This past Sunday, Nathan and I had the opportunity to see some sweet little NEHBC faces and talk to them and their parents about joining the NEHBC family in worship on Sunday mornings. It was so fun to see the new 4 year olds with wides eyes about what was happening and the looks on the parents’ faces too. Transitioning to big church can be very challenging for some families. It was for ours. It is also one of the most important things a family can do for the spiritual development of the children.
Nathan is long gone to prepare his heart and mind to preach by the time I wake up and start getting the Four Little Linos ready for worship each Sunday morning, so I have experienced this three times practically on my own. Toads, Girly Girl and Samoosa all transitioned to big church right at their 3rd birthdays. If I could visit with each family like we did in the group setting this past Sunday, this is what I would tell them about my experience…………..
The motto is “train and model.” Training and modeling requires sacrifice. In order to train and model worship of the living God to my child, I must be willing to put their spiritual well-being before my own. For a season, I will not hear every word of the sermon. I will not have any idea that we prayed for a particular people group in worship. I will miss the report of life change on a mission trip. I will not have all of my needs met in worship. The thing is, it’s not my needs that are important. Worship is not for me. It is not my break from my children. Worship is what I give the the King of Kings and what I am giving to Him right now, in this season of my life, is my children. My sacrifice of training and modeling is actually what He expects of me in my role as parent of the children He has entrusted to me.
So what does training and modeling look like? The idea is to let them see you worship and train them to do it for themselves. As a family, it requires a team approach. It requires planning ahead and being consistent. The attitude that Mom and Dad have about worship is what they will pass on to all the kids. Mom and Dad need to actively participate and communicate with each other. Let each other know how you think it’s going, what’s working, what’s not. Be excited about worship and talk positively about being with believers to worship your God. Get everyone on the same page and worship together as a family.
Lino training and modeling goes on all during the week. We have expectations for our children during that one hour of worship and we have explained what the consequences are for not meeting them. Some of ours are: not distracting others, not leaving the worship center to go to the bathroom, not fighting with siblings, standing and sitting at appropriate times, and so on. I always remind them of these expectations in the van on the way to church. There are no surprises or excuses. We talk about worship throughout the week and begin our ‘Sunday routine’ on Saturday. My goal is to do whatever it takes ahead of time to get us in our seats in worship with open, happy hearts and leave with happy hearts that have worshiped God in a way He wants to be worshiped.
To meet my goal of happy hearts before and after worship, these are some things I do:
· Set out church clothes for everyone on Saturday night, even mine
· Give ‘church baths’ to kids on Saturday night
· Play worship music while getting ready on Sunday
· Serve the same breakfast every Sunday (no time for discussing or disagreeing with the ever-changing requests)
· Decide which service is best for your family – for us, it is easiest to arrive at the NEHBC campus and go straight to worship so that I don’t make us late by getting sidetracked in the hall talking or rounding up three children from different classrooms
· Everyone goes to the restroom before finding seats in the worship center
· Find a seat with a good view for children to see and know what is happening on the stage
· Have a seating arrangement for the children that gives them the best opportunity for meeting the expectations and experiencing worship – for us, this means that the lefty of the bunch needs to sit to my left and all others on the right so that they don’t get in a fight when she continually elbows them with her writing hand; two personalities need to be split up because they talk a lot.
· Decide ahead of time a plan for exiting the service if necessary – for what? Ours fall into two categories: defiant disobedience and major distractions
· Everyone follows instructions of the worship leader and pastor – sit, stand, bow to pray, kneel when appropriate
· Have a plan for the sermon time…..’big church bags’
o The bag is only to be used during the sermon. Not at any other time during the service or at home. It is a special bag.
o The child is responsible for the bag – it’s what they bring to worship like you bring your Bible. Have them carry it, pack it, take good care of it.
o Using the bag on the floor is ok for little guys - they are probably lost and their hearts are not inclined to sit and listen attentively.
o Put all kinds of nice, quiet age appropriate toys/activities in it – coloring books, pipe cleaners, stickers, sketch pads, washable markers to keep clothes nice, kleenex are a must. Make sure the activities are things they can do on their own and don’t require an explanation or help from Mom and Dad.
o Change out the contents regularly.
o Ensure that the bag is not being repacked during the response time but that children are participating in the response time and not being a distraction to others that are responding to the Lord.
o As children get older, expectations change for the sermon time – not on the floor, take notes, etc.
· Let children participate when appropriate – help pass offering bag, open Bible, pray at the altar with you, etc.
· Whisper instructions or explanations during teachable moments of the service – Lord’s supper, point out instrumentalists, explain looking for references in Bible
Despite my best efforts, worship does not always go like I dream it will. That’s ok. Having perfectly obedient children is not the goal. They do make noises and distract others. We do have to exit on occasion. I am not locked in on those dreams. The hope and dream of having four little Linos that love the Lord their God and worship Him with all of the hearts is the one I’m working towards. My sacrifice, planning, praying, training and modeling is so worth it. Being the one to teach my child to worship their Creator is an awesome privilege. Parent, enjoy the opportunity you have been given and be faithful to your calling as parent of that precious child.