Thursday, July 19, 2012

Learning to Worship

A friend of mine asked me this week about what the expectations are for our children during worship in church, and how we train them. Since this is probably something many families are seeking to train their children in (and because my friend asked me to), I thought I'd have a go at addressing it here.
First of all, I want to point out a few things:
  1. My children are not perfect angels and do, at times, act up during worship.
  2. Any good idea we have, we probably got from someone else.
  3. It's hard work, requiring us to regularly remind the children (and ourselves) of why we do what we do.
Having said all that, our primary standard is that the children are with us during worship, standing. Having them stand is huge. There are several reasons for this. First of all, we are training them not to simply be quiet and non disruptive during worship, we want to teach them to worship, so we want them to have a posture of worship, and at our church, that means standing. We've noticed that if they don't sit, then they are also not laying around, reading, coloring, etc. We have also noticed that as they get older, they are more likely to take part in the actual singing if they are standing up like all the other worshippers around them.
One of my children has a regular problem with the standing, complaining about having tired legs. This child is regularly (as in, every week) reminded that they have plenty of energy for running and playing, so they can use some of that energy to worship Jesus, even if it only means they are standing. That is their act of worship. Another child who is often tempted to suck their thumb is reminded that they may not do that during worship. That might sound a bit uptight, but aside from the fact that it's time to give up that particular habit, for this child it fosters a sense of passivity and boredom, and we want to foster an engagement and excitement for worship - after all, Jesus is worth all our praise!
We have a very determined, wriggly and persistent 2 year old. I may have mentioned him before. :) We have made a consistent effort to make sure he is held as much as possible, usually by Toby. Thankfully, he usually seems to nod off at some point during worship, which does make holding him a little easier, though a little sweaty. On the days when he's up and ready for a wrestle, it is harder. There are some tears, maybe a trip to the back of church for some correction. We just keep reminding ourselves/each other that it will be worth the fight if we can teach him now so that we're not fighting this same fight when he's 10.
 I will note that if Toby is unable to hold him for any reason and I have to do it, I tend to sit down with him on my lap. The other children have to remain standing because, as I point out to them, they are not carrying one baby on the inside (that is crowding out my air supply) and one on the outside. They get the point. 
If standing is a major challenge or new to your children, practice at home. We've done this for a number of new experiences - in this case, have the kids stand still around the dining table or in the living room while you play a worship song or two on a CD. Pick songs that you often sing at church, and the lyrics will become more familiar - 2 lessons in one. After a few days, add in another song. They'll get in the habit.
Our final trick it this: find surrogate grandparents. If you sit near a bunch of other families with young kids, consider moving to an area of church where there is an older couple or single who would love to help out. We have a wonderful couple who sits behind us most weeks, and our kids love them almost as much as they love our kids. Ellie, in particular, loves to go and sit with them during worship, and they are glad to have her. We don't normally allow the kids to sit with others or allow friends to come sit with us because we've learned that the kids are just not attentive, but we've made an exception here, mainly because they sit right behind us and we can keep an eye on her, plus they respect our standards and are keen to help us parent our children, rather than just spoiling them. I would suggest looking for an older person/couple, though - in my experience, younger couples or singles without children tend to make it more a time of fun and games, rather than helping kids prepare to worship. So, if there is a couple in your church that you would like to have invest in your children and be able to bless with your need, ask for their help. They will probably love that you did.
 I know we are far from having cornered the market in Early Childhood Church Training, so please share what your family does that helps your children and your whole family to worship on Sunday morning!
P.S. In the typing of this post, I had Toby look over it to be sure that I didn't leave anything out or grossly misrepresent what we do. In talking about it, we were reminded of the vital need for prayer in all this. Too readily we rely on our own cleverness and systems to produce good behavior in our children, and settle with that result.  But what God wants, and what we should want, are worshippers of Him, and we are wholly unable to produce such things.  Without seeking God on our children's behalf, the best we could hope for are well-behaved children.  True worship requires the Spirit of God to transform the hearts of His people, and we are freshly reminded of the need to bring our children before the Lord, pleading for His Spirit on their behalf. It's not hard to do, but so easy to forget, and it's the most important thing we can do.