Monday, December 08, 2008

Kinder in the Kirche / Tots in the Tabernacle

My response to a comment on the recent post of pithy pre-pastorate pastoral pointers got so long that I decided to devote a post to it. I'm fearful that the higher visibility will draw more fire to-meward, but... oh well! Now's the time to do this, when no congregation under my care will imagine I'm "sniping" at them.

Here's the comment, and my response:
At what age does your "no noise" rule apply? From birth, age 1, 2, 3?

I have two under two and I have been given the "evil eye" when my 6-month old is making happy noises, even if briefly.

Is there consideration for a toddler who is quiet yet won't sit still?

Where's the grace for us parents who are doing the best we can but feel sometimes it would be better to not come than to show up and get the looks from people which say, "Oh, no! Here's comes that family with the children. I hate when they make ANY noise at all."
J{2} — I appreciate your straight-up question, and I'll do you the respect of a straight-up response.

First, it's you asking, so I'll speak to you about you, on the basis of what you tell me. Were someone else writing to complain about (someone like) you, I'd respond to him about him. Hope that seems fair.

Second, full disclosure: I think happy-baby/toddler sounds are among the most pleasant sounds there are. Hearing them makes me smile.

In their place.

But, at the same time, I must confess that I'm distractable. I wish it weren't so, that I could just tune everything out and focus exclusively on one sound at a moment's notice, but there it is.

So I sit up closer to the front, where I can see and hear. And "up front" is where the likelihood of looking over perpetually-moving, bobbing, dipping, turning-around, chatting heads is lower. If I find that some person or family is inclined to constantly turn around to see who's coming or going or doing what, or chat a lot during sermons or otherwise, I just find another place to sit. No bloodshed, no hard feelings.

So if (as I've had happen) some parent asserts his/her "right" to sit wherever (s)he pleases, and sits right by me, with a gurgly, chatty, constantly-moving child... it's a problem to me. Not (I hope you see) because I'm a bad, loveless, graceless person; certainly not because I'm a child-hater. But because I've gone to attend to the Word and focus on the Lord, and haven't gone to someone's house for an unstructured afternoon of chit-chatty fellowship.

Leading me to....

Third, I wonder (but don't know enough to accuse) — where is your show of grace to the others? You know that your little tot is distracting them. They're not handling it well, granted — but they're not asking my opinion. You are. So I must ask you: how are you handling it? Are you sitting in the back row, as you train your child to attend quietly? Does your church not have a room for noisy kinder? Are you using a pacifier, coloring books, what-have-you? Are you applying Matthew 7:12 to yourself in relation to your bothered brethren, as you clearly expect them to do for you? (I don't read our Lord as saying, "Whatever you want others to do to you, demand that they do, or accuse them of being loveless and graceless, and you don't have to obey Me anymore").

Not being God, I don't know what ALL children's capacity is. I don't imagine they're all the same in every way. But I do know this: to a degree, it depends on parents' expectations and training. If a parent assumes a child is unable to sit quietly, he won't teach the child to do so, and we'll have a self-fulfilling prophecy. And vice-versa.


Is it genetically-coded? No clue. But I do know I've known families who've had little tiny tots show a perfect ability to sit quietly and color or read or look at pictures or do something, through worship services. It can be done. It is done!

I remember an early experience of ours. We went to an evening service where we thought they had care for kids. They did — but only up to something like age 4, leaving out our daughter, who was around 5. Around five, I say, and very active, lively, loving change and entertainment and stimulation and all that.

We could have assumed she was incapable of sitting still for an hour. (I don't know that I'd ever seen her do so.) We could have expected unruly behavior, and she may have complied.

But instead we gave her things to color and do, and told her she'd need to stay quiet and reasonably still (this is ~20 years ago, I don't remember our exact words).

We were both pleasantly surprised when she did exactly that, bless her heart — beyond what we'd privately dared hope. (So she got a Blizzard or something afterwards, just to say, "Thanks!") We set expectations and, bless her, she more than met them.

I immediately say, though: am I suggesting that's an infallible formula, and kids respond like machines? In no way. But I have learned its truth as a principle.

