One of the things I love most about our congregation and the churches of the CREC is that we have the base level expectation that our children are ordinarily going to be in worship with us. We are principally opposed to the practice of shipping Christian children off to nurseries, children’s church and other places, because we want our baptized children to be right beside us, learning how to worship. We want their little hearts and minds and bodies to be shaped by the liturgy, for them to ask forgiveness for their sins, sing the Psalms, hear God’s word read and taught, give to the Lord, confess their faith and eat with Jesus at His table. We do not want to treat them as second-class Christians, who are relegated to play-time until they are old enough to do “grown-up” church.
But inevitably when you include infants and toddlers in worship, there are going to be all kinds of noises and distractions and times where babies are going to make everyone aware of their presence. That comes with the territory. We expect that a room with a bunch of babies in it is going to sound like a room with a bunch of babies, and we shouldn’t want it any other way. We want the babies in worship and all that they bring with them.
At the same time we do not want our children to remain infants with infant-level expectations all their lives. As they begin to mature they are able to worship with age-appropriate attention and participation. Very early on they can begin to learn the responses and songs we sing every week. They know when to raise their hands, when to close their eyes, when to kneel, when to put the offering in the plate, when to take the bread and the cup. A little later they can pick out words and read along and before long they begin to even memorize a number of the hymns and psalms.
This is what we are after, and the whole reason we have them in worship with us is so that they can, you know, worship. If we have a twelve-year-old who spends the whole service fidgeting, daydreaming, sprawled out and rattling paper have we really accomplished anything by having him in worship his whole life? If that kid is the model of what we are shooting for, then we might as well just have children’s church. But if we want to train worshippers, then we are going to have to be deliberate and purposeful about their training before, during and after worship.
In this short series of posts my goal is to offer some instruction and thoughts on training children in worship, and to offer you some encouragement as you do the hard work of raising up little men and women who love to receive the ministry of word and sacrament every Lord’s day.
I will say a few things about expectations – what our expectations for our children and for each other’s children ought to be (along with how much grace, patience and mercy we must have for parents in the middle of the great toddler pew wars.) I will share a few thoughts about minimizing distractions and helping little ones stay occupied during the sermon. Then I will offer up some tips on managing emergencies, meltdowns, blowouts and catastrophes in the middle of worship. I intend to conclude with instruction on how to deal with disobedience in or after the church service.
Feel free to comment or reply along the way with your own thoughts or helpful tips.