (perhaps even a bit early), shower, & wake the precious tikes who sing merrily as they cooperatively don their Sunday clothes. The family enjoys a simple & satisfying breakfast together, arriving at the church building unrushed & relaxed, greeting & be greeted by smiling faces who delight to se
e such a lovely & orderly household. The children go to their Bible classes with plenty of time for mom & dad to settle into theirs. During the worship period, all of the family participates with understanding, singing in praise, bowing in prayer, attentive to the sermon, engaged in the contribution, & reverent during the communion. Afterward, the family exits the doors uplifted, all holding hands & smiling. As they skip through the parking lot confetti falls, & a light from above illuminates their path while the voices of angels join together in a…
I know what you’re thinking: “Yeah, right. Don’t forget the yellow brick road, Dorothy!”
As I said, there is the ideal Sunday.
Then, there is the oft reality: parents oversleep, then they stub toes & pop buttons in a mad rush to be on time. The children awaken groggily, fussy & uncooperative, with an occasional scream when hair gets caught in a shirt hastily tugged over a child’s head onto her torso. Breakfast, if they have it, is shoved into their mouths as they hurry out the door. In the car the children whimper, dad is dazed, & mom mumbles to herself unawares. They arrive late, & no teacher is in the children’s Bible class. The worship assembly consists of mayhem as the children fidget, fuss, fight, & frolic, all with no focus on God. Condescending looks are felt, even if they are never given. The family leaves frustrated, saying things like, “I got nothing out of worship today,” & the weekly routine becomes one of dread.
It need not be this way.
What is the solution? “Children’s church,” as many call it? No, we dare not create separation of assembled worshippers when God says for a congregation to gather into one place (1 Corinthians 11:20).
So, what’s the solution? Muzzles? Duct tape? Valium?
Before investigating practical ideas, there are three principles to keep in mind.
The “Be Still” Principle: The psalmist penned, “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10). To this some say, “I wish my heathen children would be still & exalt God, but they’ve got ants in their pants!” Read the verse again: “Be still,” God says. Literally, cease striving. Until parents be still & cease striving, until mom is calm & dad gets a grip, it is nigh impossible for those precious children to “know that I am God” & develop a proper understanding of their Maker. The “Be still” principle goes far toward reverent worship of God.
God does not desire pews filled with warm-blooded motionless statues staring blindly at the backs of the heads in front of them, but “all churches of the saints” are to exhibit a certain calmness & peace that removes distractions & lends to a heightened focus on God Almighty (1 Corinthians 14:33). As parents, we want to train our children to appreciate & participate in the proper worship environment.
The “Be Training” Principle: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Yes, children actually can be brought up in the nurture & admonition of God, & this includes the worship setting. Children & worship are not mutually exclusive: worship is just another area wherein children can & must be trained!
[Please understand: teaching is not limited to Sunday & Wednesday. The Israelites were to teach their children God’s ways when they sat at home, walked in the way, went to bed, or rose in the morning: in other words, at all times (Deuteronomy 6:7). This article focuses on training children in the worship setting, but let us never forget that training children up in the Lord’s way is for every setting!]
To “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” requires first instruction & then correction (Ephesians 6:4). To “nurture” is to give instruction & encouragement; to “admonish” is to give instruction & correction. The words discipline & punish are not synonyms: the meanings differ. To discipline means to teach, & teaching can be either instructive or corrective. To punish is to correct with a penalty, thus punishment is just one form of corrective discipline. Before receiving corrective discipline for doing something wrong, the child needs instructive discipline so he can know what is right. Let nurture precede admonition, because when admonition constantly precedes nurture, that is, when a child is corrected for doing things the wrong way before being instructed to do them the right way, he will feel that he can do nothing right, frustration ensues, & the child has been provoked to wrath.
“Be Training.” This applies to worship, too.
The “Behave” Principle: Paul desired Timothy, an adult, to know how to behave himself in God’s house, the church (1 Timothy 3:15). The focus was Timothy’s conduct as a Christian, but the same thought applies to children & their conduct when gathered with the Lord’s church. There is a right way to behave when we are with God’s house, when we are gathered with His people & bowing our hearts in worship to Him. Children must be taught how they ought to behave.
