September 22, 2011

When My Answers Are Lame

 I mentioned earlier this week that I wanted to chat about kids in church.  Now before you think I've gone crazy, let me make a few statements about what I believe:
1. I believe families should attend church.
2. I believe the reason for attending church is to worship Christ; serve others; fellowship with other believers; and learn truths from His word.
3. I am a firm believer in teaching our children the importance of being involved (not just attending) church.
To read more about why we make it a priority, click HERE.

With all that said, I'll take a deep breath and pray that you read this with an open mind and a willingness to discuss it kindly.

A few weeks ago as we sat in our usual seats in church I looked to my right and realized that both of my girls were playing tic-tac-toe with their friends.  They were being quiet.  They were not being disruptive.  But something in me felt embarrassed that they were not diligently taking notes and hanging on every word of our pastor.  I whispered for them to stop playing games and pay attention!  My sweet daughter innocently replied, "but Mom, I don't understand what he's saying.  I never do."  How, pray tell, do you respond to that?
"Just act like you're listening."
"You just need to pay attention."
"Well, listen better!"

All of the responses I could come up with at that moment sounded absurd.
Have you ever said things to your kids and while it is coming out of your mouth you've thought what I'm saying sounds so ridiculous?  I do that so many times.  True confession.  How about you?

Back on track...
I'm not sure what I muttered as my response that morning.  I do know that it really got me thinking about kids in church.  I know there are many churches who are extremely kid friendly.  They realize the importance of creating a sense of community for the children within the worship service.  Other churches offer "children's church" as a great alternative by creating an age appropriate teaching/worship time.  While our church has many strengths, creating a child friendly worship service is not one of them.  It is so disheartening to sit week after week under great teaching but feel that our most precious attenders are being completely ignored.

Yes, they are engaged during the song/worship time.  But then I have to ask myself, realistically, would I want to attend a service week after week where I was expected to sit (quiet and still) for 45 min while someone spoke only to the grown ups in the room?
My children are compliant.  They do sit quietly and without complaint.  They are learning by example what worship time looks like for adults.  When Jesus said, "let the little ones come to me" he didn't say, "when the adult teaching time is over."  He included the children right then.  I want my children engaged in the act of worship.  Now.  Not when they get to their Sunday school class.  Now.  With us.  Alongside other believers of every age.  Engaged.

I want to ask these hard questions before they start asking me:  Why do we have our children in church?  Do I expect them to act like they are paying attention?  Do I expect them to take notes on a topic that is beyond their comprehension?  Do we, as a congregation (for generations in America), hinder our children's spiritual growth by expecting them to sit and behave, while ignoring them as a significant part of the body of Christ?

If you read this with the expectation that I would have good answers to these questions, I'm sorry to disappoint.  Like the title says, my answers right now are lame.  I'm taking these questions to Jesus.  I'm also open to suggestions from you.  Maybe you attend a church that succeeds in making sure children are an intrinsic part of worship/teaching time.  Maybe you've found something special for them to do while sitting in church.  Maybe your Sunday morning looks much different than mine.  I'd love to hear.


Trisha said...

I just love reading your blog! Your posts so often make me ponder!

My family are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or the Mormons. We attend church each Sunday for 3 hours. One hour is as a family, so the speakers focus on families and ofen that leans towards adults. For that time I have a special "church bag". In it I keep magazines that are about our Savior, Jesus Christ. Coloring books focused on the same things such as bible stories. Also small notebooks that then can write in or even make pictures. I have made a small "quiet book" with pictures of Jesus in the bible stories, small quotes such as "I am a Child of God". I have made file folder fun packets for them as well. They are not allowed to use these expect at church. And I try to switch these things out often.

The other 2 hours everyone is divided by their age. So the younger childrens lessons are focused on their age level. My 14 yr son has a lesson at his level. And we take turns teaching these levels. And there is an adult Sunday School class as well. It provides a good exerience for each of us. The best part is that in each class we are taught the same lesson, just at our levels. Which makes for some great conversations on the way home for church!

In all honesty I think we take our kids the Holy Spirit works on their hearts. Then as they are older the recognize that feeling and are familier with how the Holy Spirit works in us.

Eleanor said...

Gretchen, first of all, let me just say what a blessing it is to read your posts. The way you share your vulnerability with us is admirable. I applaud you for making it a priority to be as transparent as possible on your blog. You are real. Your readers enjoy that and want that, so thank you!

