This post has been stirring around in my head for quite some time now and I've finally decided to just get it all down.
I've always been a firm believer that children belong in the church service. My thought was two-fold. First, how will children learn to sit and pay attention to a service if they don't actually do it? And second, I think it is so important for children to see adults worshipping and join in with them. I know this is difficult with young children, and I understand that even more now that I have my own, but it's still something I believe in.
When Micah was born, Brad and I were faced with the decision of what to do with him during the service. It was very natural to just keep him with us at first. I loved holding him in my arms while singing praise songs and nothing could top him sleeping on my shoulder while listening to a sermon. Then, he hit about six months old and started to become more active and interested in everything else going on around him. Brad and I would pass him back and forth between the two of us the whole service. He became a distraction and I wasn't focused on the sermon anymore. So, we decided to put him in nursery after the singing was over. Micah loved singing with us. I think it was around the time that we started putting Judah in the nursery that Micah wanted to be in the nursery the whole time and not join us for the singing. In order to honor his wishes, we put him in the nursery full time. Once he turned three, his class started joining the adults during the singing and then leave during the sermon.
A few months ago, I read this book, Parenting in the Pew. The author talks about the importance of children participating in the church service both as a way to learn and also in order to join in with their own worship. She discusses her ideas of how a church should embrace children during their service as well as gives tips to help parents train their children to participate in the service. I read the book in about two days (it's a short, easy read so don't be too impressed!) and wanted to start putting ideas into practice right away. Brad and I both agree that it is important for our children to worship with us during service and this book was great for helping us do just that!
It can be really hard sometimes. Micah is an active three-year-old (and Judah is a very active two-year-old) and it can be hard for him to sit still during the sermon, paying attention to words he doesn't understand. But I want him to know that that part is just as important as the singing. Even though he can't completely understand, we can help him understand in his own way. For example, this past week our pastor talked about how none of us are an accident, we are each unique and special, created the way God wanted us to be. I told Micah to listen for the word "special" and every time he hears it to tell me. I also told him it was like a book he loves, You Are Special by Max Lucado. Relating it to a book he's already familiar with really helped him. But that doesn't mean he sat in his seat sitting nicely and quietly listening the entire time. Far from it. Several times I had to tell him to be quiet, one of us had to pick him up off the floor, or ask him to stop spinning/crawling/laying down, etc. Sometimes I worry about what a distraction he is to those around us. But, honestly, too bad. He is just as important as the adult behind us and it is important that he know he is accepted into the Kingdom of God as he is. And it's important to me that he join us in worship and see other adults worshipping, too. We do practice good behavior with him but it's so much bigger than just sitting still and listening. I want him to feel free to raise his hands while singing if he wants. He often dances to the music, and I think that's just as pleasing to God. And I know he's paying attention because he often asks me questions about something he heard Pastor Ron say or about the words to one of the songs. In his own small way, he's getting it.
Let me repeat, this can be really hard sometimes. I wasn't sure how others would respond. I wasn't sure if it would just end up distracting me and Brad more than helping Micah and thus we would leave church unsure of what the sermon was about or not really feeling like we had worshipped at all. But that isn't true. Yes, I spend a good amount of the sermon whispering to Micah to be quiet or trying to think of a question to ask him to get him to pay attention for two more minutes. But I'm also paying attention more. I have to model what that looks like. And I have to be on my toes so I can ask him questions! But, most importantly, I feel the support of my pastor.
Micah is kind of obsessed with our senior pastor. I don't know how it happened, but he always insists that we find Pastor Ron and he has to say hi to him. If we're in the church during the week we have to go to his office to see if he is there. And now we have to sit in the absolute first row so that Micah can sit by him. And Micah watches him so intently. If he catches him not singing, he asks me why Pastor Ron isn't singing. If Pastor Ron is clapping to the music, Micah claps to the music. Honestly, I wasn't sure how our pastor felt about all this. I was happy he at least tolerated it but I hoped that he didn't just see Micah as the annoying preschooler who runs around the front of the church and always shakes his hand. At our Maundy Thursday service, I discovered that was not true.
Maundy Thursday is our church's version of Good Friday. It's a very somber service: candlelight, acoustic music, dramatic reading, communion. It was very important to me that Micah be there for the service this year. He's finally starting to understand things and I wanted him to be part of this service. During the whole service, Micah had lots of questions. There were times he was somewhat loud (I am certain the people around us could hear him several times...he may or may not have yelled his best friend's name at the very beginning of the service also). He most definitely did not sit still. But he was very interested in the service. At the end, I felt terrible. Maybe we should have left him at home. Did he ruin it for those around us? Was he too much of a distraction during this very serious service? But afterwards, Micah ran up to our pastor, as he always does, our pastor scooped him up real quick and gave him a high five. Then, I heard him say, "Micah, I'm glad you came today." Honestly, thinking about it now still brings tears to my eyes. That was the affirmation I needed that we are doing the right thing. It's hard most weeks, but it's the right thing to do. And to know that others support our efforts, even when Micah was obviously a distraction means that he is just as important to them. And isn't that the oath we take at their baptism? To help them grow in the Lord? I love being part of a church where those words mean something, they're not just empty words.