Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.
The above verse teaches us a few important principles. First, parents have a duty to train their children. The term training is often used interchangeably with teaching but there is a difference. In teaching our children, which is also a responsibility of parents, we impart to them knowledge which they did not already possess. Training however is the shaping and developing of one’s abilities and skills. Teaching enables another person to know something. Training enables them to do something. Parents have the responsibility to train their children. Secondly, parents are to train their children in the right direction. You shape their skills and abilities to be used in the right ways. You not only give them knowledge of the right path, but you also take them down the path. The end goal is that when you are no longer the trainer, they will continue to go the paths they have been trained for. Their training will make them ready to do what is good and right even when they face scenarios they have never faced before. Using the arrows metaphor, you are the one shaping and sharpening the arrows so that on the day of battle they may be useful.
One important area of training that parents do not often think of is worship. We know to train our children in athletics and academics but one of the most important skills a person needs to have is to be able to rightly worship the Lord. Now in our church, you may be more keenly aware of this need than in other churches because we practice family integrated worship. That means that in our worship gathering on the Lord’s day the whole family is invited and expected to be a part of the service. This practice is both a practice out of necessity because of limited facilities and resources, and a practice out of principle.
While there is not space in this article for laying out the complete case for this principle, it is helpful to look through scripture and see how children and even infants are described as being in the gathering of God’s people as well as commanded to be in the gatherings. Whether in Deuteronomy 31:11-13, Joshua 8:35, Joel 1-2, Ezra and Nehemiah in the Old Testament or the fact that the Apostles address children in the New Testament Epistles meant to be read in the gathering of the saints, the Bible sets a pattern of the whole family being included in worship. We see this as a good pattern to follow and one that connects to the duty to train up a child in the way he should go. You must always start as you mean to go and starting your children in the worship gathering is training them for the right path.
One objection someone might have is that its hard for little ones because its over their heads. Who expects nursing infants and toddlers to actually participate or get anything in worship? John Piper answers this objection to having children in worship which also ties into the duty to train your children. This is what he says:
Of course, the service is over the children’s heads. It is supposed to be over their heads. They are beginners. The English language is over their heads when they come out of the womb, but we do not say, “Well, let’s put them with other children in their own situations and limitations so they can understand a word or two.” No. We immerse them in the English language every day. For a while, they do not understand most of it. But we hope and expect them to grow up into joyful use of the English language. Long before children fully understand the words said and sung in the service, they are absorbing tremendous amounts of valuable experience. This remains true even if they say they are bored. Music and words become familiar. The message of the music starts to sink in. The form of the service starts to feel natural. Even if most of the sermon goes right over their heads, experience shows that children hear and remember remarkable things. The content of the prayers, the songs, and the sermon gives parents an unparalleled opportunity to teach their children the great truths of the faith. If parents would only learn to query their children after the service and explain things to them, they would sow enormously valuable seeds for their long-term growth in the knowledge of God. 1
As John Piper makes clear having your children in worship with you is training that sets the pattern for years of growth. It starts children off knowing that worship is important, and it is what our family does. Think of all the other activities that young children are brought to by their parents and expected to observe or participate in. You might bring your baby to a ball game to watch the other children. We take children to family reunions, birthday parties, the dmv, and other activities. I know a couple that took their infant to the movies so that they could enjoy it. None of these places are as important as the worship of the Lord and none so vital in the life of your children and home.
Ok, you say I get it but its hard having little ones in worship. They cry and they get bored. Others are distracted. I am embarrassed and I feel like I get nothing from the worship. I know that bringing them to worship is training them for the future, but I need help training them to be able to be trained in worship. What do I do?
Well. you are right that children have to be trained for worship, that is they need to be prepared for worship on Sunday. The truth is that we all need to prepare ourselves for worship. This is something neglected by nearly everyone in our day. If you need to be prepared than your children are no different. The training of children that happens in the public worship does not begin on Sunday Morning. This training happens all week. What does this training look like? How do you get your child ready for worship on Sunday morning? Here is a list of ten ways you can train your children so that they can be a part of the gathering of the covenant community for worship.
