Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Kids in Church

A few weeks ago, we had an issue in church regarding kids and electronics.  It was such a distraction to everyone sitting near me that it sparked some conversations after the service.  One lady wanted to know my thoughts and opinions about kids in church, electronics in church and children's church.  I'm always so careful in those times because people have opinions and they aren't always like mine.  This is a topic that easily offends so I've been careful about writing about it.  But, it came up again last week with a totally different group so I thought I'd put it out there.  I would also like your thoughts in the comment section after you read this.  We are obviously all different and from different backgrounds so I know the opinions will vary. 

I'll start with small children.  I'm a believer in the church nursery.  I believe it is important for children to have a place that focuses on them at the stage of life they are in.  My kids have learned so much over the years in their time in the nursery.  I'm grateful to be part of a denomination who allows kids in the service but also creates an environment that caters to their level of learning and understanding.  The nursery means a couple of things for me.  First, it means I get to focus and pay attention.  I get time to be fed without being mommy.  Second, it means my child is loved and cared for and told about Jesus in a way that they understand.  

I realize that some churches do not have nurseries or they are not places where you feel comfortable leaving your children.  That necessitates kids being in church with you.  I'm grateful for the options I have but even without options, I think I would feel strongly about some of the things parents allow their kids to do during a worship service?  

I had someone (in a very judgmental tone) tell me "we don't use a nursery because it is very important for kids to grow up in church and learn how to sit and behave in a church service.  We don't believe in a nursery!"  Yet, they take electronics and sometimes even headphones every single week!  

Micah came to church with me for the first time a few weeks ago.  He sat through the entire service and did great.  He loved the music.  LOVED it!  He did great during the sermon too.  He has asked to go back a couple of times already.  And, I'll let him.  We will try it again in a couple of weeks.  Here is the kicker though...he did it with zero electronic entertainment.  My belief about most everything concerning children is that kids rise to the level of expectation.  If you go into a situation saying they can't or won't then they won't.  But, if you expect much out of them, then you will get much from them.

(I will say, before I get a comment, I do believe that last sentiment includes children that do not have special needs.  I'm not a parent of a special needs child so my parenting does not come from that place.) 

Before we went into the service, I took Micah to potty, gave him a drink of water, grabbed a few books for him and talked to him about what was about to happen.

On the same day that he was with me, on a row near us, there were 3 teenagers with iPads and they spent the entire service playing Candy Crush and on Facebook.  Micah saw their electronic devices and asked for my phone.  I told him no.  If I would have given him my phone, he certainly would have been entertained and I never would have heard a peep from him or had to tell him to be still.  But, what purpose would that accomplish?

Isn't the purpose of being in church to listen and learn?  Isn't the goal to train them to participate in a service?  I find it interesting that many families have a "no phones at the dinner table" rule but allow them for entertainment during Worship?  An electronic device totally disconnects them from the entire service that is happening around them. 

Because Micah didn't have an electronic device, when Dan started reading from God's word, Micah asked for a Bible.  I helped him find his place.  Granted, he didn't stay there long.  But, he engaged some. 

And, no, this next picture is not staged.  When we prayed, this is what Micah did.  If "There's a Monster At The End of This Book" was in front of him on the iPad, there is no way he would have paused to pray along with the rest of the congregation.  This isn't because he is a preacher's kid.  This is because he heard (because he wasn't distracted) a call to pray.

There are times I have let my kids bring electronic devices into the Sanctuary.  We have had business meetings before where there was no childcare.  We brought the iPad.  I'm not a parent who is opposed to electronics.  But, I strongly believe that children need to be taught to pay attention and learn while in a worship service.  There are several things I have done in the past with Jonah that helped with this.

As a disclaimer, while we do bring things to help them engage with the service, all of those things stay in our bag until the sermon starts.  When it is time to sing, we make them stand and sing.  Sometimes we sit next them on the pew and point out the words or tell them what words are coming.  Sometimes we hold them or stand them next to us on the pew.  We stay engaged with them and we sing.  We sing because we want them to understand worship.  Allowing them to sit/play/read while musical worship is happening does not teach them the value of singing praises to a mighty God.  

1.  Busy Bag-  I pack a bag of things that gave him some entertainment but didn't totally distract him or others around him.  This bag has blank paper, crayons, stickers, a toddler Bible and a couple of books.  When I choose books, I try to choose books that have some sort of Bible message. 

2.  Sleepy Toys-  Both of my kids have beloved sleepy toys.  We don't carry our sleepy toys with us everywhere.  The main reason for that is the fear of losing one and not having it at bedtime.  So, we decided when Jonah was just a toddler that our sleepy toys stay in the bed.  (Keeping them in their beds also solves the long searches for them at bedtime each night!)  So, you can imagine how excited they are when we pull that out of the bag at church.  It is just a comfort item for them in an environment full of adults. 

3.  Sermon notes-  As Jonah got older and learned to write and read, we helped him learn to take notes on the sermon.  I've used some pre-printed notes like this or this.  Micah can't do either yet so I encourage him to draw a picture of something he heard Dan say.  His pictures all look like big circles with random lines.  (he's not so gifted with the art- he takes after his mom!)

4.  Sunday School Material- Most every week, our kids come from Sunday school with some sort of activity sheet.  This is usually the first thing they do when the pen comes out.  

