It happens every year at the end of the summer. It is both full of anticipation and anxiety. We make preparations for it, talk about how great it’s going to be, and console the participants after Day 1.
It, of course, is the transition from elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, high school to college, and children’s church to big church.
Some parts of church life just kind of appeared. We know children’s Sunday School began in Britain in the 1780s. Not long after, Sunday School was the norm in the U.S as well. Back in the day, every kid went to Sunday School.
Children’s church, junior church, primary church or whatever you call it doesn’t have so clear a history nor has the idea been as broadly embraced in the Christian church. In fact, outside of Baptist, Bible, and non-denominational churches, many denominations frown on the idea of waiting until children reach a certain age before they sit with mom, dad and older brothers and sisters in the worship service of the church.
There’s no static plan or program for children’s church. In a few churches minors through high school meet in age specific programs while their parents and the other adults are in the worship services. In other churches, children participate in children’s church through a specific grade level, say grade 6. In some churches, the children in children’s church do not participate in any part of the worship, while in other churches, the children are dismissed to children’s church at some specific point in the order of service.
We do know this: there comes a certain time in every kid’s life where he must transition to big church. What step can parents take to help their children transition to worshippers of the living God?
Two words help: prepare and promote. Approach the Lord’s Day with the thought Sunday morning begins Saturday night. A good bit of the conflict and complications of Sunday morning can be alleviated by Saturday evening preparations. Get Sunday clothes – including those hard to find matching socks and shoes – ready the night before. Let your child participate in what she will wear the next day. Find Bibles and Sunday School material and have them near the front door or even put them in the minivan. Put bowls, spoons, and cereal on the table before going to bed.
Do whatever will take off some of the pressure to get the family out the door on time on Sunday morning before going to bed on Saturday night. That goes for the adults in the house as well as the kids.
We talk about the things that our family gets to do, anticipating the experience to come, “Tomorrow we are going to the zoo…to grandma’s house…to the Mall of America…to the big game.” Talk that way about going to worship, “In two days we get to go to worship.” As Sunday approaches ask your children, “What are you looking forward to about Sunday?” Then offer in reply, “Here’s what I am looking forward to.”
When Sunday comes, be happy on Sunday mornings. The devil will do devious work to destroy your morning. Your own flesh will cry out for more sleep or tell you the day can be spent doing something more beneficial than heading to worship. The realities of living in a broken world with all its broken people who get on your nerves and don’t appreciate your life and circumstances may contribute to coldness about God and God’s people. Don’t let that happen. Make the choice to be happy on Sunday. You’re about to meet God.
Well, you made it to the church building. And it’s the first day in big church. Now what? First things first: take junior to the bathroom. Once you’ve found your seat, determine to stay and not give in to the, “I have to go potty” mandate. Where your family sits is more important than you might think. Sit near the front, no farther back than the second or third row. The back of a huge room is full of distractions and what three-foot tall boy wants to look at the back of the giant bald head sitting in front of him?
Help with distractions and inattention. Most of us have removed spiders, ticks, and other creeping, crawling things making appearances during worship. Mom and dad may need to sit between children to provide maturity to the row. Like cell phones for adults and teens, toy cars and soldiers, favorite dolls and stuffed animals do not belong in worship. They are distractions. The sooner you act bravely and break this practice, the better it will be for you. Food, sippy cups, your coffee mug or water bottle all vanish before worship begins.
Set the pace. Open your Bible, sing with the congregation, give in the offering, stay awake, hold it until the worship is done (if that’s a problem, maybe stop drinking coffee before worship), and respond to word of God. Who do you want teaching your children how to worship the living God? What are you teaching your children about how to worship the living God?
You made it! A head count in the SUV determines all are accounted for, in some families this is no small matter. The worship gathering may be over, but your work as a parent of children who worshipped with you is not. Just like you talk about the school day or the work day, talk about the Lord’s Day.
Here are some conversation starters:
Ask, “What do you remember from our worship?” “What were some songs we sang?”
Do not ask, “What did you like about church today?” We do not want to train our children (nor practice ourselves) that the Lord’s Day experience is interpreted by what we liked.
Ask, “Who do you see…talk to today?”
Ask, “What did you learn about Jesus?”
When you’ve heard your young one’s answers, offer your answers to the same questions or to questions your young one asks of you.
Our hope is that our children will, by God’s grace, be faithful followers of Jesus Christ the whole of their lives, right? What we make of the Lord’s Day plays a major part in their commitment to Jesus Christ for the remainder of their lives. The task of showing children Jesus may be the greatest accomplishment you will make in your life.
As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.