So, all that to say this. It seems to me that Christian options include:
  1. Ask them if your child is bothering them and, if so, what they would like for you to do. This may force them to greater empathy than they have.
  2. Go to your pastor for guidance.
  3. Alter your behavior or seating if you're not being as considerate as you could be.
  4. Ask other parents whose same-age tots are (as you see it) better-behaved.
But as I read Scripture, we don't have the option to insist on our rights at others' expense, judge and condemn them for judging and condemning us, and retreat from submission to God's word into bitter self-pity.


~Mark said...

Good post! We need to be considerate of others in the place of worship. If our kids are unusually disruptive (read: won't listen to us) then we should sit in the back or in some position where others' study won't be hurt.

If another parent has a kid that won't shut up, we need to remember that maybe they're just as exasperated as we are and offer them some help in an appropriate way at an appropriate time.

Like you Dan I tend to get distracted, but then my fight begins in that I have to watch to keep my spirit from becoming annoyed about it.

I hear some well-known teachers say that the whole family should always be in worship together but I just can't get with that in the way we do church today. Maybe in the house church where the interaction can be more free but in a church service of 100 people or more a crying child 15 inches from me is tough to deal with.

Though, it does give me a chance to practice patience. :)

Colloquist said...

Excellent words, Dan. A toddler who can learn all the lyrics to "Dora the Explorer" in both languages can also learn that church is where we sit quietly.

I think another commenter on the post that inspired the comment that inspired this post had it right about idolizing our children and, I'll add an extension: we moms are told over and over again (by the world) that having young children somehow means we have a free pass. It's so hard, you know, and these children are so spirited, you know, and I'm so very tired, you know, and Dad's never home, you know, and they didn't eat their breakfast, you know, and she missed her nap yesterday, you know...

Churches spend buckets on Sunday School curricula, yet where are the programs/pastors/elders that teach parents of itty-bitties how to find their strength and help in Christ (not in Ezzo or Sears or Moms Club)?

RT said...

In some traditions (like the Episcopal church I attend) Biblical teaching, if any, is conducted in classes and study groups rather than from the pulpit. The service being liturgical (standing, kneeling, reciting prayers, creed etc.) tends to keep the little incorrigibles occupied. At any rate I have never been particularly distracted. Of course it is important to emphasize that there is nothing much to concentrate on in the first place. If I were actually having to digest a weighty exposition of Holy Writ while sitting next to a bumptious toddler, then I would probably become annoyed, although the demands of Christian charity would presumably require a certain level of patience. Sensitivity on both sides (imagine me advocating sensitivity!) would seem to be in order, unless of course it is acceptable to simply throttle the child - probably not, though tempting it certainly would be.

Kim K. said...

I agree that it has much to do with our expectations. In the church I grew up in there was nursery for kids UP TO age 2. Once they hit 2, they were expected to be in church. And it really wasn't a problem. Also, parents didn't show up with a suitcase full of distractions to keep the kid busy. Now it seems like our expectations are so low. Our current church has childrens' church for kids throught 4th grade! Training your kid to sit there like a bump on a log is not easy but, I can attest, it can be done.

Connie said...

Yes, it does depend VERY much on the expectations/standards of the parent. Unfortunately, some parents disregard common courtesy themselves.

Like you, we prefer to sit 'up front'. However, when we brought our two daughters home from Russia at ages 9 and 12 1/2 we chose to sit farther back in the congregation while we trained our girls to sit still and quietly during the services. Neither of them had any prior experience with such expectations--not to mention all the other adjustments they were going through in a new country/culture.

Once they were able to sit still and quietly, we slowly began sitting closer and closer to the front. And yes, they did have some 'relapses', but the standard has been set from the very beginning.

Why is it that some parents think it is such a horrible thing for me to train my daughters (who clearly could sit through a 1-2 hr. long movie without a bathroom break) to go to the restroom BEFORE the service begins rather than wait till the middle of the service (our youngest tried that little approach many times--guess who finally won that battle?) :-) It is NOT a horrible thing, it is part of training--not just for church, but for life!

