Parenting in the Pew: Tips for Stressed Out Parents and Fed Up Congregants
Run out of ideas about how to get your kids engaged in the worship service? Trying to see past the endless crayons and activity books? Me too and I am running on empty here! However, check out ideas here that I gained from a great read recently! And good luck to us all :)
I get asked lots of questions by parents visiting our church for the first time, but by far the most common is this: Why don’t you have Children’s Church for older kids during the service? It’s so hard to have my six-year-old with me during church! We do have children’s church and it is split service meaning the children are in the service for the most part. However children older than about six are expected to stay with their parents during the entire service. I get a similar a related question from adults: Why don’t you have something for more ages during the service? I can’t enjoy the service with all of these whiny, squiggly, rowdy children in the sanctuary!
Having been in a career of ministry to children for some time, God has always kept one particular idea in the forefront of my heart: the idea that children are members of our covenant communities today. They aren't "members in training" or potential worshipers. They belong right now because, from infants to teenagers, God wants the worship of our children. I'm convinced that God wants our children’s’ worship and it's our job as parents to teach them how to worship. Recently I read a book called “Parenting in Pew-Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship” by Robbie Castleman. I highly recommend it for all of us parents who have uttered “shhh” to our kids in church more times that we can count! It offers some great insight on how to engage your children and go beyond the backpack full of coloring books and crayons.
Church, unlike quiet times of Bible study and prayer, is a communal experience. We come together to make a joyful noise for our God. We come together to encourage each other in faith. We come together to welcome newcomers into a relationship with God and his people. And that welcome extends to children. Our job as a congregation is to welcome children into the life of the church. This job may fall primarily on parents, but it won’t work if the entire community doesn’t pitch in. Here are a few pointers as we, the church body, begin this amazing journey of teaching our children how to worship!
FOR PARENTS: Our time at church is not a time-out from our role as a parent. It’s not like date night, where you and God are going to have some special one on one time. We as parents have the responsibility, and incredible blessing, to lead our children in the life of our church. This means recognizing that they are part of a community, and teaching your children to respect that community is important work. In a culture that focuses on entertaining children constantly, it will not be easy. But it will be worth it.
- This has helped me the most....Worship WITH rather than BESIDE your children. Encourage your children to make a joyful noise when we sing! Help those who can’t yet read by singing the words of the chorus into their ears so they can sing along. Have them squeeze your hand whenever they hear a repeated word like God or Hallelujah.
- Differentiate between being quiet verses worshiping. While these are not mutually exclusive, they are not the same thing. A child can be quiet without learning how to worship.
- Attempt to make Sunday morning different! Set the alarm early enough to allow for a relaxed pace. Have a simple, special Sunday breakfast. Also, very hard to actually pull off but it will help immensely!
- Take children to the bathroom before the service begins.
- For some, it is helpful to sit as a family toward the front of the sanctuary. Children who can see will feel more a part of the service. If, on the other hand, you think you’ll need to take a break during the service, you may feel more comfortable sitting near the back or on an aisle.
- Help your children learn things they will hear in the service. While we do this in children’s church, keep reinforcing this with older children as well. For our church, these may include the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles Creed.
- Whisper instructions, questions and comments. “Now is the time when we tell God how great He is.” Or “This is the time when we pray and tell God we are sorry for our sins”.
- Help young readers follow along with the sermon notes or their bibles. Point out words for young readers and even non-readers who can pick out repetitive words.
- Allow children to participate in the offering by sharing their allowance or placing your family’s offering in the plate.
- If you need some time to quiet a crying baby or help a squiggly child re-focus, feel free to step out of the sanctuary for a bit. I've learned that a little noise in the sanctuary doesn't ruin God's experience of our worship. If a parent has to leave the sanctuary for a moment with their child, it's okay!
- On the way home, ask what people did, enjoyed, and wondered about during the service
- Help your children develop a love for church. Perhaps above all, this is our desire as parents. We want our children to know in their heads and their hearts that we are so blessed to be able to come and worship God. We want church to be a good place for them; a place where they come to know themselves most fully in the light of God's glory and grace.
- Remember that pew parenting and everyday parenting have a lot in common. The fact that we get to teach our children how to worship is a great privilege and a great joy. Just like parenting, it will be challenging at times.
FOR THE CONGREGATION: When we come to church we need to remember that it is not an adults-only resort. As stated before, church, unlike quiet times of Bible study and prayer, is a communal experience. A little noise in the sanctuary doesn't ruin God's experience of our worship. When we are tempted to roll our eyes or offer parenting advice, why not try out a few of these pointers to help teach the children in our church how to worship?
- Remember the commitment made as a church when children are baptized or when you joined. It was a commitment to encourage them to become disciples of Christ.
- Introduce yourself to the child sitting beside you. Make him or her feel welcome and important.
- Understand when parents need to take young children and babies to the nursery or the rest room and then return to worship.
- Have patience with the learning process, and pray for families that you see are struggling
- Compliment children who stay engagted during the service.
This is a hard question to ask of ourselves (speaking as a parent here) but is it time to reassess? Here's a quote from an interesting article - "I don't think we [verbally] teach our kids the lesson to be busy, but they learn from the rhythms we set," Lysa says. "Some busyness is unavoidable, but take a giant step back and ask what you want your family to look like." Check out the article below & ask yourself not only how you want to develop a skill/talent in your child but also how you want your child to remember your family time and priorities. Good things to consider.
"Lysa and Art TerKeurst lead busy lives, she as president of Proverbs 31 Ministries and he as owner-operator of a Chick-fil-A restaurant. The pair recently had to reassess a decision they made years ago about how they wanted their family to operate. They wanted their kids — three biological, two adopted — to try a lot of activities so they could find one that they really enjoyed. But Lysa and Art also wanted to be a family that had dinner together several times each week.
Unfortunately, as the kids got older and busier, family dinners lost out to too many activities, and the mama/chauffeur/organizer was stressed, tired, short-tempered and spiritually down.
Lysa explains, "We were talking about the kind of family we wanted to be, but our schedule wasn't showing that. So we 'chased down' our decision about activities."
Chasing down a decision — the act of following a decision made now to its logical conclusion later. The TerKeursts reviewed their decision to allow their children to participate in multiple activities and the results of that decision. They concluded that the decision ultimately meant chaos, stress and very little dedicated family time..."