Second, as I read this post, I couldn't help but think this sounds all too familiar! This exact problem was something I struggled with at our previous church when Drew (now 13) was younger. It is almost silly how we expect them to sit still and not disrupt others (yes, I expected that from Drew even though he was a squirmy boy)for 45 mins, knowing they aren't tuned in to what is going on! I do however agree with you that they are learning by example of what worship time is like for adults and it is creating good habits in them which will eventually open up the spiritual floodgates in their little hearts. And even though your daughter said she didn't understand anything he was saying, I guarantee you bits and pieces are seeping into her brain and heart and she gets more than she thinks she does. Having said that, I have yet to find a better solution unfortunately. I know some churches offer Sunday School at the same time as worship, but it was important to me to have Drew in worship with us. I like the idea of families worshiping together and when it is sermon time, breaking up into age appropriate groups. Of course that would require a whole lotta more volunteers and you know how that tends to work out. :) So, in theory, it would be nice to have options and I agree with you, but in reality, I have yet to find much better. I just enjoy the time where I have my kids with me and pray that their hearts are open and receptive to what is being taught.

One suggestion would be to research the passage for that day and maybe discuss it over lunch after church as a family using your own notes you have taken to help better explain it? Just a thought.

Eleanor :)

the bennetts said...

oh Gretch. I don't know. I don't even know. growing up as a pastor's grandchild i always went to church, every sunday. i remember reading Babysitter's Club books through out the entire sermon because i had no clue what my grandpa was talking about. i sang the songs, recited the doxology and the Lord's Prayer. and read my books from the time we sat down until we stood to sing the last hymn. i think the first five minutes of every sunday the kids would come up to him and he would do a little children's story in five minutes and ask us questions. but that was about it.

after he died and a few years later, my parents divorced, we went to PBC and it was the same, only i was too old to be reading another book or color pictures during the sermon. two years later i came to know the Lord personally and i started taking notes and listening. i didn't always understand, but had a joy about it regardless.

all that to say, reading Babysitter's Club books and coloring pictures every sunday during church didn't end up pushing me away from church. however, i can see how it would/could.

i don't what is right/not right. i like that we are at church for church and sunday school- i think the kids get a LOT from their age-specific lessons that the rest of the church is also learning. i like the example we set for our kids by having them sit through 45 minutes of a sermon.

maybe we could do better jobs (talking about myself and husband, kinda "thinking" outloud on your comment section, lol) of reinforcing the sermon in a mini-children sermon at lunch, or in the car on the way home. three quick points, three quick questions and maybe a few verses??? i mean, it is up to us anyway to teach them... ???

what do you think? i'm curious about what your mom thinks, too.

Anonymous said...

I have thought a lot about your same questions. And like you I am still working through it. But here are my thoughts for what they are worth.
1. I do think they are getting something even if they say they do not understand. Like your other poster stated their brains are getting bits and pieces. I also think they are learning an important lesson about being still and trying to listen. God often speaks when we are still and by training them to be still and listen. You are preparing a foundation for that.
2. Now that they can read, I have told mine when they are bored or whatever, to pick somewhere in the Bible and just read during the service.
3. Try to make it challenging - I have started something with my kids regarding school each day and it just occurred to me that it could work here too - each day when they get in the car, I try to get them to "stump" me with some sort of question about what they learned today to see if I can answer it. If they know you will talk about what was taught at church - have them listening for tidbits that they can quiz mom and dad on or each other to see if the others were listening.
4. Have seen some churches where the kids are present for the service up until the teaching/preaching time and then the kids leave and go to an adjacent chapel or fellowship hall room and the children's pastor delivers a message on their level - to the whole group k-5. No need for volunteers for every age group - just rotating parents to help with crowd control.
Looking forward to hear what your other readers have to say.

ashley said...

Honestly, this is something I haven't even really thought about yet... maybe it's because my oldest is still fairly young?
These are definitely good thoughts/questions to ponder, though! I don't know or can't say at what age a child should be able to listen to a sermon and actually be able to understand it... it probably depends on the child. I can't remember what age that happened for me... maybe 7th or 8th grade? I'd say it's not something to be too concerned about as long as the children are getting a rich teaching time during sunday school, and at home during the week. I don't think they are losing anything by sitting in the service without really being able to understand the sermon... that will come eventually. In my opinion, these early years are for teaching how to be quiet, still, and respectful while sitting in church. Like I said, the comprehension will come later.
Thanks for this post, I like it when you really make us think! :) Keep 'em coming!

Anonymous said...

Our church has "adult" church that runs the same time as children's Sunday School. So while we are being fed an adult message, the kids are being fed too. They sing praise songs as a group, do a craft, and learn about Bible story or a biblical concept like forgiveness. It's a fun hour for them and they are happy to go each week. The thought of keeping my active, impatient 5 yr old with us each week would make Sunday mornings hard.

