Thoughts on Parenting Children in a Service of Worship
I have no precise formula to offer in training young children on the ins and outs of learning how to participate in the worship service. I say "participate" which is the aim you are shooting for as your little ones progress through the various stages of growth and development. In truth, in the beginning their participation in my opinion is more about learning how to obey mom and dad in a new setting, while learning about corporate worship from mom's and dad's example (and the example of church members around them). I'm absolutely certain more thorough and better advice is to be found, but allow me to offer the following counsel at least as a starting point.
First, for those with the littlest of children, consider taking advantage of the nursery. The sisters who take care of our little ones during a service of worship love to serve moms and dads in this way. How often do you get to engage in something as meaningful and needful as corporate worship with your brothers and sisters without distraction? However, I would never attempt to make this an inviolable rule or law because so much is done in the modern church to break apart families in an effort to meet felt needs. The truth is, with our firstborn, we chose not to utilize the nursery, but when our girls came along we began taking advantage of this ministry. My wife and I could give benefits and drawbacks to each choice. In the end, this decision rests with parents entirely.
Second, bring your little ones into corporate worship. Do not let your little one dictate your Sunday morning to you, especially when it comes to your participation in corporate worship. Parents, you are the authority. Do not give in to the temptation to yield to their selfish whims just because you fear a tantrum. In point of fact, you should be training them at home that such reactions to your authority will not be tolerated but met with discipline. Be consistent. Let them know that they have no option other than joining you during corporate worship. Remember, little ones are more clever than you think. For example, a child might hold off on going to the restroom till the service starts if he/she thinks it provides him/her with a weekly break from the service. Be mindful about such manipulation from your kids, and head them off beforehand with teaching and reminders before the service begins. Be prepared to discipline them when they disobey you in this matter.
Third, plan ahead so that you do not set you kids up for failure. We've all heard that "Failing to plan is planning to fail." Don't expect too much from your really young ones. You may want to provide something to help keep them occupied without being a distraction to what is going on in the service. Avoid bringing half the toys from their toy box. You do not want to communicate to your child that corporate worship is playtime. The thinking here is to train your kids to sit quietly during the service. Be mindful of times when your little one is distracting other members around you by playing peek-a-boo with those sitting behind you, etc. Likewise, church members without little ones can help parents by not providing such distractions to our church's kids.
Finally, I suggest you teach your children that an outburst during the service is not acceptable. This requires you to teach and train them at home that their audible resistance to your instructions and commands will not be allowed. Parental discretion is of course necessary in determining the reason for your child's outburst, but any outburst made in disobedience to your directives should not be tolerated.
It is a joy to see families gathered into a single family of God in Christ to worship Him week to week. Children are a great blessing from the hand of our Father, and His church should delight in all those He places among us! Let us never forsake the duty of prayer for these precious little souls and the families to which they belong.
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