FIRST-PERSON: Teaching your child to worship
PENSACOLA, Fla. (BP) -- I sat behind a cute little boy in worship last Sunday. He was wearing stylish headphones and intently played game after game of Angry Birds on his smartphone.
For the entire hour, he never even looked up. An older girl nearby was sprawled out napping on the pew. Both children's parents were engaged in worship, yet they missed the opportunity to help their kids worship God.
Christian parent, are you intentional about engaging your child in true worship? As soon as he's past nursery age, you have the privilege of training up your child to enjoy worship services. Try these fresh ideas:
-- Commit to God today that you'll prepare, pray and persist in teaching your child.
-- Talk about the worship service during the week. Worship is a delight for Christians, not drudgery. Your enthusiasm and sincere anticipation of Sunday worship is contagious.
-- Create a church bag to hold a children's Bible (with pictures if possible), a journal book and a pen or markers.
-- Prepare well on Saturday. Lay out your child's clothes, find both shoes, be sure there's food for breakfast, and intentionally get a good night's rest.
-- As you drive to church, show excitement. Chat about why we go to church and what you hope God will do in your own heart today. Be ready for worship.
-- Arrive early enough to take your child to the restroom just before church. For a very rare emergency, personally escort her, and return to a rear seat.
-- Allow your child to get his own worship bulletin. Glance at it to explain special happenings today. If your church provides a kids' bulletin, help your child use it.
-- Be seated before worship begins, selecting a seat near the front so your child can see and participate well.
-- Teach your child to joyfully participate in every aspect of worship. As you model how to worship God, he'll catch that same awe. Help him stand or sit at appropriate times, sing the songs, bow his head and close his eyes during prayer. Teach him to make eye contact, shake hands and visit during greeting time. Let him give an offering and pass the plate. Open the Bible or hymnal and follow the words with your finger, even if he can't yet read them. Instead of playing, napping or lounging, he'll be learning to worship God.
-- Once the sermon begins, the child can get her church bag for "note-taking." Help her to sit facing the front to avoid distracting others. As you take sermon notes or fill in a bulletin outline, help your child learn to listen and write. Use age-appropriate ideas to focus on God. A young child may simply draw words the pastor says. You could select a key word from the sermon topic, such as Jesus, and she could write hash marks to count the number of times it was said. As reading skills improve, she may write words from the focal Scripture or take sermon notes.
-- One mom cuts out cardboard hearts for her children to write or draw what they learn about God each Sunday. Keep those journals or hearts as mementos.
-- You want your church to enjoy your child as much as your child enjoys church. Teach respect for God's house, and pay attention to your child's activity. Never allow him to be unruly or destructive. For example, in most churches, children shouldn't play on the platform, where fragile equipment, instruments and cords exist.
-- Help your child to know the pastor, shaking his hand or speaking to him on Sundays. Encourage her to visit with kids and adults after worship.
-- On the drive home, talk about the worship service. Kids are like sponges, and they're smarter than we imagine. Ask what your child enjoyed or learned. Answer any questions, and recap the sermon topic on the child's level.
Would you like for your children to receive over 50 hours of hands-on worship training this year? If you worship as a family each week, intentionally engaging your kids in true worship, that's exactly what you'll give them.
"Those who love their children care enough to discipline them," Proverbs 23:24.
Diana Davis is author of "Fresh Ideas" and "Deacon Wives" (B&H Publishing). She is an author, columnist and wife of North American Mission Board's vice president for the south region, Steve Davis.