22 Feb 2010

Preparing for corporate worship

Beautiful image by Felipe Galindo from here.

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!

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.
Is this your family?

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.


  1. As always, a fantastic post. I have a serious pet peeve about this issue. Everyone seems so eager to ship their kids off to childrens' church these days. I want my kids in the service with me. Not off playing and eating snacks! Love your training time idea. I'm going to speak with the hubs about it. Thanks!


  2. Thank you for the reminder to be more intentional about our worship...I appreciate your detailed suggestions. I remember not really caring for Parenting in the Pew, but with your hearty recommendation, I'll have to look at it again and reconsider.

  3. My first Sunday in Church with my kids one of my friends gave my son a bulletin and some pens. It nearly cost me a good friend [who meant well since the kids didn't know English] but I took them away. I hoped a familiar song would be played and it was. The kids "understood" this was "Missionary time" like they had some times in the Orphanage. We never looked back. I do not understand the lengths some folks go to to "entertain" their children so they will sit still in Church. A child with real ADHD I understand. Anyone else needs higher expectations! Same for Game Boys and other devices being with kids constantly. Same for dvd on at all times in the car! Yes, folks, I'm OLD!! lol... Great Post, Jeanne--and a good idea too, if your Church has things that on the ball that you CAN view it all before hand. Another good idea is to suggest [if you Church does hymns, not praise music] suggest they sing your AO term hymn some time! Watch and see if any little faces light up! I remember that--it's a sweet experience.

  4. We are among the frivolous who send our kids to Children's Church. There, they learn a Bible story with a real life application, sing a mix of hymns and worship songs, (it always amuses me when I sing a hymn at home and Kaytie gasps, "YOU know that song, Mom? We sing that in church!") learn Bible verses, and play games that refer back to the story. Sometimes they have a snack, sometimes they don't have time. But they are expected to sit still, listen and participate in Children's Church, and my kids can all tell me the story, and the application afterwards, so I am satisfied. ;)

  5. We are past this but as ours were invariably the only children in church they sat with me! I have a number of ADD kids so the colouring books & a snack was available for the sermon. The kids were expected to participate in everything else. When Ditz was about 5 [she read early in case this next bit strikes you as odd] we finally got other small children. They would all congregate under the big tables down the side of the hall ~ which might ave been a worry only Ditz kept them all quiet by reading to them from her bible!

    I don't mind if kids wander or do something else so long as they listen & I agree familiarity helps. After months Ditz is finally joining in the evening worship on the mainland now that she knows many of the songs & the rythmns the kids like to clap to, rythmn not being Ditz's strong suite!

    I strongly believe children should sit with their families for worship & not be sent out ~ which strikes me as being for the convienience of the old fuddie~duddies & not in the children's best interests. It doesn't hurt to have the worship service more child friendly either. Ours used to love taking up the collection & when older, to do the readings.

  6. I love you Jeanne! I swear you are a gift from God to me! I do keep the children with me during worship simply because children's church wasn't working for us. I couldn't see how playing kick ball every week was worshipping God. I took a lot of grief from the children church teachers but I stuck my ground. I have been searching for a way to make it more meaningful for both children. This post spoke volumes to me and was an answered prayer! Thank you!!!!!

  7. We don't get the bulletin until Lord's Day morning, but preaching through books helps with preparation and follow on of thought. Love this post Jeanne. As you can guess we don't do snacks etc and everyone sits in the service with their own family. Even teenagers.
    I do struggle with how much day dreaming might go on but we "joy to go up to the house of God". We ususally do some preparation as you suggested with readings and prayer needs and discussion and then "spot" the sermon and psalms after.
    Thanks for this one.

  8. Sundays are invariably the most stressful day of my week! Isn't that terrible?!

    This day is central to ministry and my husband is always occupied with everything that he does to make thing run smoothly (church planting missionary, elder, preacher). So that leaves me alone under a time constraint to get all 5 kids breakfasted and ready for church with the usual mishap or two along the morning... it is what I call HARD work! Then to manage them all in a rustic setting (dirt floor and wobbly benches) singlehanded while my husband leads worship and the teaching, in a small building where ALL eyes are on us, during the hour normal to the smallest's naptime... yeah. We struggle.

    We too allow coloring during the preaching - not during the singing (we have the added interesting ingredient of a second language here). I do bring water and a snack for the littlest she's 2 and quiet toys and books for her as well (the older kids know it's because she's a baby). The bigger kids at some point graduated to having to wait to potty and get drinks and all the rest.

    I often find myself explaining the prayer or the tenets of the Lord's supper to little ones in their ears to keep them quiet. And we probably make at least one trip outside each Sunday.

    We repeat all this on Sunday evening, when the service starts at my kids bedtime. Oh the joys of service! ;)

    I RELISH the weeks when we have a guest speaker!! I have a huge job of training every week during church! But it is a worthwhile task :)

    I tried to transmit the idea that Sundays are full of unpredictable excitement, not that it is a total chaos. Having 5 smallish children in this setting has been a challenge from the start. We have done many things to aid us in the task, but it is a challenge nonetheless.

