Thursday, April 29, 2010

Training to Listen to Preaching

I want to start out by saying that I dislike reading posts that leave the impression that this mom has it all figured out. This is not one of those posts. I just feel led to share some of the things we have done to prepare little hearts to listen to preaching.

I'm an observer. I silently glean all sorts of knowledge without people even knowing it. Before I had children I watched how people trained children to behave in church services. I even still do it, as a mother of 4. From what I have seen, most people train children with this thought: Do what needs to be done to keep the little ones quiet so that I can pay attention to the message. There are other mindsets I've observed too: "I'm bored with the preaching, so I'll play with my little one to pass time," "I will sacrifice my ability to fully listen to the service to teach you to sit quietly AND listen," "I am trying to listen to preaching and trying to train the little one to do the same, BUT YOU JUST WON'T SIT STILL AND BE QUIET!!" and more.

Training a little one to do anything takes sacrificial work and lots of patience. Whether or not you are purposefully trying to train a child you are. Everything that we do as parents is training. Nothing we do as parents should be flippant; all should be done with gravity . We are ALWAYS shaping character. The habits established in a toddler's church habits will follow them throughout life. Yes, I truly believe that. If a little one is allowed to play in church at two, they will struggle at six and at sixteen.

Okay, you're probably thinking I've gone off my rocker. But you can teach a two year old to quietly listen ... really listen ... to an hour long sermon with some help. It just takes proper training from a young age.

I'm going to start with the nursery. I personally do NOT prefer a nursery. I believe a cry room is preferable for preparing little ones. But a parent must be prepared to be distracted during church until the training process is complete, which could take a while. If you know me in real life, you know that my little ones actually use a nursery. I'm not trying to sound hypocritical here; there is reason behind it. Our church is diverse. There are people from a lot of backgrounds. Understandably, if you have a baby who is not accustom to church, or a visiting parent who doesn't attend church regularly, they will need a nursery. I wouldn't want a visitor who could even be lost to miss out on hearing the gospel because they were wrestling with their baby all service. I also wouldn't want to give the impression that the nursery is not for members and the visitor's kids are pinned up in another room. I hope that makes sense.

Now, if my little Josiah (who is 8 months old) is the only one in the nursery, I keep him in church with us. If he can learn to sit in church, when why not let him? Why send him away to the nursery simply because his is between the ages of X and Y? Also, if he doesn't feel 100% or if he just wants mommy, I let him stay with us.

By time our kids are 18 months old they are consistently a part of Wednesday night services. One year after this time they do not use the nursery any longer. An exception would be on Sunday mornings when we have the most visitors. Our children's church begins at age 3. It is a children's service where they are being taught and are not just being babysat.

We use some tools to help them to be quiet: quiet toys, sippy cup, Cheerios and lots of holding. That is all that is permitted. As they become more accustom to being quiet in church we help the baby to be less dependent on these things. At 18 months we use all these tools. By age 2 have gotten them from being dependent on toys, then snacks. By 2 1/2 we have eliminated use of the cup. Lydia has not long been 3 and she still has to be held on rare occasion. Nothing's wrong with hugs! :-) We never take them out of church unless we need discipline or unless they are being a distraction to the service. Having to take a child out of service should never never ever be rewarded with playtime in the vestibule or, even worse, getting to return to the nursery. If you put the child in church, he needs to know that he's there to stay. If you have to get up with your baby and take him out, there needs to be correction! Remember, you are always training. If they get to leave service to play, they have learned, "if I misbehave, then I get to play!" The whole time the children are in church, we are ever reminding them were their attention should be: "Are you listening to that preacher?" "Where is pastor?" Remember, you are setting them up for life! Remember, you are preparing their hearts.

There are some things that we never EVER allow: talking (as in conversation), writing or drawing (a super big no-no, more on that later), playing on the floor or under the pew, or daydreaming. Sleeping is also not allowed. It sounds strict, but it's really not. It is mostly teaching that some behaviours are not appropriate for church. There is reason behind each of these. I wanted my children's hearts to be prepared to hear the gospel. I also didn't want to give the impression that church time was playtime.

I said earlier that if they are trained to play in church at two they will still be trained to play in church at six and at sixteen. It's more of that observation thing I was talking about. I say that because I have seen kids who are very well old enough to actively be a part of church services, even as old as 16 and 17 who simply haven't be taught to listen. Their #1 problem is usually drawing/doodling in church. As they get older it even becomes passing notes or texting. Church time is playtime. And why not? That is what it's always been.

Sleeping is a rather big one too. First, prepare your child for success. A nap is prudent on church days. My John is seven and knows that he will be taking a nap on church days. Yes, he is able to stay awake during church without one. But he needs a sharp mind. If a child is sleepy, you can bank on the fact that he will be fussy, irritable, or at the least won't be focused on the message. If your child is a baby ... say under 12 months, I can see a nap from time to time. But we need to bear in mind that this is child training. A child who sleeps in church on a regular basis will continue to do so. In my observations, I have seen children as old as 7 and 8 sleep regularly in church. It really bewilders me. They can be "wide-open" all day before church, conk out as soon as preaching starts and be "wide-open"again to play after church. If they have enough energy to play all day, they certainly have energy enough for preaching.

Like I said, you may think I'm off my rocker on this one. And I don't want to leave them impression that this is a perfect mom. It takes diligence and consistency. It takes patience and sacrifice. But I love seeing the rewards of our labour. It's great to be able to talk with my seven and five year olds about the sermon. I love it when they come to me after church with questions. It makes my heart warm when I look at them gobbling up pastor's message. Best of all, I have peace knowing that I am preparing the vineyard of their hearts and we will all reap the harvest which we have sown.

And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. -2 Timothy 3:15

1 edifying expressions:

Kimberly said...

Not off your rocker! Excellent post. We've pew trained our children from a young age, almost by accident (we are not nursery fans, too many germs!) then we realized that we were doing something right and continued the training- the older ladies are always complimenting us on our well behaved children (there are other children who are well behaved, they just aren't as noticable because they're in families with 2 children. We also had a rule for our oldest that she was to sit with us, not with friends, if friends wanted to sit with her, then they sat with us. We still have that rule for the little girls, the boys, sit all in one section with all the other teen boys, let me tell you, it is quite a sight seeing all the boys from age 12 through seniors in high school all sitting together in one section of the church! The funniest part is that the youngers sit in the front row, the rest fill in about 4 rows in that section, with the older boys behind the youngers. And they all listen... Keep up the good training!!