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.
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!?!
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