Taking your children to church can be a dispiriting experience.
Perhaps they play up during the prayers.
They tell you (loudly) that they are bored.
One child pushes their sibling off a chair.
They want to run riot during coffee time.
They seem to learn nothing and moan about everything.
You are so distracted looking after them that you are nor sure why you came anyway.
So, why bother? Wouldn't it be best to keep them at home and read them Bible stories until they are old enough to join in properly?
Today I will share a few reasons why we should take our children to church, and a few things that we have found helpful as we have brought our children along to Sunday services.
Anyone who knows our family in real life will know that we don't always (or ever!) look like a model family. We are a real family with a mixture of strengths and weaknesses. Some weeks our Sundays are hard work, though more and more often we find that they go well. I hope that some of the ideas that have helped me over the last few years will benefit others too.
So, why should we take our children to church?
1) God's Command.
The Bible clearly and unequivocally commands God's people to meet together.
Hebrew 10:24-25 says: And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
2) Children are part of God's people.
It is clear throughout scripture that children were present when God's people met together. For example, in the letter to Ephesians (among others), written to be read to God's people, children are addressed directly: Ephesians 6:1: Children, obey your parents in the Lord.
3) Love for your children.
Meeting with God's people, to hear God's Word, to pray together and to praise God together is a tremendous blessing which I want to share with my children.
Most parents have no problem in insisting their children attend school for their children's own good, but many waver about church.
They may even insist on music lessons or sports clubs, but waver about church.
Our children, while they are young and under our authority, need us to make the best choices for them. We choose church for them because it is commanded, and because it is commanded for our good.
Given these convictions, how can we make it work?
1) Encourage your children to join in.
Some children find this easier than others, and we need to be both gentle and firm. We have always expected our children to stand up for songs, and to make an attempt at joining in once they can read the words. They listen to the reading, and follow it in their own Bibles once they can read. They join in the prayers.
2) Remember why you want your children there.
We want ours to benefit spiritually as they participate (and not to distract others by their behaviour).
We don't want our children to look good, but to receive the good that we gain from gathering as the people of God under the Word of God.
There is a difference between a child excitedly interrupting a Bible reading because they have spotted something in the passage they have never seen before, and because they have just remembered something about Minecraft. We need to not worry about how it looks to others, but about what is happening in the hearts of our children.
3) Sit at the front.
This may not work for everyone, but we find that it is much easier for our children to join in if they can see.
4) Pray before you leave.
I always pray with the children before we leave for church - pray for the service, for those teaching the Bible, and for ourselves, that we would learn from God's Word.
5) After-church bags.
Our children all bring something to do after the service (not before or during). Usually they are books or a small toy or two which they will generally share with other children there. Sometimes they will disappear off and read for a while after the service before we head home. It means that we can stay longer, and they enjoy bringing things in to show to their friends. One of our children regularly brings along his rock collection to share with one of his friends. Our younger two sit with some of the older members of our congregation at the coffee tables and enjoy books together.
Keep going! If we remember the reasons why we keep on taking our children to church, that will help us to keep on turning up, even after a tough week.
7) Ask for help...
...or at least accept it when it is offered. An extra adult coming to sit with me has really helped me, especially when I had toddlers.
8) Encourage your children to get involved.
Our children help make sure that the chairs and pens and Bibles are ready for Sunday School. Often they will help me get things ready if I am teaching Sunday School that week. These are just small, and largely unseen ways, in which they can serve others.
Even now, heading off the church on a Sunday morning with my four children can make me a little nervous. Holding on to our convictions, and seeing our children (generally) glad to go along to church on a Sunday, helps us to keep going.