I've seen it done over and over with children of varying ages as different families have come into our church. Some come from churches were the children's programs were plentiful and designed to 'baby sit' rather than teach the Word. These parents have made the challenging choice to include their children in our worship services, and have begun slowly, but steadily.

You've made your point(s) very well, and I agree that it calls for firmness, wisdom, and compassion--an the parts of many!

Rachael Starke said...

Wow. I thought this post would inspire a lot more back and forthing, but if all the other mom readers are like my gang, it's laundry day, and it's hard to type and fold at the same time. :)

Or, most have been silenced by your very balanced, pastoral thoughts. :)

But it did spark for me a few other thoughts like:

1. I wish more churches would incorporate what their particular philosophy of orderly worship is in whatever new members/interested-in-membership class a church offers. This would be the perfect place to cover everything from children to talking, cell phones, people with disabilities, hand raising and saying "Amen", arriving early to quiet down and prepare for worship, aaaaall that stuff. What's a church's position, and how does it strive to love and help the body to follow along with it? And especially, how are church members encouraged to love and welcome new visitors and help them in a way that causes them to understand and appreciate the church's approach, rather than hightail it outta there the minute the closing prayer is over?

2. If there's one thing having 3 girls, all with the same chromosomes but very different temperaments, has taught me, it's that every child really is different. Some are placid, some are easiily bored, some handle missing naps on Sundays with grace while others.... not so much. And that's true at age 1, age 2, etc. It's very easy when you've been blessed with one or more young children who are more naturally placid to think that other parents who have not been so blessed are doing something wrong.

3. Whenever I've been in a situation where childcare is not available for whatever reason and yet I still want/need to be in the service, I always take a minute and pray for both my antsy 2 y.o. and the people around us, that the Holy Spirit would give those around us attentive ears to the Word and a desire to not be easily distracted. And also that the Holy Spirit, who knows what it's like to inhabit a 2 y.o. body, would give Kate grace and peace to sit quietly and even be able to participate in whatever way her little mind allows. God has often been particularly gracious in those situations.

DJP said...

Maybe they're just all scared of me, Rachael. Like you aren't.


threegirldad said...

Maybe they're just all scared of me...

Well, look at what you're holding in your picture. Who wouldn't be?

Rachael Starke said...

Oh puhleeeese.

I'm a fifth generation PK.

Scared of no one and smarter than everyone, that was my motto growing up.

This no doubt explains why I was such a delight to my parents in my youth.


Gilbert said...

Anyone who uses the world's coolest nighttime tornado picture ever in their blog can cry in our church all they want. Just not during the sermon. ;-)

Kay said...

I'm not scared of Dan either. I have opinions, and I'm not afraid to use them...

Actually, the only thing we do differently is deliberately sit at the front because we've found the children are more engaged with the speaker and less likely to think they're just in the queue to get to the books in the quiet room. My middle daughter is a bit of a lolloper, which we're working on, but so far, it's worked ok.

candy said...

My church is an example of well behaved kids during service. We do have seating in the back for moms with younger toddlers and babies, and we have a closed in room if a child needs further training with behavior in church. But, like I said previously, I have visited other churches that where kids walk up and down the aisles, people talk during worship, and people bring in coffee or such. Very annoying and disrespectful in my opinion....but hey...I also get really annoyed at kids screaming in carts at the store or throwing items on the floor while mom ignores the little darling. I appreciate Alastair Begg who did not hesitate to call children like that, "Little brats", in his wonderful accent.

DJP said...

Oh yes. I once preached in a church in which the children literally ran loose. A baby was allowed to crawl up to the pulpit as I preached. It was chaos.

J♥Yce Burrows said...

No dolls, crayons, and never the Dairy Queen after church as a wee one(am remembering back to 2 or 3 years). Rather it is remembered sitting quietly(movement and sound) and a refined elderly lady with hat and gloves turning after the sermon to give me a coin for the collection plate ~ good girl. Am I the only one reading that was taught to be most concerned with what one would get for not aligning with parental expectations? Not suggesting that approach(on the order of ~ I brought you into this world and if you miss the mark can take you right back out least had me think that so).

