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Kids

The Heartbeat

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He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, 7so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; 8and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.

 (Psalm 78:5-8)

 

This is one of the passages the Lord has used to drive our passion for ministry to children and parents.  It’s our desire that the children at Heritage would surpass the generation before them in faith and knowledge and love. Like the Psalmist, we hope that the next generation will learn from the mistakes and the rebellion of our generation and firmly set their hope in God.  As John says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth”(3 John 1:4).  We must be faithful to nurture the faith of the children who have been entrusted to us.

There is growing concern about the low standards and expectations for ministry to children in many churches today.  A popular conviction expressed by many contemporary children’s ministry leaders is that “kids should have fun in church…they should have positive experiences in church so that when they grow older they will continue to enjoy coming to church.”  We certainly want children to enjoy their time at church, but ”fun” is not the main objective of our children’s ministry…or any other ministry at Heritage for that matter.  As a church we want people to feel welcomed and comfortable but if this becomes our primary goal we will soon find ourselves identifying more with Disneyland than we do with the Disciples.  Fun and friendships are significant, but they must remain secondary values.

Our ministry to children and parents seeks to be God-centered rather than man-centered.  God, rather than man, is the main character in the Bible.  The stories of Noah, Moses, David and Jonah are not about their courage or faith or accuracy with a slingshot.  Instead, these stories reveal a personal, trustworthy, gracious, merciful God interacting with fallen man to accomplish His will.  He is the giver and He gets the glory.  We are blessed to be a part of His story.  By God’s grace we are privileged to be called: children of God, ambassador for Christ, a royal priesthood and ministers of reconciliation.  While all of this is true, the focus of Scripture is on the glory of God, not man.  Our focus therefore must be on God rather than man.

This philosophy of ministry steers everything we do from the curriculum we use, to the programs we plan, to how we communicate with children, parents and leaders.  By no means do we have it all figured out, but by God’s grace we are continuously seeking to please the Lord rather than man.  In the long run, this is the best thing we can do to influence the next generation.

MORE Practical Suggestions from Noel Piper

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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.

Afterward

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.

This was originally written by Noel Piper and can be found here.

Some Practical Suggestions from Noel Piper

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When our four sons grew to be young men, we assumed that the worship-training chapter of our life had ended. But God has wonderful surprises. Our youngest son was 12 when we adopted our daughter, who was just a couple of months old. So our experience with young children in the pew started more than twenty years ago and will continue a while longer.

Getting Started Step by Step

We discovered that the very earliest “school” for worship is in the home—when we help a baby be quiet for just a moment while we ask God’s blessing on our meal; when a toddler is sitting still to listen to a Bible story book; when a child is learning to pay attention to God’s Word and to pray during family devotional times.

At church, even while our children were still nursery-aged, I began to help them take steps toward eventual regular attendance in Sunday morning worship service. I used other gatherings as a training ground—baptisms, choir concerts, missionary videos or other special events that would grab the attention of a 3-year-old. I’d “promote” these to the child as something exciting and grown-up. The occasional special attendance gradually developed into regular evening attendance, while at the same time we were beginning to attempt Sunday mornings more and more regularly.

I’ve chosen not to use the church’s child care as an escape route when the service becomes long or the child gets restless. I don’t want to communicate that you go to a service as long as it seems interesting, and then you can go play. And I wanted to avoid a pattern that might reinforce the idea that all of the service is good, up until the preaching of God’s Word—then you can leave.

Of course, there are times when a child gets restless or noisy, despite a parent’s best efforts. I pray for the understanding of the people around me, and try to deal with the problem unobtrusively. But if the child won’t be quiet or still, I take him or her out—for the sake of quick discipline and for the sake of the other worshipers. Then I have to decide whether we’ll slip back into service or stay in the area reserved for parents with young children. It depends on how responsive the child seems and whether there’s an appropriate moment in the flow of the service. If we stay in the “family area” outside the sanctuary, I help my child sit quietly as if we were still in the sanctuary. By the time they are four years old, our children assume that they’ll be at all the regular weekly services with us.

Preparation All Week Long

Your anticipation and conversation before and after service and during the week will be important in helping your child learn to love worship and to behave well in service. Help your children become acquainted with your pastor. Let them shake hands with him at the door and be greeted by him. Talk about who the worship leaders are; call them by name. Suggest that your child’s Sunday School teacher invite the pastor to spend a few minutes with the children if your church’s Sunday morning schedule allows for that.

