Take a moment to imagine that you are a child in church. How do you sit? How do you act? Are you silent, or do you speak during the service?
Now think about how you were taught to behave in church. The term behave seems appropriate here, since many children are told the following things: Sit up straight. Keep your hands to yourself. Stand up, sit down, and sing when you’re supposed to. Be quiet. Does this sound familiar?
What if I told you that it’s okay to talk in church? To some, this is music to your ears. To others, it’s unfathomable. It seems more appropriate to behave in the churchy way that you were taught. So, sit back, relax, and read an alternative (and even better) view.
When children attend church, they have the chance to worship God. What we must remember is that they (and adults alike) cannot worship what they don’t understand. Think of it in this way: If you go to a foreign country, the customs and language are unusual to you. What if you had to sit still and follow the customs? What if you were told Shhh when you asked about the customs or the language? It seems to me that having someone to explain the customs and answer the questions might be a more productive way for a person to acclimate into this new country. The same is true for children and church.
Just last week, our children stood to sing The Church is One Foundation during the traditional service. The lyrics of one stanza went like this:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, How long?
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!
My daughter asked, “Mommy, what does that mean?” The language used (Old English) is unfamiliar to me, so I had to stop and think about the meaning of this phrase. I then explained that things are bad now, but they’ll be better in the morning. This was a teachable moment, which helped her to understand what she was singing. I could have even taken it a step further and explained that this stanza likely came from Psalm 30:5, which says “Weeping can stay for the night. But joy comes in the morning,” (NIrV).
As an educator, I know that children learn through questioning. In school, children are allowed to ask questions when they do not understand. Teacher encourage children to ask probing questions. Yet when children enter a church building, they are often expected to be quiet and to follow the routines.
Instead of embracing the latter, let us explore the former. Let children ask questions. Let them speak in church. Let parents, grandparents, and caregivers answer these questions so that children can learn how to behave as Christians rather than as church-goers. Let children learn to apply what they learn rather than imitate what they do not understand.
Here are some helpful hints to use teachable moments in church:
- Visit the sanctuary/worship center ahead of time and explain what you see. Point out items used during worship (which may vary from congregation to congregation). A few examples include: pulpit, pews, prayer rails/kneelers, altar/table used for communion, baptistery, stained glass windows, stage, hymnals, Bibles, screens, crosses, etc. Allow children to ask questions about things that they see.
- Before (and during) the service, explain that we go to church to learn about God and to worship Him. It’s about Him and not about us, so we should not be silly or loud. We should also keep in mind that other people go to church to worship God. When we act silly or loud, we can distract them from doing this.
- Talk to your children before going to church. Explain that they are to use their inside voices, or whisper voices, if they have questions. Remind children that loud voices might distract others.
- During Communion/The Eucharist/The Lord’s Supper, explain that it’s a quiet time. Explain what the bread and wine/juice mean. Tell children that while we wait to take Communion, we can thank God for sending Jesus, ask God to forgive us of any sins (bad choices, mistakes) that we have made, or to pray for others.
- Explain the meaning of unusual phrases of praise songs or hymns. Tell children that it’s okay to simply read the words if they don’t know the tune.
- Open a Bible or Bible app when Bible verses are mentioned. This shows your children the words used are from the Bible and that they have access to them even at home. Explain any unusual or unfamiliar phrases so that your child understands. For longer explanations, tell your child that you will continue the conversation later.
- Pray with children if there is a communal prayer time. Include things that concern them like school, friends, and thankfulness for God’s provisions of food, clothing, and shelter.
At first, it may feel uncomfortable to talk in church. Some may stare at you in disbelief. But as you explain what we do in worship, your child will begin to grasp the importance of how we worship, why we worship, and Who we worship. What better reason to talk in church?