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.****

Recommended Resources:
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)


Liz said...

I really appreciate you mentioning this very practical fact that most of us face . . . as I "parent in the pew" three little ones by myself I find myself convinced that I've got to have a plan or it gets really bad. Thanks for the thoughts!

Tara said... go girl! You like tackling these humongous topics, don't you?!? ;)

Before I throw my very tired 2cents in right now, I will preface it with a reminder that my thoughts/feelings can only reflect my own parenting and experience. I do not wish to cast refelction on the thoughts of others. But I always find honest and courteous debate profitable when done in a good spirit. So in light of that, let's go!! (Also would like to say that I found Marianne's concluding thoughts on the previous post to be excellent and very reflective of my desires for our family as well.)

As for this post, you put it together very thoughtfully. And I think that if you and I were talking it out "in person" we are likely to be on the same page coming to the same conclusion. I found myself somewhat disagreeing with points along the way, simply AGAIN because of my own perspective. And let's face it we all have our own perspectives. Beginning with thoughts on babies...we fall in different camps and that's okay. My feelings there have little to do with the spiritual side of the matter: I simply could not hand my baby over to a nursery attendant who also has a whole room full of other infants and virus-carrying toddlers (ouch! did I really say that!)to attend to. I may as well skip church altogether b/c I'd be miserable sitting in the sanctuary wondering how my baby was. It's just not for me. And my babies have done fine in church. And I respectfully disagree with the assertion that all babies are patently distracting by virtue of their existence. We just see that issue completely differently.

On to young children: sorry to say I also disagree that young children can't be still in public or at home! I do totally get that all children are DIFFERENT, so there are therefore SOME children who may not be able to, but there are plenty who CAN!:) My own Cameron (7), is a mover and a shaker by nature; an incessant and chronic wiggleworm. There are members of my our own family who may find it difficult to believe that he could sit still for a church service! But the truth is, although he repositions his body more than most he also avoids being a distraction to others in Morning Worship. Sometimes I quietly whisper to him and remind him that he could actually listen and pay attention! When I do that, drawing his mind back to where we are, I can physically see his posture change as he engages again with what's happening around him. Sophie is 5, and she still draws and doodles for portions of the service. She is the only one who hasn't actually fully tuned in yet to everything that is happening. But again, she avoids being a distraction.

I am always looking for teachable moments out of our normal everyday life. Many times during the week, I search for ways to say things like, "Hey kids, it's sort of like Pastor Bill was saying on Sunday....." or "do you remember when so-and-so thanked God for such-and-such last week in church?".....
I am always thrilled when I see a light come on, and they are like, yeah! we remember that! It connects the dots between Sunday and LIFE.
Another thing I often do, when the kids are becoming quizzical wondering what's happening during church, and want to start whispering 20 questions....I remind them that after the service is over we can talk to their hearts' content about what they want to know. They often ask for us to explain an illustration or something to them. Lauren (9) often asks very good questions about things she has heard spoken of in church.

I am not interested in having angelic beings for the sake of having angelic beings, behavior wise. I try to dress my children up "real good" too, but I am really not concerned with matching outfits, or compliments and words of praise from others. I am truly concerned that our children sense that they are connected to something so infinitely bigger than themselves, their family, or even our little church that sits on the hill. They are part of the universal Body of Christ. And my desire is that everything I try so hard to tell them about and teach them about through the week will come shining through in some way as we worship corporately with other believers. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't.

I can honestly say that though our children are ages 1, 5, 7, and is not a spectator sport for us. We are participators, and we do want our children to have a front row seat to seeing how that plays out. Whether we take a meal to someone that we prayed for in church, or send a card out to someone we missed, etc., we're in this thing together. And I know we make mistakes, but I sure hope we're erring on the side of right.

You're right...I could go on with a million different thoughts. These are my initial gut reactions, good or bad! I know I've spoken bluntly, but that's only because I'm responding directly to YOU, Charity,(yes, you too NATE!) and I know the stuff our relationship is made of. So I think it's cool! :)

Charity said...

Liz: Yep, any ideas are helpful. You'd like the Parenting in the Pew book~ has lots of practical ideas.

Tara: Thanks for commenting on Candid Conversations with Charity. (sorry- Odyssey radio slipping in). You're right- if we were talking, the conclusions would have been different. I THOUGHT I had included the words 'safe and well-staffed' in front of nursery, so I'm editing it now. Many times, I've not put my kids in somewhere because of obvious sickness, bad vibes from a worker, or even a toddler with a foul attitude being in the room. Ironically, our church where we go now doesn't even have a nursery, so it isn't a debate. The reason I would like one to put Alex in is so I could focus more intensely on guiding Kathryn through the service during these impressionable years. And I didn't mean that small children shouldn't be expected to sit still. Of course, they should. It's just imperative that they have some time before or after to work off those energetic wigglies. It's difficult but possible. Your comment made me aware of several areas where I didn't communicate myself clearly. Thanks. If you read it later, it'll be different in some areas~ it's a work in progress. Thanks again, dear friend.