Appreciate Dan's thoughtfulness though his posts recently have taken me down memory lane(bitter/sweet). Scared of him, the gentleman with 4 cats that leads his family so well? Gratefully respect him and his wife, indeed. :-)

James Joyce said...

We had an issue with our 4 year old son misbehaving and being highly disruptive in Sunday school to the point where I had to be paged from the service to remove him from the class.

I had a "meeting" with him after we got home from church that day where I made it clear that God's command to obey dad & mom also included obeying the other grown-ups that were charged with his care

We have not had a problem with his behaviour in Sunday school since then, which we praise him for.

Annette said...

My struggle with an only child in a church filled with predominately older adults is that there is very little tolerance for the noise of a toddler. "he should be in a the babysit". But this three year old doesn't want to be in the babysit. he's a "big boy now".

So my options are ...
try to have him stay in church be a bit noisy...which gets me 'tsked' OR for me to take him out. he's three...I don't expect complete silence and he does well until the sermon starts and then we go out to the 'quiet room'.

I would prefer to sit IN CHURCH with him, but with the 'tsking' it feels like that is not an option.

Maybe I just don't know how to train him to be quiet....busy lad that he is...I'm just not sure how to do that and not feel pressured when he does make noise. He picks up on that and just wants to be out of there. it's a difficult balancing act.

LeeC said...

I think I'm a bit like Annette here.

Some churches actively discourage children in the service. I was at one such church once that is huge, but very grounded. Their childcare due to thier size is very institutional and my children after one experience with it begged to be allowed to stay with us.

While I admire this churches efforts, and I know the workers are all very loving and to the best of my knowledge godly folk I and my wife did not like their arrangements either.

But the ushers made it clear that we were not welcome to have our children with us, which at that point equates to our not being welcome as a whole. I can only imagine what a family of new believers visiting or that is not saved or some such might think.

I have also heard many a person complain about "people who won't put their kids in the nursery" when I know very well those people ARE sitting in the back, and they ARE working hard to teach their kids how to behave in "big church" and they are very convicted about thier need to have their kids worship with them. The noises made were very minor and I am very easily distracted and sit in front as well (I was one of the first kids they tried to get on Ritalin thankfully my parents declined) but I think I can use the opportunity to learn self discipline, and show grace to a family who wants to honour God and worship together with the blessing of their children.

I wonder where all the kids were when Nehemiaha spoke?

Herding Grasshoppers said...

We were in a church for years where children were expected to be in the children's program, and not in 'adult church', though they weren't forbidden. We brought them into church with us (for a variety of reasons) and taught them to behave.

While I didn't want to bring them a suitcase of distractions, I'll note that some children do listen better while their little hands are occupied :0)

Our home church now has no child-care past age 2. The first time we visited I spotted a laminated card in the pew rack explaining their beliefs regarding children in church. Among many other encouraging things, it says, very simply,

"Be willing to allow for a certain amount of noise and distraction when children are present. At the same time, be sensitive to those around you who may not be accustomed to children's ways."

Now doesn't that address both sides of the issue graciously?!

The children are provided with paper and pencils and encouraged to take notes (and/or draw pictures) to remember the sermon. They give these to the Pastor and he acknowledges them from the pulpit the following Sunday. And the Pastor finds ways to address and include the children without being childish.

The kids are all used to this and there are few distractions. If a child is getting too noisy or wiggly, the parents remove the child to the foyer.

Parents with kids younger than two often use the first part of the service (singing, announcements, offering, etc) when there is more activity, to begin training their little ones in church behavior, and then take them to the nursery during the sermon.

It's a beautiful thing. The children are welcomed as part of the body, not an unwelcome distraction.

wilco said...

It's actually 'Kinder in der Kirche'.

Glad to be of help. :)

Angie said...

In church this Sunday I sat in the row behind a mother and her teen daughter and the teen daugther's boyfriend. Mom sat there oblivious as her daughter was talking to and kissing her boyfriend during the musical worship. Appropriate behavior is not always about lack of noise. That was really distracting to me, and I could not believe that mom either didn't know or didn't care. The church has a very laid back atmosphere in general, but that really crossed the line. I guess parenting in church doesn't stop when the kids learn to sit still!