When Eric and I had our daughter, Evangeline, we showed up at church and wondered, how do we do church with this thing? It’s like bringing a puppy to church! You never know what they’re going to do, what noise they will make, when they will whine, when they need food…? How do we prepare for such a list of unknowns?
There was one thing we did know, we wanted to go to church with our child, we wanted them to know what it was like to experience a worship service, what the expectations were, and we wanted to torture ourselves and never be able to hear what the pastor said. HA! Sometimes during the training parts it certainly felt like that, sometimes it felt like we were the only ones who had their kids in service with them, but I love having our children with us now. Some of you think we’re crazy, some of you don’t like kids in church, some of you feel strongly about sending your children to age appropriate teaching and care. I GET IT. This is our personal decision-not better or worse than yours. So if you are still reading… I’d love to share with you what works well for our family.
Practice at home. You may think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Find a time during the day where you say, “let’s practice playing church! You’ll sit right next to mommy, and we will sit and look at a book together very quietly until the timer goes off”. At first you set the timer for 1 minute, then gradually work up to 5, then 7, 10, and 15! Get really into it if you want! Put on dress up shoes, play some really fun kid church music song, pack a backpack. Even your baby can have practice time. For infants, if you don’t sit with them on your lap or in their baby carrier at home, then don’t think it’s going to go well at church. If you want your child to fold their hands and be quiet and still to pray at church, then that’s what you should practice at home every time you pray. Now, there is no child who can just sit there with their hands perfectly still in their laps, so what do you bring for them to do? Let me introduce you to the helpers.
The Helpers are things that you pack in your diaper bag or kid back pack that will get you all the way through the church service. I had to break my helpers down into time increments depending on how long the service is. A cheerio and raisin snack will last 20 minutes. Hint: pick a snack that takes a long time to eat, a whole apple is another great idea-just don’t forget the hand wipes). Three Bible books or their children’s Bible, will last them 10 minutes. I highly recommend this Bible. The pictures, and the words are SO age appropriate for infants to small toddlers. We have gone through THREE of these Bibles because they are so well-loved. My eight month old would sit in my lap as I turned the pages and made my finger point to all the pictures on the pages. A coloring page for older children, (3+), will last 10 minutes. When I was young I used to have a church notebook where my mom said I could draw pictures about what the pastor is talking about-great for early elementary age. For infants: a quiet chew toy, a pacifier (if you use one), an infant toothbrush is WONDERFUL, and the infant Bible.
Participate like Mommy and Daddy. We like to have our children fully participate during the singing part of the church service. We often hold them in our arms so they can see, but their expectation is to stand if the adults are standing, and sit if the adults are sitting. We tried having the kids play on the floor in front of us, but quickly realized that did not go along with our motive for having them there in the first place. So if you are wondering if a behavior is ok or not ok, ask yourself, “does this go with my purpose in having them with me?”. If they get to tune out and play, what is the point of us bringing them in? They can do that in the nursery. So we try to keep all their activities Bible centered.
What if they don’t want to? So just follow these easy suggestions and voilá, your children will be perfect little angels before your in-laws come to visit. NOT SO FAST. This takes great work, great prayer, great preparation, and great endurance. We sit near the back because we need the quickest escape route when the child, oh I don’t know, throws their ENTIRE BOWL OF CHEERIOS ON THE FLOOR, or keeps kicking the seat in-front of them, or when the infant starts crying. One of us takes them out, we go to a quiet place and say something like, “Eva, Mommy asked you to keep your Cheerios in your lap, did you obey or disobey? Eva responds…”let’s practice sitting out here/standing here for a minute before we go back in.” So then we tell them what TO DO very short and simple. “OK, were going back in and we can sit and look at the Bible or eat more Cheerios. It’s time to be quiet and listen.” If this happens more than three times then we go sit in the foyer and the child gets to keep sitting and practicing with us until the church service is over. For the sake of not being any more distracting to others, and to keep tempers at bay for everyone involved. The point still being made to the child-it’s not anymore fun being out here then it is in there.
Finding a balance. We started off hard-core. Kids were with us every single Sunday and Eric and I were beginning to dread going to church knowing it would be our 1.5 hour patience test for the week. We might not hear a word of the sermon or might be embarrassed at the third time we took our kid out for misbehavior. So, we came to the idea that IF the church had a children’s program, not just child care, that we would have our kids go to Sunday School while we went to church every other week. We started off with having our kids in with us for the first part of the worship service, (usually the songs at our church), and then we would take them to Sunday School half way through. Now, they go the full-time every other Sunday. This was a major relief to our parenting, our Sunday experience, our ability to listen and grow, it was like a little date for us. We continue to use the every other week method. If we would have been going to a Sunday School for Adults we would have continued to have the kids with us for the church service, and then let them learn at their level in Sunday School while we were being taught.
Parenting is hard, right? But, hard things make beautiful things. We, (my husband and I) don’t want children who graduate High School having never gone to a worship service and find out what it’s like when they are college aged? We want them to have ears that know how to listen to expository preaching, and ears that are attuned to worship music that is not just directed at their generation. May your children and mine stay close to the faith of their childhood.
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