Charity said...

Tara: also... don't assume Nathan's ideas are part of these posts. He read this one and said, "Oh, dear," chuckled and went back to what he was doing. I think he thinks I'm a little too strong sometimes. God gave me to him to keep his life interesting ;o)

Ladyluck said...

Hmmph. You are so wrong.
Just kidding. ;-)

I do have to say I'm with Tara on putting newborns in nursery, I just can't do it. Although I am wearing mine 95% of the time, so they really aren't visible (and a distraction).

Now, as I said in my previous really long comment to your previous post, we did/do put the little ones in Pre-K church. I am still torn over whether we should or not, but for now, we do. I wonder at what age you plan to bring your children back into service with you and how you plan to implement that? According to my current plan, this summer will be the end of Joey's children church time and he will be expected to stay in preaching with us (our church doesn't dimiss for kid's programs until after praise and worship time, right before the message). Honestly, I'm not sure how that is going to go over. I forsee lots of books and doodlings, and perhaps even some walks with Daddy and Jesus, if you know what I mean.

Juwah said...

Babies & Distraction:
1. Sit near the back
2. keep them down in your lap. (Don't hold thme up to smile,coo and wave at the rest of the church.)
3. 10am nap time. (my babies slept through most of church. ahh for the days) :)

Engaging more than one during church:
I do understand having two (and for most of your readers, more)to engage during church can be a challenge. However, Matt and I are partners and so we tag team. I'll be honest though, Matt does a lot of the "overtime" work with the boys. After all day all week at home training and educating, I'm pretty ready for my evening and weekend reinforcment. This doesn't mean I eat bon-bons and chat with my girlfriends, but it does mean that when Daddy's around my responsibility is cut in half. Needless to say he's a very engaged Daddy and the boys and I both greatly benefit from his selflessness. You'll probably find with Alex as he gets older, he'll want to be on Daddy's lap more and more and he'll want to be taught by "another" man. So it won't be long till you will have that time to engage Kathryn.

The Canfield Family said...

I was surprised to see your link at the bottom of the post to "The National Center for Family-Intergrated Churches". How did you come across this? I have not found many people in our Holiness tradition familiar with them. When I saw that, I thought that if I take the time (which I don't really have at this point) to comment, it could probably turn into a rather lengthy one.

We are very familiar with this site and the parent organization of Vision Forum. At the very first homeschool convention that we went too, Doug Phillips was the key note speaker. At that time he was an attorney with the Home School Legal Defence Association (HLSDA). Shortly after that he started Vision Forum, based in San Antonio, Texas.

Doug held me spell bound at that convention and I went to every one of his workshops. Since that time we have gone 3 different years with Doug and his family, on week long "Faith and Freedom" tours, and have gotten to know and interact with many wonderful families. Though we have theological differences, the positive things that I have seen them doing with their children has been astounding.

We have visited a couple of these family intergrated churches and have been so impressed with what they have been doing with their young people. They are very spiritually minded as well as service oriented, rather than entertainment driven as we see in so much of the current church youth culture.

I can't help but compare it to my 14 years of teaching at HSCA and in the years beyond, watching the majority of parents loosing their children. Nathan's parents were an exception. I remember the year that I had Philip in class, during a conference with a parent of another student in the class, they told me, "Just wait a few years, Philip will rebel too". I told the other parent that he would not because I observed the training at home that he received. This was about 25 years ago, and he still has not rebelled!

My observations as a teacher brought me to the conclusion that what we do at home in the training of our children is the important key in the way that they will turn out. I watched the good and the bad, and felt, after all these experiences, that I was prepared for my own parenting. If I had started out parenting without this experiece, I probably would have felt lost!

I think that what Tara said about "looking for teachable moments during the day" is so important. That is one of the great things about homeschooling, you can take the time to deal with the heart issues, rather than the surface problem. We have tried to have our girls think though issues, rather than just "telling" them....always the scripture as the guide.

I remember when one of our girls was about 4 1/2, they asked me about the wearing of jewelry. I remember going up to our bedroom, getting out the Bible, sitting on the bed, and showing them what the Word of God said about it, by explaining the verses and what they meant. Children must know and understand why we live the way we do.

I am afraid that many parents are leaving the training of their children to the "Church", and sometimes to the school. What I see in depth of character in the children that are in "home intergrated churches" is so impressive........though they are most all very Calvinistic of very impressive. I wish that we in the holiness tradition could learn some important concepts from them and have a better success rate in saving our own children!

Tara said...

I have to say, I read the article "Children Destroy Worshipful Atmospheres" on the website Mr. C is referring to...and *yikes*, is it ever convicting of our American culture, both church and non. Sometimes we see an issue such as this one you have raised, Charity, as a surface or minor issue. In reality, as we dig deeper we can see how challenging the norms of even church-held philosophies can strengthen our commitment as parents. Parenting is a job to be done ON PURPOSE. It cannot be left to happen on its own, or its end will be disastrous. I feel so convicted to step up to the plate even more and engage with this huge responsibility and privilege I've been given.

