By Anna Mussmann
It’s the same for us all. For the Roman Catholics. For the Fundamentalists and Evangelicals. For the Methodists. For the Lutherans. In all of our churches, the babies get loud. The toddlers get grumpy. The children create an ecumentical challange by stressing-out their parents and failing to behave with the charmingly pious decorum we would all love to see.
Fortunately, the culture in most Lutheran congregations embraces the idea that families should pray and worship together. Most Lutherans recognize that children, too, are Christians who are part of the body of Christ and need to hear God’s word right along with everyone else. We are blessed with a liturgy that feeds not only multiple generations but also connects Christians across time.
Yet, right and proper as it is to see little ones kneel beside siblings, parents, and grandparents, this doesn’t automatically make it easy for parents to teach their kiddos how to behave respectfully in church. Over the years I have seen stressed and frazzled parents trying all kinds of methods to wrangle their offspring. I know how they feel--my own sweet babies have been known to occasionally put their little sin natures on display in the church pew. It doesn’t feel easy to receive the word of God when your kiddos make it impossible to listen for more than a few seconds at a time.
You know what? It’s actually a good thing that your kids are being too loud in church. Here are four reasons why.
One: You are Here
No matter how loud and disruptive your kiddos are (and no matter the reasons--whether they are just being kids, possess challenging personalities, have special needs, or really are mismanaged and undisciplined), it is good you are here.
You are in a place where you can be fed. God’s word and sacraments are powerful, and our Lord is able to work through them despite your children’s behavior and your own distraction. This is good both for you and for your kids.
Of course your children should to be learning to be respectful. Of course you should be teaching them reverence and participation. That cannot happen if you make church a quieter place by staying home. Church is a place for flawed, broken, sinful human beings; a place where we learn about the God who made a habit of receiving all kinds of socially inappropriate sinners. Your toddler belongs here, too.
Two: You are Communicating a Good Reminder
You are providing a witness to the people around you--that couple two pews over, the college student in front, your own kids--that going to church is so important that it is worth doing even when it’s hard. When you sway back and forth with that teething baby, when you discipline your toddler multiple times in the narthex, when the sweat runs down your face and you want to give up--you are serving not only your children by taking up the cross of active parenthood, but also the other people around you. Thank you for that.
Three: This is an Opportunity to Teach and Train
Our modern world loves self-expression. We encourage our children to follow their hearts and we love to indulge their whims. Sometimes this is healthy. On the other hand, it is also true that human beings need to learn self-control and consideration for others. Human beings need to be able to repress their heartfelt desires even when doing so is hard. Self-control is learned through practice. If we want our adult children to be able to, say, care patiently for their own children even when they would prefer to scream, shouldn’t we be asking them to practice things like remaining quiet during the words of institution even though they would prefer to make dinosaur noises?
One of the painful (yet good) realities of church is that it makes it hard for us to ignore our own parenting weaknesses. Do we struggle to get our children to obey age-appropriate, simple commands? Do our kids feel entitled to demand snacks or to pull our hair at whim? We might make excuses or “manage around” these issues at home, but the embarrassment of seeing these challenges play out in church can help us recognize areas we need to work on. This is actually a gift, both to us and to our children.
Of course the mere fact that your kiddo had to be taken out of church--again--does not in itself indicate anything wrong with your parenting. Nor do I mean that we should base decisions on the desire to look like an awesome family in front of others. Nor, of course, should we spend our time in the pew judging other people’s parenting. No child will behave perfectly in church. Not all children develop maturity and self-control at the same rate. The point is that church can bless us with an opportunity to help our own families grow and learn. It’s a pretty nice fringe benefit.
Four: You are Faced with a Vivid Reminder of Sin and Grace
Some of the challenges that children bring are natural and good. Babies are supposed to cry when they are hungry. Toddlers are supposed to want to explore their environment. However, if you are a parent, you have probably also seen your children display humanity’s darker side.
You know. The sweet little boy who glares at you and deliberately kicks the pew in front of him after you’ve told him to stop. The adorable girl who pinches her sister and tries to sneak a cookie out of the diaper bag. The baby who bites you because you took the hymnal away. On any given Sunday in a congregation with children, sin is on display (the adults are just as bad, of course; but they are far more subtle). This is discouraging to parents.
Yet it reminds us--so sharply!--so vividly!--of grace. No matter what stunt your children pull, you love them wholeheartedly. If you had to you would die for them. Parental love is a breathtaking and enormous thing, and it is mind-boggling to ponder the truth that the love of God is inconceivably bigger. Our children help us realize this.
Furthermore, as we see our little ones fail to fully appreciate God’s good gifts, we are reminded that we ourselves are no better. We, too, tune out the words we ought to hear. We, too, focus on our own lives instead of Christ’s body and blood. We, too, are poor, miserable sinners. Seeing our children illustrate our own hearts is a humbling thing. It reminds us how badly we all need to be here. In Church. Where God comes to us.
That is why it is good you and your children are here.
After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin, Anna taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania with their two small children. Anna's work can also be found in The Federalist.
Great article Anna! We were confirmed when our boys were pre/teen and were totally unaccustomed to not sending them to a mini church break out. They learned very quickly to participate in the rich and ancient liturgy. I grieve the years we spent ushering them into 'age-appropriate' groups that only served to reinforce the idea that church is boring.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Debra! I agree with you that it is important to show kids that church is for them, too. I'm glad your boys were able to experience that as preteens and teens!Delete
Thanks for the great thoughts on this! I, too, am in a Lutheran congregation and I appreciate the liturgy and the chance it offers us to engage our young children in the service. They don't usually make it through the whole thing and retreat to the nursery at some point. Stil, I love it when my preschooler catches onto something and looks up from her coloring page to excitedly say "He's talking about Jesus!!" or whatever the case may be. And I always go home Witt a good list of public social skills and manners to work on at home 😳😂ReplyDelete
Isn't that a wonderful moment, when we see our kids recognizing and understanding something that happens in church? They are pretty smart little people.Delete
Loved this! My grandmother, the wife of a missionary to China, always told mothers (here in the states) that they should not be discouraged about bringing their little ones with them into the church service, that this was the best training for their kids. And in Chile, where I lived for 9 years, my oldest child, when he was a baby was very "inquieto" (translate...energetic). My husband would patiently watch them while I played the organ, then hand him to me during the sermon (LOL). They still go to church with us, and have a strong faith.ReplyDelete
--Amy G., San Antonio, TX
It's so helpful to have that kind of encouragement--yay for your grandma! :-)Delete
As a lifelong church organist (Lutheran) it took becoming a grandmother to really be able to agree with this point of view. I now see how important it is to bring up our children to appreciate and participate in worship. I really enjoy hearing the children sing the hymns and other parts of the service and don't really mind the distractions of the younger ones as I used to. Thanks for the chance to share my outlook.ReplyDelete
I know what you mean about distractions. My Dad (who loved his kids and helped us participate in church) used to occasionally bring up the quotation--I'm not sure which church father said it--that "children in church are the devil's instruments." Yet it's still good to have them there. :-)Delete
Thank you! This is such a great reminder.ReplyDelete