The following article is a guest contribution by Jeff and Joan Kingswood. Jeff has served as a minister for twenty-five years; he and Joan have six children and five grandchildren. This article was originally released as a pamphlet for the benefit of the congregation. It is reprinted here with the kind permission of the authors.
Having our children worship with us each Sunday can be both wonderful and terrible! Wonderful, because God promises to bless even our tiniest children when we bring them into His presence as we worship with the visible church. Terrible, because their behaviour often disturbs the congregation’s ability to concentrate and because it can sometimes show up our failures in child discipline.
If we believe that God’s promises are for us and for our children (Acts 2:39) and that the Lord calls us to let the little ones come unto Him (Mk. 10:14), we need to be patient with our children and each other. We need to help each other “make it work”.
One way to facilitate this is to have some guidelines to follow during worship to ensure love for both our neighbour and our children.
A distraction that is easily prevented is the continued in and out to the washroom. One pastor called a family in his congregation to make an appointment to discuss with them the children’s “kidney problems”. The children had, one after the other, disturbed worship for repeated visits to the washroom. The “kidney problem” was soon solved by ensuring that each child visited the washroom before the service began. We must do the same. A trip to the washroom during the service should lead us all to think that the child is ill, not bored.
If you have very small children (infants) and you expect to have to slip out to nurse, rock, or walk her, sit near the back and near the end of an aisle so that you can exit easily and noiselessly with a minimum of disturbance to others. Other worshipers should not be able to hear you leave even if they see you out of the corner of their eye. If that means slipping off your shoes so they don’t click on a hard floor, do it!
Be sure that everyone in your family who can read or count has a Bible and hymnbook. Little ones should not sit flipping through these books in play but should be gradually taught how to look up hymns and scripture passages. Most four and five year-olds can find hymn numbers and by six or seven should be trying to find the Bible text. Practice at home can help prepare for worship.
When the congregation stands everyone should stand. Children should never be allowed to stay seated or remain standing when the congregation is not. This seemingly small behaviour is often evidence of a rebellious spirit, if not simply a lazy one! Ensuring obedience here emphasises the corporate nature of our worship.
Know when it’s time to leave. Even a few minutes of unchecked crying, coughing, or wrestling is too long and will disturb others. It is also too long to allow disobedience to go unchecked. Of course a tired baby who cries is not in need of discipline – he just needs mom or dad to discreetly and silently pace or head for the Cry Room. However, the toddler who talks or refuses to obey his parents should immediately be taken to a “sound proof” area and be corrected. Then, when the child is calm and will obey, he should return to the sanctuary. Action should be swift and memorable. We must have a zero-tolerance for disobedience.
Also remember that “shushing” a child is often as much disturbance as that which the child has been making. If our children need to be reminded to stop talking, gently put your finger to your lips or the child’s lips. A loud, “Shhh!” only draws attention to the problem and is often an angry parent’s way of showing their own frustration.
We should use discretion about when to re-enter the sanctuary. No matter why we have to leave, we should never march back in during the reading of the Bible, or while the pastor is praying. If at all possible come and go during a hymn. Even then, think of ways to do it in the quietest and least visible way. We’re not watching a ball game. We are in the worship of the Almighty!
A training room is for training. It provides a place for parents to sit with their children and teach, explain, and correct without disturbing the whole congregation. A training room is not the same as a cry room. Even in the training room a disobedient, crying, or struggling child should not be allowed to disturb others. She should be brought to another soundproof area of the church, taught, and when calm, brought back to worship.
Children should be taught to sit up, facing the front, no fidgeting, no tap dancing or drumming, no colouring, and no toys. Children who can write can make simple sermon notes and younger children can draw a theme from the sermon. The goal is that when you sit down to Sunday lunch they should all be able to tell you what the sermon was about. If they can’t, you know that they are “switching off” during worship and there should be adjustments made. It should embarrass our children to have no answer when they are asked what the pastor taught from God’s Word today.
They should be taught how to keep their eyes closed during a prayer, how to pass the offering plate and how to stand for the benediction. They should be taught what is happening in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and they should know how to behave during the Sacraments. They should know that in all these things we are dealing with the God who has given His Son, Jesus Christ to save us from our sin. We do not want to create well-behaved little Pharisees. Our desire is that we, with our children, will together be learning to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!