A little over month ago, I shared some good posts I found about Raising Worshipers. Or, as some people like to call it, parenting in the pew. Last summer, I shared a guest post where I wrote over at Humility and Doxology about Singing Psalms with Little Saints. And as I have been seeking to parent my own children faithfully on Sunday mornings week in and week out, I continue to ponder many of the themes which overlap and intertwine between those two topics. The idea of raising worshipers connects with the term “little saints,” which I apply to Christian children. My kids don’t have a catechism question which says exactly this, but I want them growing up knowing the answer to this question:
- TO WHOM DO YOU BELONG?
My kids belong to Christ. They bear the image of their Father in heaven. They bear the mark of baptism. They are fed on the nourishment of the Lord’s Supper every week. We are raising them with the understanding that they are Christians just as much as they are Cummings. I have confidence in the fear of the Lord, and He is the refuge for my children (Proverbs 14:26). This is the underlying philosophy which informs every aspect of my parenting and homeschooling… including our weekly worship service every Sunday morning.
- WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT YOUR CHILDREN?
- WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT WORSHIP?
- WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT THE LORD’S DAY?
Our answers to those questions are where we need to start when it comes to the topic of Christian parenting. And I believe that what we believe about these things comes out our fingertips… no matter what we say our answers are.
My five children range in age from almost-3 to 14. I have only done this parenting thing a few times, and for less than fifteen years – but during my stint so far as a mother, I have encountered approximately 728 Sunday mornings with at least one child in my charge. (It actually feels like a lot more than that to me, but I double checked my math, so we’ll go with it.) Not infrequently, I have had people come up to me and praise my children and my parenting skills for the way my kids “sit through” worship. People say things like, “your kids are so well behaved!” or “my kids could never do that” or “are they always this poised and quiet?” I pretty much always chuckle out loud (or perhaps totally gut-bust in laughter, depending on the morning), trying to reassure the admirer that nope, my kids are definitely not always poised and quiet (but rather quite the opposite on an average morning), that their kids could be trained to do this just as much as mine could, and that they are only so well behaved during Sunday morning worship because we have spent their entire lifetimes pursuing and prioritizing their practice as children of the King.
My children really are ordinary. (Which means that they imitate what they see, their training becomes their habit, and practice makes progress.)
I remember when my oldest was just a wee thing, and he would sleep through pretty much the entire Sunday morning service every week. Sometimes I could be constrained to share my little snuggly boy (with cheeks like dumplings) with my mother, but usually only when I was the pianist for that week… so my mom loved those Sundays best. Once I had more children in the pew, it became a little more of a juggling game, especially because my husband and I often serve during services in one way or another, and we have not always worshiped alongside extended family. Passing babies back and forth, or relying on help from grandparents when we worshiped together, became a kind of dance. But it was always worth it. (Always will be.)
I have never put my children in a drop-off nursery during worship. Not once.
I *have* put a child in a staffed nursery during a Sunday school hour or a Bible study. I have no qualms about giving my child the time and space to engage in that kind of setting. But it goes back to my underlying philosophy about my child: he belongs to the Lord in whose image he was created, and therefore he belongs in the worship service of that Lord. The worship my baby or toddler or adolescent offers to the Lord is no less valuable than mine or my parents’ or my grandma’s. By the grace of God, we all belong to Him and we are all called to worship Him in the beauty of holiness (1 Chronicles 16:28-29). I would no more put my two year old in the nursery than I would put my ninety-two year old grandma in the nursery. Even though each of them can be distracting and need assistance sometimes. Neither one can hold the hymnal on their own or harmonize perfectly in song or sit quite still for a forty minute sermon. Neither one of them whispers convincingly but is always louder than they think they are, and there are occasions where either one of them will declare they have to use the bathroom in the middle of the service.
Grandma belongs to the Lord. She is called to worship Him.
My children belong to the Lord. They are called to worship Him.
