Parenting in the pew update

A while ago I posted about my desire to keep Arie in the sanctuary with me during Sunday morning worship services at our church. Since we recently made the transition from one church to another (my husband is a pastor and got a new job), I thought now would be a good time to share a little about how it's been going. In my last post, I identified a few goals and I'll use those to assess our pew parenting journey:

Participate in the singing: Arie has grown to enjoy the singing portion, but since our former church varied the song selection so frequently, he has not had the opportunity to commit any songs to heart. He will sometimes wiggle and dance a little but mostly he just looks around to see the other worshipers. I actually go back and forth about how to deal with this. On one hand, I love for him to see the body of believers singing in unison. He smiles coyly at those sitting around us and gets smiles and waves back. I'm so thankful to have been part of a community that views him not as a distraction but as a joy. 

On the other hand, I don't want him to focus more on making faces and eyes at other worshippers as much as I would like him to hear the words of the songs and try to sing along as best he can. Typically I try to turn his attention forward (we sit in the very front so he will have a good view) and sing the lyrics close to his ears. If the song has words that I know he will recognize, I will whisper to him, "Listen closely! Everyone is going to sing Jesus' name soon.  Can you hear it??" That usually gets his attention and he gets a big smile on his face when he hears it! 

I look forward to the day when he can read the lyrics and sing along with us! 

Differentiate between"being quiet" vs. worshiping: I've worked really hard to replace the reminder, "It's time to be quiet" with "It's time to listen." This is a small shift that I believe will make a great difference in how he views worship: as a participatory event rather than an event to be consumed like television or other media. I could probably talk a while on this subject, but I will just say that I think it is SO IMPORTANT for us to teach our children that worship is for glorifying God more than it is for us "to be fed" or "refreshed" for the week ahead. Certainly we rejoice when those things happen, but primarily worship is not about us; it's about God and his glory! 

Create a sermon activity: Fail. I have good ideas about how to do this but I have not executed any of them. Right now Arie passes time in the sermon by looking at books or playing with a quiet toy. Usually toward the end of the sermon I try to summarize the message for Arie by saying something like, "Papa (the pastor) is telling us that no matter what mistakes we make or if we feel sad God ALWAYS loves us no matter what! Forever!" At age three, I try to not hold my expectations for Arie too high. I think my goal is simply that he would learn what a sermon is: a message to teach us about God. 

Learn the liturgy: I've begun with the end of our liturgy: the benediction. I always hold my hands up and open to receive this blessing and I've taught Arie to do the same. It always makes me smile to see his little hands open! At our former church, we always lit a candle and prayed for the children in his former orphanage. This was one of my favorite worship moments with him. As far as I know, we do not have a place to light candles at our new church, so we will have to see how we can continue this tradition in a new way. Beyond that, he knows that he is supposed to fold his hands and close his eyes for the prayer. He does this for about three seconds and spends the rest of the prayer checking out everyone else's closed eyes. Ha! He also knows that I usually have fruit snacks for him to enjoy during the sermon. First things first, you know! 

Develop a love for church: Hit and miss. Depending on how that particular service and morning went, Arie will exclaim that he wants "more church!" or, crankily, "all done church!" I hope and pray that as he develops more relationships and a deeper understanding of the act of worship, the "more church!" exclamations will become more frequent than the "all done!" ones. 

Some very practical things I've found helpful are: 

1. Doing something before the service to burn some energy. It is hard for little ones to sit attentively for an entire hour, but I find that if I take Arie for a walk before the service, he is much more content to sit and listen. 

2. Using the restroom right before the service. Arie discovered that if he asks to go potty during the sermon, he can enjoy socializing in the foyer on our way to and from the toilets. Ha! I try to have him use the restroom right before the service so I can confidently call his bluff. 

3. Telling Arie what's happening during the service. I just say little things like, "We are praying for people who are sick. We are asking God to help them. We are thanking God for loving us." etc etc during the prayers or other parts of the liturgy. I whisper them in Arie's ear and he loves to be included in what's going on. 

4. Giving myself and him grace. Once and a while we just can't make it all the way though the service without a break. If I see Arie struggling and getting frustrated, I usually take a bathroom break with him so he can stretch his legs and regroup. I use the time to tell him how well he's doing and give him a reason to be proud and desire to try again. I want church to be a good place for him and I don't want to exasperate him while we're there.  

I loved reading all your comments and advice on my last post! Can you relate to any of my experiences? 



  1. I love this. Our son is only 10 months old, but I hesitate to put him in the church nursery. He's in daycare all week and church is one of the few activities we all do as a family.

    For us--church selection was the most important part. I realize you guys have some more constraints than we do, but when we were "church shopping" it was important for us to choose a church where kids were welcome. Our pastors have always gone out of their way to make sure our son is welcome, and if he makes noise, people smile at him.

  2. Anonymous7/18/2013

    Regarding watching people sing- when I was young (before I could read) many times the very beginning of learning a song would be to watch others and see how their mouths moved during the song. Were they open? Were they closing a lot? Even when I didn't know the words, I'd be able to get a pretty close approximation of the "words" by varying between vowel sounds and hard consonant sounds along to the melody.

  3. Anonymous7/18/2013

    Thanks for sharing this! I just wrote a post this week about perceived challenges of raising a family while in the Ministry. Really enjoyed reading what you are doing! Here's my post (we don't have children yet): http://pinkcanuck.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/ministry-not-ideal-to-raise-a-family/

  4. Thanks for this post! I have avoided taking my children to church because they are close in age and my husband doesn't attend with me so it always felt overwhelming. They are now almost 4 and almost 5 and I am trying to bring them along. We had a very not-so-good service a few weeks ago and I left feeling angry with them, angry with myself and doubting my ability to parent them and guide them in their faith. I felt so very defeated and didn't intend to bring them back for a while, at least not together.

    I read your post this week and decided to give it another try and used your guidance today. It wasn't a perfect mass for my kiddos, but they were so much better and I felt so much better about it. It felt great to be encouraging them to learn to love church instead of just teaching them to tolerate and behave through it. Your blog has truly been a blessing to me. Thank you!


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