If you know what the Scripture passage will be for the coming Sunday, read it together several times during the week. A little one’s face really lights up when he hears familiar words from the pulpit.

Talk about what is “special” this week: a trumpet solo, a friend singing, a missionary speaker from a country you have been praying for.  Sometimes you can take the regular elements of the service and make them part of the anticipation. “We’ve been reading about Joseph. What do you think the pastor will say about him?” “What might the choir be singing this morning?” “Maybe we can sit next to our handicapped friend and help him with his hymnbook so he can worship better too.”

There are two additional and important pre-service preparations for us: a pen and notepad for “Sunday notes” and a trip to the rest room (leaving the service is highly discouraged).

 

Read Part 2 of this post here.

This was written by Noel Piper and can be found in it’s entirety here.

 

Why Not Children’s Church?

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At Heritage we urge parents to bring their children with them to the worship service.  We recognize worshipping together counters the contemporary fragmentation of families.  It seems that our culture, and often the church, feels the need to cater to and focus on each and every member of a family in a separate and unique way.  We recognize that children and adults can certainly benefit from age-specific teaching and fellowship opportunities and those opportunities are regularly a part of our weekly schedule during the Sunday school hour and Wednesday night programming.  Having said that, it’s also incredibly important to do things as a family, to defer to one another, to share experiences of faith together.

Hectic American life leaves little time for significant togetherness.  It’s hard to overestimate the power of families doing valuable things together week in and week out, year in and year out.   We believe a weekly corporate worship gathering can be an extremely valuable time for families, especially in regards to the faith development of children.  The cumulative effect of over 650 worship services with Mom and Dad between the ages of 4 and 17 is incalculable.

Parents have the responsibility to teach their children by their own example the meaning and value of worship.  Therefore, parents should want their children with them in the worship service so the children can see their parents worship the Lord.  From an early age children should see Mom and Dad bow their heads in earnest prayer. They should see how Mom and Dad sing praise to God with joy in their faces and how they eagerly listen to His Word being preached.

We recognize it may be easier and more convenient for parents to send their children to “children’s church” so they can be free from the responsibility of shepherding them during the service but this responsibility is God given and should be counted as a privilege.  Like most of our attempts to shepherd and discipline our children; easy is rarely best.   We are compelled to encourage parents to take full advantage of the precious opportunity to worship as a family.

With this conviction in mind, Heritage offers childcare options during the service for children birth thru 4-years-of-age. We encourage parents to bring their children into the service as early as possible.  To sit still and be quiet for an hour or an hour-and-a-half on Sunday is not an excessive expectation for a 5-year-old who has been taught to obey his parents.  It requires a measure of discipline, but that is precisely what we want to encourage parents to impart to their children in the first five years. Special arrangements can certainly be made for families with special circumstances.

It’s important to note that children absorb a tremendous amount that is of value, even if they say they are bored.  Music becomes familiar. The message of the songs will begin to sink in.  Even if most of the sermon goes over their heads, experience shows that children hear and remember far more than we give them credit.  These shared experiences provide for natural follow-up conversations about things like: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the children’s message or what sanctification means.  Oh, how precious these conversations are between and parent and child.

It is to be expected that bringing children into the service at an early age will likely mean there will be momentary disruptions and at times Mom or Dad will need to exit the service occasionally to continue training.  We do not expect children to obey perfectly and remain in constant silence throughout the service.  We recognize there will be an occasional crackle of a candy wrapper or dropped Bible or an unusually loud whisper.  Instead of being overly uptight and distracted by these minor interruptions, it is our desire that these moments would cause us all to worship the Lord.  Let it be a reminder of how precious these dear children are.  May we be filled with gratitude that they are with us in these moments.  May we be reminded in the “interruption” that we have a great responsibility to point them to Christ. There is no greater calling.

For some practical suggestions on how to bring your children in to the service I would encourage you to read “Some Practical Suggestions from Noel Piper.” Let me reiterate, it is our desire to support parents as they strive to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.  If we can help serve or equip you or if you should have any questions please contact Shawn McGill or Chad “Kicker” Kositzky.