4 Reasons We Parent in the Pews
Words by Lexy Sauvé // Image by Katelyn Hatton
Over the last few years, my husband and I developed the conviction that on Sunday mornings our children should be holding our hands through hymns, rubbing shoulders as we sit under Scripture together, and partaking of the life of the Body of Christ in regular attendance to the church service. Previous to this, they attended Sunday school classes equipped with simple, high-quality, scriptural lessons taught by people we love and do life with. I’ve always served in children’s ministry at least once a month, even before we had children. We have always loved and valued children, but recently we realized that our valuing of children is beginning to look a little different than we originally thought. We desired that our children have a holistic church experience, and for us that meant bringing them into the service with us.
Lest any of you think this was an easy decision, I’ll fill you in on my life: I’m married to the pastor. About 49 weeks a year, I get up extra early on Sunday, feed and attempt to clothe three kids on my own, get them (cheerfully) out the door on my own, into the church on my own, and sitting quietly through a service on my own. I’m usually tired by 6 p.m. the night before thinking about it. But because of the following motivations, I value the bumpy, noisy hilarity of parenting with my children in the pews, even if I do it mostly alone. These are the four reasons we’ve chosen to bring our loud, funny, wiggly, energetic children into the pews with us.
1. Our children are not spiritual orphans.
Sunday school—what we now call children’s church—was started as a means to provide training in literacy skills for orphans so these children could read the Bible for themselves. In some Christian circles it was a separate class, not to take the place of worship with the whole Body of Christ, where children were quizzed on their knowledge of the Protestant catechism. Since we don’t train our children in catechism in the same way, and since my children are not orphans, we feel that this is a service our kids do not need. We are the first ones called to be responsible for their spiritual growth, and we believe that being with the wider body of believers on Sunday is part of how they will grow. What we expect a mature Christian adult to be and do, we must train our children to do.
Also, take note that the writers of the Old and New Testament often wrote assuming that children were in the midst of large body gatherings where the Law and the Word were declared and where the letters of the apostles were read.
2. Our children are capable of more than we think.
The modern, secular worldview teaches us that children are inefficient and incapable of any meaningful interaction. This is simply not true, and we know it’s not based on how Jesus interacted with children in the gospels. He brought them to himself and dignified their place when others thought them an inconvenience and waste of time. I’ve often been confounded and humbled by the genuine experiences of faith that Sunday teachings bring forth in the lives of our children. If we do not seek ways to nourish and plow the fertile ground of youth, our attempts to bring adults into the great joy of Christ in the Church will be, and have proven to be, futile. What do I mean by this? See my following point.
3. We desire a holistic, all-ages-included church experience for our children.
Is it any wonder that adults are walking away from the Church once they enter or graduate college? If they spend most of their formative church time in exclusively age-segregated groups and never experience the reverence—and discomfort—of all-age worship and church life, of course they’re going to walk away. Real community with real people—old, young, annoying, dying, sick, always-being-sanctified people—is hard. In America today, most large churches disobey the Titus 2 command to intermingle young and old. Think: college ministry, single ministry, Wise Old Warrior ministry. We lack the great sharpening that being with those different from ourselves brings to the table.
We don't want this to be our children’s experience. We want them to see their pastors worshiping faithfully beside their wives on Sundays. We want them to see whole families frequenting the communion table together in remembrance of Christ. We want them to see singles find a home amongst their church family. We want them to see the homeless man they recognize from the neighborhood partake of the mysteriously nourishing communion meal. We want them to see others shout the same hymns we sing on their beds together at night. We want them to see the truths of the gospel message embraced by others around them. We believe that welcoming our children to meet with all others in our church will strengthen their childlike faith.
4. Children are designed to make and partake in culture.
Paideia is a concept Paul used in Ephesians 6:4 to describe the process of bringing up children in the Lord. In his culture, this term meant every interaction in life contributed to the creation of a citizen who would be an active participant in the life of the city-state and government. Paul reminded us that every aspect of life enculturates our children toward something—either toward the world or toward Christ and his Kingdom. Because robust, mature Christianity is our goal for our children, we felt they needed to be immersed in that culture of the local church, full strength.
Tips for Training Your Children to Be Cheerful Church Attenders
1. Practice and prepare them beforehand.
The complaint we hear most often about this church ideal is that kids are simply too wiggly to sit through a full church service. The biggest way to combat this is to begin training them to sit, starting with a short period of time at home through a book, catechism, story, etc. Gradually increase the time you expect them to sit still. I promise you within six months your children will prove they are in fact capable of controlling their little bodies to sit (mostly) quietly through a church service.
2. Be prepared in the pew.
I have learned that my children will grow to expect whatever activities I pack for them, so I’ve trained them to only expect singing, listening, flipping through a few small books and picture Bibles, and drawing. Snacks and water bottles became too unmanageable for me alone, so I quickly realized I didn’t want my kids to expect them during the service. Although, they do find great delight in seeing an occasional tray of cookies or donuts laid out beside the coffee in the back of the sanctuary!
3. Teach your children what the service is for.
Have ongoing conversations with your children on the way to church. Things we talk about include: Are you allowed to talk to the people behind you? Are you allowed to sing along loudly? Are you allowed to walk around during the service? Is your body to be under control or to be a wet noodle? And my favorite question: What is service for?
The cheerful response I usually hear from our kids is, “Our joy!” Our oldest recently explained the deep truth that service is not only for our joy, but it is in and of itself our joy. The complexity of this statement had me in wonder and awe as I realized his nugget of insight was indeed truth. We’ve talked many Sunday mornings about how church service is a chance for God to grow them into strong believers and to be a source of joy in their lives. I tell them they may not feel this way yet, but that it’s a spiritual muscle God will strengthen. (And yes, I do use all those grown-up words out of respect and honor for our children.)
. . .
This good work of parenting is something that must be done by grace through faith.
If not, you will be discouraged the first time you get a grumpy look from someone watching your darling skip alongside you during Communion or the first time your child releases an obnoxious sigh and asks, within ear shot of all congregants, “Is it over yet?”
We have to take the long-term approach with these sorts of goals. We are planting seeds without seeing immediate fruit. Hopefully we won’t even see most of our fruit because of the great effect it has on coming generations! Paul admits that even the sowing of seeds is a grace and mercy from God: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Cor. 3:6–7 NIV)
This article was originally published in Deeply Rooted Issue 14: The Church. Click here to purchase your copy of this magazine.