What Happens During Service?
During service, we all sit or stand along with rest of the congregation. I share my Bible or hymnal or worship folder with my little one, because use of these is an important part of the service.
The beginning of the sermon is the signal for “notetaking” to begin. (I want a child’s activities to be related to the service. So we don’t bring library books to read. I do let a very young child look at pictures in his Bible, if he can do it quietly.) Notetaking doesn’t mean just scribbling, but “taking notes” on a special pad used just for service. “Taking notes” grows up as the child does. At first he draws pictures of what he hears in the sermon. Individual words or names trigger individual pictures. You might pick out a word that will be used frequently in the sermon; have the child listen carefully and make a check mark in his “notes” each time he hears the word. Later he may want to copy letters or words from the Scripture passage for the morning. When spelling comes easier, he will write words and then phrases he hears in the sermon. Before you might expect it, he will probably be outlining the sermon and noting whole concepts.
Goals and Requirements
My training for worship has three main goals:
- That children learn early and as well as they can to worship God heartily.
- That parents be able to worship.
- That families cause no distraction to the people around them.
So there are certain expectations that I teach the young ones and expect of the older ones:
- Sit or stand or close eyes when the service calls for it.
- Sit up straight and still—not lounging or fidgeting or crawling around, but respectful toward God and the worshipers around you.
- Keep bulletin papers and Bible and hymnal pages as quiet as possible.
- Stay awake. Taking notes helps. (I did allow the smallest ones to sleep, but they usually didn’t need to!)
- Look toward the worship leaders in the front. No people-gazing or clock-watching.
- If you can read fast enough, sing along with the printed words. At least keep your eyes on the words and try to think them. If you can’t read yet, listen very hard.
Creating an Environment in the Pew
For my part, I try to create an environment in our pew that makes worship easier. In past years, I would sit between whichever two were having the most trouble with each other that day. We choose seats where we can see the front better (while seated, not kneeling on the pew; kneeling leads to squirming and blocks the view of others). Each child has a Bible, offering money and worship folder at hand, so he doesn’t have to scramble and dig during the worship time.
When the service has ended, my first words are praise to the child who has behaved well. In addition to the praise, I might also mention one or two things that we both hope will be better next time.
But what if there has been disregard of our established expectations and little attempt to behave? The first thing that happens following the service is a silent and immediate trip to the most private place we can find. Then the deserved words are spoken and consequences administered or promised.
Closeness and Warmth
On the rare occasions when my pastor-husband can sit with the rest of us, the youngest one climbs right into his lap—and is more attentive and still than usual. What a wonderful thing for a young mind to closely associate the closeness and warmth of a parent’s lap with special God-times.
A child gets almost the same feeling from being next to his parent or from an arm around the shoulder or an affectionate hand on the knee.
The setting of the tight family circle focusing toward God will be a nonverbal picture growing richer and richer in the child’s mind and heart as he matures in appreciation for his family and in awe at the greatness of God.