Be Still. Be Training. Behave. If we want them to Be Still & truly come to know God, Be Training them to Behave.
The heavenly Father is the greatest parent ever known, & His Word shows how best to train children to come nigh unto His throne. Let us appeal to Bible, put aside personal opinion, & be careful about espousing modern childrearing philosophies, which often reflect the begrudged prejudices of a generation of spoiled brats harboring ill will because daddy spanked too hard.
Remember, instruction comes before correction, & this is study intended to instruct. When we receive instruction in areas wherein we already have experience, we often learn of mistakes that we never knew we made or simple tricks that make the job easier: such is the benefit of instruction. The same potential exists in this discussion. Whether you are a parent in the pew or a person trying to help a parent in the pew, the goal of this study is to investigate & incorporate God’s instructions as they apply to training our children to worship the Creator of heaven & earth.
If You Want Them to Be Still & Know God, Be Training Them to Behave
Before We Worship God Together.
Worship is a privilege. As David wrote: “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1). Parents, unless worship is a privilege to you, your young children will not likely have an accurate perception of what worship ought to be. Too many parents view worship as an obligation, & it shows in their preparation, their punctuality, their vocabulary, & their focus.
Teach them that worship is a privilege by your Preparation. Does your family often oversleep on Sunday morning? If so, perhaps the Saturday night routine needs changed. Children are expected to be asleep by a certain hour throughout the week because it is important that they be alert & on time for school the next day: is it not even more important for them to be alert & on time for Bible class? If not, why not? Parents, when “regular school” is more important than Bible school, do not be surprised when the children become adults & put the world ahead of God: if that’s the example they’ve seen in their parents, then that’s what they’ve been trained to do.
When worship is a privilege, then Sunday morning is the most important morning of the week, which makes Saturday night the most important night of the week. Getting in bed at a decent hour allows children (& parents!) to awaken rested & ready to assemble with God’s people.
Teach them that worship is a privilege by your Punctuality. Tardiness hinders, diminishing a child’s learning in the classroom & a worker’s productivity in the workplace, & routine tardiness reflects priorities, potentially costing a student his grade or an employee his job. The same is true in worshipping God: routine tardiness hinders & reflects poor priorities. Those occasional unforeseen & uncontrollable circumstances are one thing, but habitual tardiness is another matter entirely.
Parents, children know when they are late to Bible class. They know when they enter & the teacher is in mid-song or mid-study. They can see right through the well-intentioned teacher’s efforts to supply a quick review so that the tardy student can have an idea of what the rest of the class has already learned. Your child sees these things & will react to them. Maybe he gets frustrated & feels helpless because he has no control over the family’s punctuality (although he frequently gets blamed for tardiness). She may feel the need to explain or defend her parents’ lateness, supplying the same shallow excuses that she heard you invent. Perhaps he reacts with shame because of he feels like his very arrival is a disruption to the class, thus he ceases to feel welcome, ceases to pay attention, & ceases to learn about God. Parents, children see habitual tardiness, & they will not likely react in a positive way.
Before long, the child will realize that her family is late because worship is not as important to her family as it is to others. “Mom always gets me to school on time, so that must be more important.” “Dad is never late for work, so a job must be more important than learning about Jesus.”
When worship is a privilege & a priority, the parents will not leave the house at the last minute because they were watching Sportscenter or cartoons. When children see that worship is a privilege & a priority, the donning of clothes on Sunday morning get progressively smoother & more enjoyable, because the parents are calm & the children look forward to where they are going. Moreover, when worship is a privilege & a priority, that snooze button gets less appealing on Sunday morning, because this above all others is the morning that I have awaited with fervent desire for an entire week.
It’s the day that I get to worship my God! Which leads to the next thought…
Teach them that worship is a privilege by your Vocabulary. Remember, we want to train our children to view worship as an opportunity, not an obligation. It is a privilege, not a burden. It has been said that actions speak louder than words, & this is true. At the same time, the subtleties in the words we use reflect far more about our attitudes than we may realize.
“Wake up. We have to go to church.” Parents, is this how you start your child’s day on Sunday: by speaking of the Lord’s body, the church, as some physical building to which they are obligated to go? There are two things wrong with this statement: the first is the misrepresentation of Jesus’ church, & the second is a misrepresentation of the act of worship.