"Pretend to listen" doesn't feel like a good answer but learning to be patient and respectful for 45 minutes will serve them well in the long run.

KR said...

I'm not reading the other comments first so I won't wimp out or feel woefully spiritually inadequate as usual! So I may sound way out of line, or say part of exactly what someone else has already said.

We don't yet take our 5 year old to church much, but the big ones (7 & 9) have come for a couple of years. I do expect them to sit quietly & be respectful to God & those around us. I don't expect them to fully grasp what's being said. However, even if they aren't fully listening, what's being said IS being heard by their brains and sometime when they are older and more mature, they may hear or come across the same teaching or concept and it will ring a bell, even if they are not aware of it. I feel like the adult level preaching is kind of paving the way for a future understanding of some sort. Does that make any sense? Ours go to Sunday School first, so I feel like they are indeed getting something solid on their level before the adult stuff begins. Often my son (9) will just flip through his bible during the problem there! I also let them bring their AWANA books--again, learning God's word. Sometimes they have reading material from Sunday School they read. Even though the sermon time is adult-oriented, the rest of the service is not necessarily. They love the singing, and even though they don't actually sing in church too often (my son is a little self-conscious that someone will hear him!), they do sing along with me at home and in the car. So they are "getting" the worship music part of the service. Since they have all admitted that they are sinners who need a savior, and have accepted God's gift of Jesus Christ, His perfect, sinless son's death in their place, they also get to partake of the Lord's Supper when we do it. They love that. It's okay with me that it's not super kid friendly, because even not super kid friendly has a lot of good about it for them. It's discipline. It's gaining a healthy reverence for God's word and worship. It's knowing it's not all about them. It's like going to the mall. Now, I hate the mall myself, but hear me out. If I take my kids to the mall, it's not super kid-friendly for them while I shop for shoes. Or a gift for someone. Or get slacks hemmed. Or something. But, during our non-kid-friendly trip to the mall, we'll probably also stop by the Lego store for a few minutes to do something specifically for them. Does that make sense? It's not all about them and their comfort and their understanding. There are times when my son does write down the scripture references that are on the screen so he can look them up later. Sometimes they'll hear the pastor say a verse and say "hey that's my AWANA verse!" when it may appear they are not listening. They often write prayer requests to place in the offering plate. When there are kids' events at the church, we try to make sure to attend them for the "fun" and "kid" aspects.

One of our favorite former pastors said he used to teach his young sons that church is a place to learn about Jesus and have fun with their friends. That's how we want our kids to see it, too.

I do hear what you are saying. At the moment, I am okay with it (and for the benefit of your other readers, we go to the same church). Thanks for sharing your heart with us.

KR said...

I forgot to say that on Saturday night when we pray, we always thank God for our teachers and pastors who will be teaching us the next morning, and ask God to open our hearts and ears to what He wants us to learn. This kind of prepares them a bit, reminding them that He is trying to teach even THEM something, you know?

KatyStrattons said...

Thanks for your blog and very good questions are raised. I have no true answer either, but I can tell you what we do in our small-ish big church (around 400-500 every weekend between 3 services).

For children 0-5 we have a nursery. During church, the kids who can talk and walk go to a room and have a Kids Worship, where they are taught an age appropriate church type lesson.

For kids 5-5th grade we have Kids of the King. At the 3rd song, they are led out of church (like the Pied Piper) to their room where they do a kids church. They come back in time to pass the Peace and have communion with their families.

For 6th & older, they stay in "big church". The youth group tends to sit together in the back. And once a month the youth (6th & up) have a service for them and by them in the youth room.

That's just what we do. But you're right (or someone that commented) it takes a LOT of man power and volunteers to do all that.

heartland farmhouse said...

Our church has childrens church ~ something I have had conflicting opinions on over the years having myself grown up sitting along side my parents in the same wooden pew for service.
There's pros & cons to both. I haven't come to a solid conclusion myself...I'm interested to see what answers the Lord gives you!

Happy Friday to you!

Mom said...

Love the whole discussion (& have no concrete answers...) I loved all the comments, & Eleanor's struck a chord of remembrance: the 1st Sun. we attended, your brother (at age 7) started giving the points of the sermon when we got in the car. I was astounded! Not that he (or you) continued to "get it" each week, but like E. said, some of it is filtering in. It reminds me of sitting in a service where they are speaking another language (& since it's above their heads, & mine too, is like another language). Eventually we would likely pick up some of the language just from exposure.
I totally agree that there should be more emphasis on the kids in the service (which is why we like the church in the mountains where their emphasis is on kids).
I like the idea of having them engage at lunch on Sunday or at home that day while it's still fresh with questions about the message, so they'll feel they have a reason to "listen" at least part of the time.
A shorter message would probably benefit all of us (I know it would me!)...
Look forward to other ideas on this!