    That said, you are absolutely right that the more you can do to prepare ahead of time the better. Practice sitting quietly time, setting out clothes and Bibles the night before. I love that your church sends out the service details ahead... that's really cool. Perhaps we'll have to incorporate something like that along the way!

    okay, this is about as long as a Sunday sermon now... hah!


    amy in peru

  9. Stopped back to see what othercs had to say. Chef Penny: I totally agree--we had one Church which featured a Chuckee Cheese-style arcade [and a pastor who preached against such games!] Guess who's kids went to "big Church" there! We have typically looked for a Church with one hour Sunday School and one hour worship. This is a very good discussion, Jeanne!!

  10. Hi Jeanne...really good discussion post! As you know we do not have a fellowship at the moment. But When we go away we seek a spirit filled church and my children LOVE it!

    They soak up everything.

    I certainly think it is important to keep them aware of what is going on in the service as much as you can. When they are little I think some textas and paper works wonders but when they come to an age of understanding they participate.

    Because we hunger for fellowship when we get to go we are all so eager, we end up being the first ones there and the last ones to leave and I am usually in the kitchen just to get more fellowhip.


  11. Great post Jeanne!
    My story is quite different to most of your readers:)
    We are from a different denomination so we don't really know what the message or songs are going to be before hand.
    Rebekah stays with us during the praise and worship (singing worship time) and then the kids have their kids church which is awesome....I know she absorbs a lot from there because she usually does an informal narration on the way home:)
    However, this is only for kids over 4. The younger ones don't stay in with the parents unless the parents want them to and in our church most parents with kids over 1 and under 4 send them to the creche before the service starts. So I don't ever see any colouring books etc brought to church:)
    And oh, we have recently introduced tithing from her pocket money, just waiting for time on hand to blog about it:)

  12. Quite timely as we are in prayer about this currently. I am still in complete shock from last Sunday when the children were sent out to their classes before we even broke bread! I am very much hoping that this was an oversight and not due to the fact that there were TV cameras taping last week.

    Luca stays with us, making picture narrations of the sermon, but most often Max goes to "King's Kid's" which takes place after "worship."

    In "One Million Arrows" Julie Ferwerda talks of a minister of a large church locality in Chicago actually confessing and apologizing to the congregation for trying to take the place of the parents through all the youth activities, etc.

    Amy, your comments reminded me of something I read a few years back that I will have to search out. I remember it was regarding a well-known missionary and a revival that went on for years. It spoke of mothers and children freely coming in and out. Until our move four years ago we met in homes so the children were naturally with us - just like they are naturally with us for school.

    When we moved here I had to train them to sit for consecutively longer intervals of time.

    I appreciate your post, Jeanne. As always, there is lots to digest and the comments are so interesting.

  13. We have our little people sit with us, and don't do snacks and drinks (our church starts at 9am, and only goes for an hour and a half - I figure they can last that long).

    We used to bring books for Miss Baby, (now 2 years old) but found that she was "reading" them aloud. Emphasis on the LOUD. We then went cold turkey, and stopped taking anything to keep her happy. I confess that I do let her take her shoes on and off (and sometimes mine - grimace!) as things get tough toward the end of the meeting.

    But it has been easier to manage her without the books than with.

    All four children participate in the service - even miss baby knows when it is time to sing and will get up with her song book :) I think it depends on what expectations you have on your children and the culture of the church you attend.

    We were counter-culture at our last church, which was tough on all concerned. Telling your children's church leader you want the children to sit in church with you shouldn't sound like a personal attack, but it seems there is no other way to take it.

  14. Thanks for this postly-reminder Jeanne. My younger children currently go to Sunday School during church these days, but I am rethinking it. I have noticed that since participating in Sunday School they are much more wriggly in church and have not been listening as well.

    I love the sermon-prep idea....but our church has no such thing as an order of service. What a great idea though!

    When my children were little, they took a special church bag that had a drink a snack a quiet toy of some sort. This was opened up when the sermon began.

    When the children were about preschool age I provided colouring in pages and a Bible story book.

    Then when they were beginning to learn to read, they brought their own Bibles and had a notebook - in the notebook they were to write down words or draw pictures from something they heard in the sermon. Quite often they would copy out the key bible passage.

    My big girl has now been taking sermon notes for the past 3 years and learns alot this way as it forces her to pay attention.

  15. I nominated you for the Beautiful Blog award. If you don't participate in awards that's okay. I just wanted you to know.


  16. As I reread my comment, I feel like it reflects more disorder/stress than most of the time I actually feel... was I complaining?? but alas it is a true reflection of real life events! :) My kids do an excellent job of participating in the singing (they are learning to read Spanish by reading the hymnal, how cool is that?!), and for the most part all the older kids are always quiet. My 2 year old is the one who is in training and she is coming along nicely... anyway, I just wanted to say that it is not all hum-glum, it is work for a purpose and I recognize that and thank the Lord for the privilege!! ;)
    Once past the toddler stage, all will be smooth sailing... unless we are blessed with another anyway... ;)

    amy in peru


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