Okay, it is story starter time. I'll start the tale and you tell me what happens next, okay?
It is the Sabbath. The kids, dressed in their Sunday best, hair recently combed, have just finished Sunday school. Together you enter the church building and sit down in your regular pew. Well, actually the one in front. Visitors are sitting in YOUR pew. The gall of some people. Honestly!Is this your family?
Quietly you bow your head and pray, preparing your heart to approach the throne of grace. The minister enters and you raise your eyes to his. The service has begun.
As you settle in your seat to listen, your school aged children...
- Open the snack you've prepared.
- Start colouring in the Bulletin.
- Start chatting.
- Ask for a lolly.
- Read their novel.
- Turn to check out the congregation - especially the family sitting in YOUR pew... Unbelievable. The cheek of some people. Truly.
- Start arguing.
- Prepare to daydream the hour away.
- All of the above.
- Actually, you don't know, because your kids always sit with their friends down the back.
Do your children actually worship God each Sunday morning, or do they merely suffer through the service until it is time for a cuppa and a biscuit in the hall at the end?
Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. Matthew 19:14 NIV
The kingdom of heaven belongs to children. Does not our worship service? Doesn't their active participation in our service bring glory to God? Are they not important to him?
In our peaceful home we strongly believe that it does. We believe that as Christian parents we have a responsibility to teach our daughter what it means to worship God. We want church to be something that she looks forward to - a highlight of her week - not a duty to be suffered through every Sunday in silence, week after week; year after year.
One of the best ways we have found to achieve this is by preparing for corporate worship beforehand. If you take a look at our weekly timetable, on Friday mornings you'll find a little subject called sermon prep. It's more than that, of course, but that's what we call it.
Our church distributes the Orders of Service sometime during the week and we use the time allocated to this subject to work our way through Sunday's services step by step.
First we play 'Spotto'. Using the bulletin, we read the title of the sermon. We then look at each psalm and reading in turn, trying to identify why each has been selected. As Jemimah hears an appropriate verse she yells 'spotto!' If she misses one I get to yell it instead! Familiarising ourselves with the passages in this way significantly improves our understanding of the message when it is preached.
Sometimes neither of us can find a 'spotto' phrase. In this case we look again after the sermon. 20/20 hindsight and all that...
Next we sing through the psalms, checking that we know the tunes and practicing any alto parts we may have learned.
Thirdly we discuss families and individuals that need particular prayer, anticipating their inclusion in the intercessory prayer time during the service.
Finally we pray ourselves for these people, asking also that he will prepare our hearts for the worship services on his Lord's Day.
Sermon prep is an opportunity to talk about why gathering together is important. It is something that we as Christians look forward to, but it is not necessarily fun. It is a time to give thanks to God - to glorify and enjoy him. It is also an opportunity to talk about what is going well and what we should look at altering.
Which brings me to me to my ending for the Story Starter scenario. I'll be brief, because I know each family will be different here, and it was really our sermon prep subject that I wanted to talk about, but this is what we do.
In church we sit together as a family. We rarely invite other kids to sit with us because the temptations are too great when friends are nearby. On the few times that we weaken - after a sleepover for example, we invariably regret our decision.
We do not eat and we do not read books. We do allow Jemimah to colour during the sermon alone - provided she is listening. Daddy checks this with a quick narration question after the service. The question tests comprehension of an easier part of the message or a practical application. Generally she does impressively well, so for now the colouring stays. In later years we will introduce a worship journal.
There is no colouring during the rest of the service and we expect participation during psalms, readings and prayers. She enjoys putting the family offering into the collection plate, but does not yet receive an allowance of her own to contribute. We have discussed tithing during sermon prep.
Finally Jemimah participates in our greeting and morning tea rosters. She particularly enjoys welcoming people at the door at the beginning of the service along with Mummy or Daddy or Grandpa. Washing up after morning tea is not quite so much fun. Mind you, I'm inclined to agree with her here! Shhh, yeah I know - teaching by example and all that...
So this is us. I only need to look around our own congregation...only at the families in front mind you - I wouldn't dream of looking back at the family sitting in OUR pew - to see that all families are different and have different requirements and expectations of their children. What about you? How would you finish the story starter? Would sermon prep work for you? If you think it might then do give it a try. It is one of the most successful parts of our week.
For more ideas on guiding your children into the joy of worship, Robbie Castleman's book, Parenting in the Pew is well worth a read. I borrow this one from our church library on a regular basis for a quick reread.