1. Prepare yourself for worship! As was already said, we need to be prepared for worship ourselves. We often come to worship distracted with all the affairs of life and running ragged from trying to get everything together Sunday mornings. Sunday Mornings in many homes look like a marathon as the family is trying to prepare breakfast, picking out and ironing clothes, getting diaper bags together, rounding up the kids and making sure they have their socks and shoes on, and changing diapers on the baby who just messed it before heading out to the van. Some of this hecticness is a stage of life that will pass but some of it is self-sabotage. As far as you are able try to have as much prepared the night before. Have the clothes ironed and laid out, the diaper bag packed, and some idea of what breakfast will look like. Its good to have things that make for a quick but filling breakfast. Make sure that you set your alarm early enough so that you are not rushing around at the last minute. This means trying to get to bed early on Saturday Evening.
Now this is just the physical preparation. You should also be preparing your heart. Fathers need to try to wrap up their business and work affairs early on Saturdays so that they are not spending all Saturday night and Sunday morning thinking about these things. The worship leader often sends out the songs we will be singing ahead of time and so look those over. If you use the family worship guide you can look ahead to the next weeks guide to see what passages will be studied on Sunday. The more you can prepare your own mind, the better you will be even if it just to spend time in prayer Saturday evening and listening to music on Sunday morning as you get ready.
If you are prepared, bringing your children to worship will be much easier.
2. Be excited about worship! Your children get excited about what you get excited about. Even little babies can sense excitement. They can also sense stress, worry, and unhappiness. If you are not excited about going to worship the Lord, then do not expect your children to be either. Part of this excitement you need to pour into your own soul is that you get to take your children to worship. It is not just a chore that your children will be in worship with you. It is a blessing. Moms and Dads you have been given the great responsibility and privilege to bring your children to the Lord’s house. This is a privilege and great honor. The Apostle John said he had no greater joy than to see his children walking with the Lord. There is no greater earthly joy than to be a parent and holding your baby in your arm while praising God whose Son became a baby in his mother’s arms. There are great promises that God will be God to both you and your children and when you are in worship with them you are watching these promises unfold. So be excited about worship. And then let your children know you are excited. Talk it up all week. Talk about how you get to go to church instead of how you have to. Talk about how wonderful it is to praise God with the church. Remember how when Covid first hit, most churches shut down for a few weeks and there are some churches sadly still not meeting. This is a blessing, and your children need to know from you that it is. So, if you are dreading worship all week because your children will be with you, ask God to help you repent of that and to be joyful.
3. Adjust your schedules during the week to fit the worship time! This is an important way you can train your child for Sunday and that is make sure that your schedule throughout the week does not conflict with what will happen on Sundays. What I mean is if your church service starts at 10:30 and goes to 12:30 then it would not be wise to schedule things during this time period the rest of the week that will suddenly have to change on Sunday. Do not have lunch at 11:30 every day of the week and then on Sunday have that thrown off. Adjust your lunch schedule to fit what will happen on Sunday. Fix lunch for the kids at 1 instead of 11:30. Do not make this a time where kids are running around and doing lots of activity. Rather this will be a great time to do step number 4. If your child always fusses a lot before nap time and your nap time is 11, then work slowly to adjust that nap time later or earlier that way they are not used to it right in the middle of church. This is where you used wisdom with your children and adjust the schedule to fit good purposes. The worst thing you can do is give no thought to schedule and then on Sunday suddenly have to take on a new one with the kids.
4. Train throughout the week in sitting down and being quiet! Kids need lots of fun and activity time. They need times to just be kids. They need to play with toys and do not need to be held all the time. But they also need to be taught that there are times to sit and to be still. These things do not come natural to children, but they are important skills whether in church or elsewhere. And so, you have to train them. They need practice. If your children do not have any moments of quiet and stillness throughout the week, do not think that Sunday they will automatically pick that up.
One mom over at “This Pilgrim Life” had this to say:
“Begin setting up times when you and your children can practice sitting still and listening quietly at home. Have your children sit on the couch or on a bench while you read to them. Or join them on the couch and listen to a sermon together. You can begin with shorter increments of time and build up to longer stretches. Keep your expectations similar to how you expect them to behave in church. If you do not want them laying down in the pew, then do not let them lay down on the couch. Same thing for talking. If your children are older and you want to help them practice active listening, then talk to them after you read or finish listening about what they heard.2”
Family worship time is very helpful in training children that there are times to pay attention and to sit still in addition to teaching the children the bible. Practice, Practice, Practice these skills. I have seen some homes where the youngest children are given free range and never expected to participate in anything that might cause them to have to be still. Then on Sunday’s that child is suddenly expected to have a skill that he has not practiced. They are seldom up to the task.