Charity, it's been a roller coaster here, huh?!? I did get your message, and I'll call you back as soon as I get few CHILD-FREE moments to do so! HA!

I hate that you went to so much trouble to amend, though, based on my comment. Like I mentioned, I really was tired after a long Lord's Day when I responded. I should have made clear that there were many things in your post that I also agreed with completely. I particularly felt your statement about children who "sit down and shut up" will simply be adults who "sit down and shut up" to be right on the money.

This issue really is two-fold in many ways: 1)there is the spiritual element at play of wanting our children to experience the joy of corporate and family worship and all that it entails and then 2) there is that very basic parenting principle that should be guiding parents regardless of their goals for church services. I was thinking yesterday about the act of taking a family out to dinner at a restaurant. The same basic principle of Respect and Consideration of others is in play for this as well. We're there (and paying a small fortune when you have 6 people!) to enjoy dinner and each other's company, but we have to respect the fact that those seated around us are there to do the same thing using their hard-earned money. I remind my children often to look around them at the tables of people (PASSING GLANCE, please!) and to remember as we're at the rest. to be respectful of those folks whether we know them or not.

I think a blending of these two parenting principles and desires will result in a positive worship experience for the whole family, and your fellow believers. I would encourage all your readers to read the article that I mentioned above.
I also, like Julia, feel very blessed to have a husband who tag teams this journey with me. Sunday is a busy day of non-rest for us, as for all those in ministry. But if I had to sit on that pew and parent all four alone, I'd be totally hosed! We're in this thing together and his help is invaluable to me. And yes, that is PARTICULARLY true of little boys. Daddies just "get them" and somewhere along age 2 they begin to show that they're identifying with Daddy more and more. But even before then, they can still help immensely. And you and Nate only have one each, so you guys are GREAT shape!!

Talk to you soon!

Taylors said...

Wow! Your friends really have opinions, don't they Charity?

Thanks for bringing this very important subject up. I think I will leave my comment to a minimum as we have been e-mailing, and you know what I think.

Great job....I appreciate your insight.

I think every parent that is completely dedicated to God will be given direction on the matter if they are seeking it. That's what we have to do as Christians. We MUST do our very best, as if we were standing before Christ. If others don't agree with it, hopefully they can have enough Christian love to continue to have respect for the decision that has been made.

I will say that no one can understand like Minister's wives. I am married to an Associate/Youth Pastor, and I still have been the "single mom" in church many times. I'm glad for those families that can "tag-team" all of the time...must be nice.

I pray that all of your children as well as mine will come to know Christ as their Savior, and that they will live to serve others as He would have them do.

Side note....not everyone can sit in the back with their babies!

Charity said...

Mr. C~ thanks for the 'extensive' ;o) comment. We've been getting Vision Forum stuff (books, etc.) for some time. I don't remember exactly how we got into them- maybe Phil & Marianne introduced them to us? Anyways, they DO have great resources. And some of our homeschooling friends use a good bit of their stuff for their kids. They seem to have a good handle on raising kids, don't they? We as the CHM people can use all the tips we can get!! And I do agree that Nathan's parents did a fabulous job! Time proves the method, doesn't it?

Tara~ yes, it HAS been a roller coaster ride ;o) Many thanks for all your thoughts on this subject.

Jamie~ thanks for being a part of this discussion. Yes, my friends ARE quite opinionated. You need to know that they've all known each other for many, many, many years (they're really quite old, you know- Nathan's age ;o), and comment freely and bluntly without frills or worry since they all know where the others are coming from. I count myself blessed to have ALL of you as readers and commentators on my blog. Thanks for a vigorous debate. You really make me think, laugh, (and even fume at times, as I do you). Just so you all know, the next topics (in order of appearance) will be breastfeeding vs. formula, attachment vs. Ezzo, and spanking vs. time-out. JUST KIDDING!!! Have a good one!

Tara said...


I promise can count me OUT!!!!

Charity said...

Oh, yes. Sorry, Juwah. Thanks for your practical tips, too. I didn't mean to overlook you. I'm sure you were devastated, knowing your sensitive nature ;o) lol

Mary Ellen said...

Ha ha ha - I loved your sense of humor and your line up of topics, that was great!!!!

Kimberly said...

Charity...even though you deemed to invite us childless folks into the discussion, I have refrained:) Bless your heart, for your sincerity and I am forced to comment when I see the upcoming list you have in mind...Ha Ha Ha! Run away as fast you can, is all I have to say.

Seriously, I do commend ALL parents who are striving (albeit the chosen method) to parent their children with God's love. One word from from this single, childless, child development/family relations major, child therapist: Along with all your striving....ENJOY the journey with these beautiful little souls! (Hope to see ya this summer!)