I am tasked with motherhood by the Lord, and I am called to let them come unto Him in worship and for blessing (Mark 10:13-16).
Do you know when churches started having nurseries? It was not all that long ago, from what I can tell with preliminary searches on the internet. I have read about the history of Sunday School, as a lot of us probably have when studying the industrial revolution, but that was not intended to take the place of the worship service. It was meant to be a time of teaching and blessing children – it was not focused on worship of the Lord. Nurseries and other childcare meant to keep parents kid-free during worship services are an enigma to me. Call me narrowminded, but there it is. If you want a break from your children, especially the toddlers, go for it: but not to the extent that you are banishing those little saints from worshipping their King. I would commend to you that you reserve “a break” from your kids for just about any other time – during a weekly Bible study or occasional coffee date or so you can enjoy time with your husband or go shopping without kids in tow. But don’t bar these little saints from the worship of their Lord, and from their weekly opportunity to watch you and learn from you as you worship your Lord.
In Scripture, were children exempt from honoring the Sabbath or Passover? No. These things were as much for the children as for the adults. The Bible never describes children being kept separate from the adults – God works in families, through families, and Scripture shows us that children are not only important players in His story (Isaac, Moses, Samuel, John, Timothy) but were also considered part of the church by Paul (otherwise why would he address them directly in Ephesians 6?).
I don’t know when parents decided they didn’t need to bring their children to the worship service of the King. I don’t know why church leaders decided that it was okay to banish children from corporate worship and segregate families by age. Have you ever considered what it communicates to the child when they are exiled from even just a portion (say, the sermon, perhaps) of the worship service? Have you considered what it communicates to those around you when you send your child out of the worship service?
What we do is indicative of what we believe. What do you believe about your kids, about Christ, about the Lord’s Day, and about worship? The way you live and act and parent and worship on Sunday is more indicative of what you believe than what your words might say you believe. Our theology is lived out in our actual lives.
What kind of practical good comes from having children in the worship service? It teaches them how to worship, it teaches them that they are part of the family of God, it teaches them that their praise and prayers are valuable to the King. There is a battle against the family in society, and Satan is aiming straight at our children – and we can not give in to these attacks by distancing children from participating in the most important activity of the week.
We have to remember that the worship service is not about us. It is not about our emotional experience, or about us hearing every minute of the sermon, it is not about what we want or our own selfish needs. It is most definitely not about having a break from kids so you can listen to a sermon (you’ve heard of earbuds and recorded sermons, right?). If you aren’t able to absorb the sermon during the worship service, you have plenty of opportunity during the rest of the week to listen to the recording.
Children learn to tithe by dropping coins in the offering box alongside their parents. Children learn to sing by singing at the sides of their parents. Children learn to pray by praying with their parents. Children learn to sit and focus during a sermon by the faithful example of their parents. Children learn to stand and sit and kneel and lift their hands and bow their heads – by watching and imitating and enacting alongside their parents.
Can it be distracting to have kids in the worship service? Sure… but adults are sometimes super distracting, too. (Exhibit A: cough drop wrappers, blowing noses, and cell phones going off – oh my.) And have you never found that parents sometimes exacerbate the distracting elements of their children? (Exhibit B: parents giving their keychain to a child, or handing them snacks in crinkly packaging, or entertaining them with toys equipped with batteries.) Children do not have the monopoly on distraction.
It’s very well and good to say that I believe children ought to be in worship services with their parents because of my theology and philosophy… and it’s fine to tell you that from the outside looking in, people will tell you that my kids do great during worship every week… but my kids are far from perfect (as is my parenting), and I did not naturally know how to train my children for worship – it has taken over seven hundred Sundays to get to where we are now, and we still have room to grow and learn and iterate.
On the cusp of my youngest child turning three years old, I can share a few practical tips and experiences I’ve gathered from my five times going through these phases and stages… stay tuned, because those practical tips will be shared in my next post.