If you're like most Christian homeschooling parents, you probably place a high priority on worshipping the Lord at church on Sundays. But what do you do with your little ones when they cry, fuss, or make noise during the service? Is taking them to the church nursery or children's church until they are old enough not to be a distraction to others really the best answer?
Although consideration of other worshippers dictates that parents temporarily remove children from the service during disruptive episodes, it doesn't mean you have to exclude your children by permanently leaving them in the care of others. In fact, just the opposite can be true.
More often than not, the baby who is carried into church services and taught from his earliest days to be respectful, obedient, and reverent before the Lord will learn a fundamental lesson in self-control that will bless him throughout his entire life. Will it be an easy task? Most definitely not! On many Sundays when you're looking for a moment of spiritual refreshment yourself, you may find it necessary to get up and take your child in and out of the service several times. During moments like these, leaving your children in the care of nursery attendants and children's workers will certainly sound more appealing, especially when dealing with the annoyed looks of other church members and their well-meaning suggestions to use the nursery.
In addition, some may argue that expecting a toddler to stay with his parents and behave in church is unrealistic, unfair, and may even cause a child to dislike church for the rest of his life. They believe there is no beneficial learning that a little one can experience in an adult service. But who can refute the fact that children learn best by mimicking their parents? Because so much of life is caught rather than taught, a child can learn to love the Lord in adult worship. As he observes your attitude when singing praises, giving offerings, praying, reading Scripture, and listening to the pastor, your child will develop an impression of what is acceptable in worship. Plus, he'll experience an added sense of security in being with his mom and dad that can't be equaled anywhere else. As a result, rather than church becoming playtime in the nursery, it will become a time when your child learns to worship within the body of Christ.
Like homeschooling, teaching your child to be involved in church worship requires prayerfully considered goals. Even though there is no predetermined age when a child should be expected to participate and sit quietly in church, here are some practical do's and don'ts that might aid you in your efforts to reach your goal:
• Don't let your child entertain others sitting ahead or behind you in the pew.
• Don't let others entertain your child.
• Don't wait for a total meltdown before removing your child from the service.
• Don't take the entire toy box to church.
• Don't sit in the front. Pick a pew in the back near a quick and unnoticed exit.
• Don't get discouraged. It takes time to train. Be consistent, even if it means missing most of the sermon.
• Don't take your baby to the nursery from the service. Find a quiet room not being used in the church or take your child outside until he's calm.
• Set age-appropriate goals. Expect squeaks and squawks from a child under two, a smaller amount of noise from a child over two, and a certain amount of restlessness from any child who needs to sit for long periods of time.
• Be patient with those who criticize your decision to keep your child in church.
• Teach your child how to whisper or talk in a quiet voice.
• Prepare your child at home. Teach your child to sit quietly in your lap a few minutes at a time and gradually increase the length each day. Practice during your own family devotions by listening to a tape of a sermon or a children's story.
• Feed your child a good breakfast before church. Avoid sugary treats or snacks during church that only make kids more hyper.
• Take your child to the restroom before entering the sanctuary to eliminate the need to leave during the service.
• Teach your child Scripture with memory aids like the KJV ABC Memory Verse Program© from Alpha Omega Publications®. This will help your child listen for words from the Bible.
It's not always easy having our children in the service with us, but the extra work and effort will bring its own set of joys. Like parenting anywhere else, parenting in the pew simply takes planning, patience, and consistency. Remember, the ultimate goal is much more than training your kids to sit still and be quiet. Rather, your main desire is to teach your children to come before the Almighty God in worship, so they can grow spiritually and learn to love the Lord with all their hearts, their souls, and their minds.