The church is not the worship assembly, it is the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23). It is composed of baptized believers, not bricks (Acts 2:41, 47). The church is not a place to go: it is an assembly of souls! The church gathers to worship, & the church engages in worship, but the worship assembly is only part of what the church does! Christians, one reason for so many lukewarm souls with immature faith is that they have been taught that the church is just a worship service. This denominational vocabulary has been spoon fed to them from parents & from pulpits. Some possess an attitude that says, “I don’t really think Jesus cares how we use the word ‘church.’” Really? Do you really believe that? If so, then it does not matter how we use the word “baptize,” the word “pastor,” the word “salvation,” or even the word “Christian,” & we can just as justifiably use the denominational definitions for these words as we can the denominational definition for the church.
Or, we could do our children a favor: teach them to talk about the church the way first century Christians did, & not the way that the denominations of today talk about the church. Do you want your children to speak as the oracles of God, or apostates from God (1 Peter 4:11)?
The worship assembly is not somewhere that we have to go. When we say we have to do something, we declare it to be an obligation. Children know what “have to” means. Mom “has to” go to the store, but she doesn’t want to go. Dad “has to” mow the yard, but he doesn’t necessarily want to do it. Children “have to” go to school. See the pattern?
And then we tell them, “We have to go to worship God.” If we want them to see it as a privilege, if we want them to appreciate the opportunity to be with Christ’s blood-bought body, God’s sanctified saints, shouldn’t we express it as a privilege when we talk about gathering. Perhaps, “Wake up, son, because we get to go to worship today.” We “get” to go. Like we “get” to go get ice cream, or we “get” to go to the park, or we “get” to visit with grandma. We “get” to “worship” God.
Scripture is filled with examples of people whose relationship with God had the attitude of “We have to go to the temple” or “we have to offer sacrifices,” & such attitudes were never pleasing to God (Micah 6:7-8). On the other hand, he who delights in the Lord is blessed (Psalm 1:1-2).
How would you say it to Jesus, “Lord, I have to go to church today,” or, “Lord, I get to gather with the church, today & worship You”? How would you want your children to say it to Him? If you want them to have proper appreciation for His worship & His church, train them with His vocabulary.
Teach them that worship is a privilege by your Focus. It is a delight to be greeted & to greet the brethren when we arrive at the meeting place, & our children also enjoy seeing their peers & greeting them. This is a wonderful thing. At the same time, we need to be mindful of the affect adrenaline can have on a child’s ability to be attentive in Bible class & worship.
When we arrive at the church building, we have come to learn about God & to worship Him. Help them to remember that God is the focus. Perhaps some adults would do well to remember this as well. As wonderful as meeting & greeting one another is, & as vital as it is be engaged in one another’s lives, such conversations & interactions can often be resumed after the study & worship of God. Adults make a pivotal mistake when they make a habit of lingering outside because they are overly engaged in casual conversation prior to the Bible class or the worship period. Yes, there are occasions when a troubled saint needs the ear of another. However, it is the habitual distraction of conversation that we seek to avoid. When adults allow their greeting & meeting activities to spill over into the Bible class, the children will do the same thing.
Children need to know that there is an appropriate place for them to be. There will be time for conversation & fun with friends following the scheduled assembly times. If we truly want them to “Be still,” that is to say, “Be calm,” then we ought to be careful about letting them get too hyped-up & excited prior to worship. Understand, it is great for them to be hyped-up & excited about Bible class, but that is not the same thing as being hyped-up & excited about running & playing.
It is a wonderful encouragement to arrive at the meeting place & see the souls we love, regardless of our age. Let us all help each other to keep God as the focus of our gathering, whether we are parents or children. When we let children view the assembly as a privilege solely because of the presence of their peers & not because they are focused on God, then we are training them to make God peripheral in their lives, even in the setting that ought to be most focused upon Him. When God becomes peripheral, life is out of focus.
Teach them that worship is a privilege by your preparation, punctuality, vocabulary, & focus. When we do these things before we gather to worship God, their hearts & minds become evermore ready to be taught while we worship God.
Next week, we will examine how we can Be Training them to Behave so that they can truly Be Still & know God while we are worshipping, & after we have worshipped.