5. Do the Prep work on the way to church! Your children need briefed on the way to church. That is, they need to know what is expected of them. The drive to church is the perfect time for dad to talk about how exciting church is and how important it is to worship the Lord. Dad can talk about how we ought to be considerate of other people and so trying our best to be quiet when its time to be quite is being kind to others. Dad can remind the children that they are to stand when everyone stands and sit when everyone sits. You can talk about the blessings that come with worshiping with a whole heart. Dad can also talk about the consequences that come with choosing to act in a distracting manner. Get the children to participate in the conversation and to take ownership in what is about to happen.
6. Use the bathroom beforehand! Make sure you get to church in time for the little ones to use the bathroom beforehand and get other things that might need to happen out of the way before church begins. If they are going to take notes or color a picture, make sure they have it ready to go. Try your best not to be late. Its very difficult coming in late with children and trying to get them settled and prepared for church without distracting others and being prepared to worship. Sometimes things happen and you are running late. Better late than never. But if you keep the rest of these tips, you should not be late.
7. Make sure they are fed before hand but for the littlest ones have a light snack that is not too messy available. This is pretty self-explanatory. If you had adjusted feeding schedules and prepared breakfast before hand then the children are already fed. Sometimes though in the worship time, a child might need a little snack. That is ok but make sure its little, not distracting to others, and does not make a mess. You do not want to train your children that worship time is snack time so try to keep it rare.
8. Make use of the cry room but return quickly! Sometimes kids are just kids. They make dirty diapers, the baby wants to nurse, or they are having a rough day. Our church has a cry room just for these occasions. It is good to make use of it. Sometimes your child has a problem, and you can fix it right away with a snack or a distraction or just a hug from momma therefore there is no need to leave your seat. But other times you need to take your child to the cry room. We want children in worship and so we are used to the noises they make but for the sake of courtesy for others, do not try to wrestle a child that just cannot be consoled. Its better to take them to the cry room and get them to calm down. If it is a toddler, Dad might need to take him to the restroom and discipline them. The Bible says that the rod drives away folly from the heart of a child. Do not be afraid to use it. Now, do not exasperate your child by refusing to implement the rest of these tips and only using the rod on Sundays.
After you have taken the child out as soon as you are able bring them back in. Do not train them that if they fuss, they get taken out and left out. Even if you have to take them out a few times and bring them back a few times that is better than just giving up.
9. Do not worry about being self-conscious! Yes, when your baby is crying, people judge you. Do not sweat it. Everyone has an off week. Everyone has one child who takes a little more training than others. And yes, this is a work in progress. Keep in mind that God is not finished with you yet either. He is using you to train your child and your child to teach you patience and humility. Have faith for the long haul. Be open to help from others in the church. Be open to correction from your pastor and elders. But do not worry about being self-conscious. You have a task from God to train up your child and by God’s grace you will.
10. Follow up! This final step is an important one that should not be neglected. Just as the ride to church was invaluable prep and training time, the ride home is too. Follow up with the children on the way home. Ask them each something that they learned. You will be surprised at what they picked up and it will strengthen your commitment to this training. You might learn that you have more teaching and training to do to help them understand things. You might need to follow up with discipline. The Father ought to make sure everyone got the main point of the sermon. This is a good time to point out what went good with the children and what need to be corrected next time. In the military, after action review, that is the follow-up, is a very vital part of every mission. It makes you better for the next one. This is true for you too.
Finally, parents have faith. As has been said before, your children are only young for so long. Holding a new baby in your arms and singing about the love of Christ Jesus will only happen for so long of a time. Having a toddler hold your hand as you pray will only be a short season of life. Having children ask questions after the service will be a distant memory. One day you will be sitting in worship and looking over at the mom who seems so worried about her crying baby and chuckling under your breath because you know what it is like. Have faith that one day your baby will be a mom holding her baby in church as they worship the Lord together.
1. Piper, John. “The Family: Together in God's Presence.” Desiring God, January 1, 1995. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-family-together-in-gods-presence.
2. Lisa. “Tips for Keeping Kids in Church.” This Pilgrim Life, August 26, 2019. https://www.thispilgrimlife.com/tips-for-keeping-kids-in-church/.