I liken things like electronics to clothing for little girls.  When we lived in Vidalia, there was a mom of a teen girl who told me that she wished she could go back to her 3 year old daughter and dress her differently.  She said that when she was 3, the short shorts, halter tops and bikinis were so precious.  There was nothing sexual about them.  Before she realized it, her daughter was a teen and those things were no longer appropriate but she allowed it at an early age and there was never a cut off.  It is just what she had always allowed and they had always done.  The same is true for what we do and don't do in church.  If you use a phone to entertain your child during worship at 3, 4 and 5, then how will you stop it as 6, 7 and 8?  Then, when you are frustrated with your teen because they won't put their phone down and listen when in a worship service, you realize that you perpetuated this at an early age.  It is a slippery slope in many ways.  

I know opinions are varied.  One text I received today said "the problem is because parents don't want to parent.  It is easier to let something entertain them."  Another text said they don't have nursery at their church and if they get ANYTHING from the sermon then their kids have to be entertained by phones."  So, where do you fall?  I'm just curious!?!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


Vickie said...

My kids are older now but here is my opinion on electronics at even their ages 11 and 14) Every Sunday I make my kids turn off their phones before going into church. One Sunday I caught my oldest son with his out during the sermon. I was furious and gave him "the look" I couldn't get to him because he was sitting with the youth and I didn't want to disturb everyone. When we got to the car i started to fuss at him for having his phone out and on at church. He said he was using the bible app. I felt guilty for fussing at him but still told him that having the phone was a distraction and that he should use his bible in church. Not only is it a distraction for him because there is other things he can click on during the sermon but also to others. What if he gets a call or text in the middle go church? So now he knows it is not acceptable for him to have it on during church?

Christi Wall said...

There was a scene In a reality show several years ago, when texting was just becoming popular, that always makes me think twice about when to use my electronic devices. The couple in the show had hired a babysitter and gone out for a date night. But all through their dinner instead of talking to her husband the woman texted her friends. He finally said that he felt like she wanted to be with whoever she was texting than with him. I believe that if we allow children to bring electronic devices into worship we are actually teaching them that their game, story book or whatever is more important than our Heavenly Father. Having children to work Sunday school activity sheets, or read bible stories is an awesome way to teach them that worship is a time where we learn more about our Savior. As children become teenagers I think it is important to teach them how to responsibly use their electronics in church. My brother and his wife have done this remarkably well. Both of their teenagers take their iPad to church in order to take sermon notes. Why not? After all this is how they learn in school now. But the key is that their parents taught them that the electronic device is to be used only to enhance their relationship with their Savior and not their friends. When they were first teaching them how to use their devices responsibly, the entire family would sit down on Sunday afternoon and compare their sermon notes. A true picture that God has a different message for everyone in church and you have to listen to hear what He is trying to say to you.

Druanne Clack said...

I think that electronics in church distractS not only the ones using them but everyone else around them. I feel that our church service is worship and that we must pay attention to be able to worship our Lord. I too love to take notes, always do take notes. My children, who are now parents, grew up with children's church. They learned to participate in worship and sing and even act out stories. I think a journal for those who can write is a great idea. I would not, during a worship service, give my children an iphone or ipad and headphones.

Cathi said...

I have to say...I agree with everything you said! I'm all for technology but do not condone it for kids to use as a busy tool during service. I've never had Colton in service (I get hives thinking about that!)but I can promise you he will be expected to be on his best behavior without the aide of anything electronic.

I was using my phone for the Bible app but found myself feeling guilty b/c I didn't want anyone to think I was doing anything social on it during church so I've stopped and just break out my actual Bible. Just last week I sat behind a young adult who was on FaceBook and texting almost the entire sermon and I have to tell you, I so badly wanted to rip it out of her hand!!!

I think we make too many excuses these days where technology is concerned. Yes, it's easy to give the kids the technology b/c it takes their attention for the time being and you're left with a "good kid" for a little bit. I'm with you as far as the expectations go - expect over the moon and you'll get pretty close to that result. Aim low and that's exactly what you'll get.

I sat with you one of the days you had Micah in service and he was phenomenal!! I was impressed but that doesn't mean I'm ready to roll out the red carpet for my little munchkin!! :)

Amanda said...

When Eli was born, he came to church with us that first time we went back and then never again. He was so distracting not only to me, but to everyone around us. I wanted that time to be a time of worship and getting fed but it ended up with me focusing entirely on him trying to keep him quiet. Since that time, every time we've gone and a nursery has been available, he's been to the nursery. It was one of the best decisions. As he's grown, Eli has transitioned from the nursery to children's church. Josh and I have always been able to focus on worshipping without distractions because we know Eli is in a safe caring place. Just recently, Eli started coming to church with us. Before he came that first time, we laid down the ground rules. No phones. Period. The end. He was there to worship, sing, pray, and listen. Our first test came that first service. Another friend of ours brought their little boy and allowed him to play on her phone during service. Eli saw this and asked for my phone. I told him no. He asked why his friend could and he couldn't and I had to say that sometimes parents have different rules for their kids. Our family rule was no phones and no games in church. He didn't and hasn't asked for my phone since. Now granted he's in no way perfect but he's rising to the challenge. I'm very proud of how he is listening in church. I'm glad we're starting this young with our expectations of him during worship so that hopefully it will make a big difference when he's older.


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