Parenting in the Pews

Last week at Refuge, I preached on a major decision that our plurality of elders came to with respect to our corporate worship gathering. We decided—after over a year of prayerful deliberation—to lower our kid's ministry age on Sundays to 6, meaning all children 7 and up will be in the service with us. If you have 55 minutes to spare, you can watch or listen in on the biblical bedrock that led us to this decision below:

But this isn't a post about why we're bringing our kids into the sanctuary, but how to do that without losing your mind. This is, in other words, a practicum on parenting in the pews. So, rushing to the point headlong, 5 tips to consider:

1. Dads, take the lead.

In the sermon, you'll find that our decision on kid's ministry is bolted to a textual foundation located in the sixth chapter of two books: Ephesians and Deuteronomy. If you read these two texts, you will promptly discover that these two texts are unabashedly father-centric. And while it's plain that the Scriptures are father-centric in their approach to the formation of our children, our fatherless culture practices the inverse, mother-centricity to the extreme. We've abdicated the patriarchy and replaced it with a matriarchy, and that to our detriment. A very tired matriarchy, at that.

Our churches aren't immune to this tragedy. Many of our fathers have abdicated their post and just let mom do everything. Every. Thing. All of the things. Dads, this must stop, and stop now, if we are to bear any kind of palatable fruit in this endeavor. If moms do all the work in seeing our children culturally embedded into the body of Christ, we've laid down our foundation on a major fault line. Don't let your wife shoulder this, men. When you're done reading this article, call a family meeting and take charge of the transition of your kids into the corporate worship gathering. You carry the colored pencils and bring the snack.

2. Moms, check your standards.

One of the first responses of many mothers to a decision like this is panic. "But what if my kids make noise? What if they throw a fit mid-sermon?" See, Dads tend to abdicate their authority and responsibility (or sinfully dominate, but that's for another post); moms have their own peculiar temptations. One of them is to set an utterly impossible standard for behavior, cleanliness, noise levels, etc., and then reign with an iron fist in a quest for absolute, tyrannical control over the home. When this doesn't work, fear, anxiety, and anger tend to result.

Moms, check your standards. Are they appropriate for a 7-year-old, or would they be tough for the average Harvard-educated adult to hold up to? We have to treat our kids as persons, and persons occasionally have some wiggles, speak in loudish "whispers," and fight the urge to rip up the bulletin mid-service. Remember, the goal is for our kids to love the standard, not despise it (and us!).

3. Love thy tiny neighbor.

For all of us, especially those without young kids, we need to remember the commandment which Paul said summed up the whole of the Law in Galatians 5:14, the command to your neighbor as yourself. Who is your neighbor? Sinners, Samaritans, and loudly-snacking toddlers.

Paideia is a community project. It takes the whole family of Christ to do it right. So when a kid turns around in the pew and makes awkward eye contact with you, smile and then proceed to listen to the sermon. When you hear a noisy kid, don't get frustrated, but rather praise the God who has lavishly blessed Refuge Church with flocks of little blessings. Rejoice that it's not all about you. Lay down your rights to a quiet sanctuary and embrace a more human one.

4. Put the living room before the sanctuary.

Parents who try to only parent for an hour on Sunday will find their parenting to be rather impotent. If you don't discipline at home, your kids will have no idea what's happening when suddenly they find their bottom stinging and mom giving out stern looks on Sunday. The living room, the kitchen, the dining table—all of the square footage of the place you call home—is where your kids figure out how to navigate the corporate worship gathering.

So Monday to Saturday, practice! Practice sitting still during story time at night before bed. Practice silence during the prayer before dinner. Heck, I know some families that even set up a practice "church" service to get the hang of this thing! Get creative and consistent and your kids won't have a problem with an hour on Sunday.

5. Prep for the pew.

Get ready on Saturday night for church in the morning. Lay out the clothes. Pack the kids' backpacks with a book or two and a sketch pad. Remind your kids that they get to come worship with God's people the next day—kids learn to be excited about what their dads and moms are excited about. Read the passage we'll be in the next day before bed together.

On Sunday morning, don't feel bad about having your younger kids look through a picture book or their own kid's Bible during the service. Ask them to color a picture of what they hear in the sermon. Have them count how many times the preacher says a certain word (grace, Jesus, Bible, etc.). Ask them to try and remember one thing they heard in the sermon. Learn the hymns we sing in church at home so they're ready to sing.

In all of it, expect more of your kids than you're instincts tell you to. Don't settle for stony silence when you ask them about the sermon. And if that's what you get from your kids week in and week out, look in the mirror: Is your face wearing a stony, bored look in church? Are you joyful? Are you singing? Are you engaging, repenting, confessing, and leading? 

Bring Out Your Tips

Do you have any tips or tricks that worked with your kids? Leave a comment below for the rest of us to learn from! And in all, look not to the present or the next 5 minutes, but to eternity. May we parent in light of that swiftly-coming horizon.