Kay @ Off the Beaten Path said...

Gretchen, Not only did my children have to attend "big church" when they were young (now we have a "children's Worship" but my kids are grown...), but they had to listen to their dad preach--not any easy thing to do when you already have a hard time listening to him at home (he,he!). And I wanted them to sit quietly and absorb the atmosphere and learn from our example and develop good habits of worship, yada yada yada. But I also didn't want them to become resentful about church. So here is what I did, and I'm not sure it's the right answer or not, but it was mine.

I allowed them to color or read something like their Sunday school flyer or whatever (not a book I don't think), but just something to keep them quietly occupied. But I also told them before church that I expected them to be able to tell me one of the main things their daddy said in his message. I would be asking them after church to tell me something important they learned. They could tell me one verse he read or quoted, one story he told, one point he made, whatever. I just wanted them to get one thing. And I would usually ask a question or two about that one thing...try to draw the discussion out a little.

You know, quite honestly, most adults would be doing well just to get "one thing" out of a sermon each week too. Not that they're not listening, but that they don't necessarily remember what was said or how it applied to them. So I've always felt like the "one thing" principle was a good one to use all the way into the teen years. Of course as they got into the teen years, I would really try to draw the discussion out even more, trying to pull out more than one thing he said.

I think this method made me feel like they were at least learning to listen to a sermon. And I felt like that was important.

Just my simple thoughts.

Bugs and Sunshine said...

I LOVE Elenor's idea of taking the passage and talking about it during the week!

What a wonderful idea that I'm going to apply!

We are on a journey to have things to discuss with our boys. This was a great post and I'm really excited about the new idea I got :)!

This week I've been camped out in Acts 2. All the believers were together all the time eating together, praying, worshipping. The model doesn't specifically mention kids, but it does say they were all together.

I wander what they did with their kids, because it sounds like they were all involved. Great post to think on!

Sara said...

I've been thinking about this exact topic just this morning - before reading your post! Our older two kids (girl-8, boy-6) have trouble sitting through our service. However, I do agree that I think it is crucial to have FAMILY worship time. In some ways, I think our society conditions both the parents and the children to think that everything in life should be entertaining to them. It's all about them having "fun while learning", etc, etc. However, just reading through your blog I'm hearing the song "BE STILL and know I am God"! What great advice to teach our children to learn self-control (something completely foreign in nearly every aspect of our society) and to try to glean even one small tidbit from the sermon.
Saying all that, I do allow my 8 and 6 year old to doodle on the bulliten, read their Bibles, etc. I did just think today that I want to make Sunday's something they look forward to. I was thinking maybe I could put special hard candy or something in my purse that they only get during the sermon, also I like the idea of them being able to read their Bible or study other memory verses they have if they are having a difficult time following the sermon.
Also, my son's kindergarten Sunday school teacher would challenging the children to try to see how many times the pastor said a certain word each week. For example, if he was preaching on Noah she would choose the word "boat". If the children returned the next week and reported the same number she counted then they would receive a small prize.
I totally feel your pain, and don't have it worked out. So much of "church" is man's creation, so I don't think there is one complete Biblical model. Pray for wisdom and talk with your kids. Tell them your heart and why you want them with you, and want them to listen.

Angel said...

Our now 10 year old has been sitting in church with us for the past 2 years. He was frustrated with the simple crafts and lessons in Sunday School and did not seem to be growing in his walk with the Lord. Since he began sitting with us our rule has been that he must tell us at least 3 points the pastor has made during the service. He is allowed to read his Bible or doodle Biblical pictures related to the message of the day. This approach works for him because he is an auditory learner with the wiggles and needs to keep his hands busy. Yes, there have been times when he has fallen asleep on my shoulder, but there is a sweet peace that comes from having us together as a family.

Joy for the Seasons said...

Good good good stuff! I love that our church has expository preaching, so we stick with a book of the Bible from beginning to end. That allows us (ahem, when we are being proactive) to talk to the girls ahead of the sermon regarding that day's passage. We also have friends that gave us the idea of having kids draw a couple of pictures showing what the pastor is talking about. Sometimes that is easier for kids who are not yet good note-takers. Like you, I am always looking for more ways to engage my girls in the service. Enjoyed reading the other comments!