Monday, May 05, 2008
Oh, What To Do With The Littlest Members Of The Body? Version 2.0 (Modified Remarks in Red)
This has been so fascinating for me! All your comments have been read and reread not just by me, but by many others. Thanks for taking the time to think out such in-depth responses. Thanks to the "childless" for participating. I even received some very honest e-mails that gave me much food for thought. The conclusions reached by my readers will and should be a bit different. Each church, family and child is a different ballgame, so one-size-fits-all will not work here. Obviously, this is a humongous topic. I'd like to just scratch the surface of the surface, if I may.
My main goal in bringing this topic up is to challenge the status quo (imagine that!~ little passive me ;o) and to (hopefully) provoke discussion and thought in the other parents out there. I think we all want to be purposefully rearing our children, and I believe this includes "parenting in the pew." If all children get is "sit still and shut up," why are we surprised when they turn into adults who just "sit still and shut up?" That is, if they come at all!
We've all seen them (maybe even BEEN them): the 12 year olds doodling in coloring books, the seven year olds running trucks across the floor of the sanctuary, the toddler who 'gets loose' and makes it under six pews before being snatched up by an embarrassed dad, oh and did we mention? the teenagers passing notes on the back pew! Or maybe you've observed the 'good' kids, the ones who sit like little angels with shining halos, but who are totally disengaged from the service. The ones who could tell you more easily the number of yellow flowers in the arrangement or the ladies whose tags are turned up in the back than what was preached or sung. I really (call me ambitious) have bigger dreams for my children's church experience.
As I thought through this topic, two main thoughts came to mind: What is the purpose of the church service? and What are my parenting goals? This topic seems to be the place where these two questions intersect. I think we can all agree here. Church is to be a place where the Word is taught, where edification of other believers happens, where God is worshiped in music, where corporate prayer is engaged in, where __________ (you fill in the blank). And our goal for parenting is to get our children to heaven, helping them toward Christlikeness on the way.
So, keep them in or take them out? At what point do we integrate? This is THE QUESTION! And just as important, what do we do them after they are in main service?
Here's where we shall diverge in the yellow wood. Please note the following thoughts are more than a bit random.
Pros on Keeping Them In:
~ OK, I can't think of any ;o) However, Tara makes a valid point in wishing her children to not be exposed to tons of germs. That's obviously very understandable. To each their own...
Pros on Taking Babies Out
~In my opinion, babies are a notorious distraction, even the cute, non-screaming ones. This may be regional? I received an e-mail from a Southerner commenting on the freedom felt in Southern churches to wave, coo, and make faces at babies across the church. I HAVE seen this in previous churches we've attended. Maybe it's a Southern thing? If they can be in a safe and well-staffed nursery, the congregation can be more focused on the service, or they can fall asleep sooner. Anecdotal evidence of distraction: I remember distinctly sitting near a young man when Kathryn was an infant, who would become distracted (intentionally) with her when the preaching got a little close to the sin in his life. Also, some moms and dads do need a break from babies. There are some of us who don't have that during the week (we live far from friends and family), so church is a welcome breather for us.
Cons on Taking the Babies Out:
~No one will notice the color coordination of your whole family. Don't laugh! This actually came through in an anonymous e-mail. Hey, nothing's wrong with color coordination, don't get me wrong. Don't sneer either, please. When you've worked for a month like I did on a homemade Easter dress, it's a pain that no one will even notice. This is also a great illustration for wrong motives for keeping children in. There are more, believe me! Another is using church as the primary place for behavioral training. Appropriate behavior is crucial as we love others and desire for them to be able to listen, etc. If there's no respect for authority taught at home, we all know trying to enforce it in church will be disastrous.
YOUNG CHILDREN: Random! Thoughts
~ Young children need to MOVE. I wouldn't expect a three-year-old to sit perfectly still in private OR in public for huge lengths of time. This is especially true of Kathryn (I know none of you have hyper children ;o) Note to Sunday School teachers who aren't as smart as ours: no sweets without permission and please let them move around during that hour some! If we go straight from a 30 minute car ride to a service~ agh! Sunday School helps burn off those wigglies. I encourage her to move in time to the music (not pirouetting like Sophie, Tara ;o), but moving her toes or fingers or QUIET clapping.
~As the Canfield commentator noted, small children can be sensitive to the Spirit in a service. These are sweet moments that should be allowed. Even if they're just imitating in an innocent, non-show-offy way. If a child raises their hand in service, etc., I think they should be ignored. Never oohed and ahhed over. Spiritual exhibitionism just to be thought cute is disgusting. Also, they may NOT be aware of the Spirit. I'll never forget when a visitor began shouting praises and swinging his arm in the pew in front of us. The whole church was enjoying the presence of the God, and my child was screaming bloody murder because it startled and scared her. So we don't sit near those type of people if can help it.
~In the Old Testament, the Israelites were told "When your children ask "Why do we do this?," say..." implying that children at the age of curiosity benefit from participating in and observing worship.
~There are a million other little thoughts racing around my head. What about a children's program to pass out for reader-age kids with a place for taking notes, a box for illustrating their favorite hymn of the day, writing out the key verse? What about a mom illustrating the sermon for her little ones on a notepad? What about discussing the sermon over dinner? What about not complaining in the car about the service in front of the kids? Many of your comments gave me other ideas- really good ones. Thanks!
~Now... I didn't say all I'm thinking, but I think it comes down to us not checking our brains in at the foyer. We need to take advantage of this time every week to enhance our parenting process. Some may do this at 3, some at 5, some at 9. I don't think there's any hard and fast rules. Blessings on you and yours as you parent in the pew.
~Some of you have requested that I be more specific about my personal goals. My personal goal for Kathryn at this point (age 3) is to be guided by one of us through the offering, songs, etc. until sermon time. During the sermon, she occupies herself with a book or other quiet activity. Gradually, I expect her attention span to be able to stay engaged through more and more of the service. At that point, I would like to see her engaged through various techniques, many already discussed. I DO like families together in worship, sitting together, interacting together. We attend a church that doesn't have a nursery, so Alex is with us in service. I would, however, (if it were available) put him in one to be able to focus more intensely on Kathryn during these impressionable years.
****The purpose of this post is not to polarize people or to hold one approach over another as more Godly. Rather, I wished simply to bring the topic of intentional parenting into the church so we can better raise our children to succeed in the Body of Christ.****
Parenting in the Pew by Robbie Castleman (many wonderful ideas!!!!)
A Children's Guide to Worship by Ruth Boling, et al (a neat, if a bit liturgical, look at something you might give a child)
The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (interesting articles, even if I don't agree with all of it)
***NOTE: I mentally filter my resources for useful information, and totally agree with... um...none. So, that being said, go for it***
***NOTE #2: On second thought regarding my title, I do realize little ones are not officially 'members of the body.' That is, UNLESS you practice infant baptism ;o)
Posted by Charity at 7:54 PM