by Jill McFadden
Every Sunday morning I sat with my little sisters on the first row of the sanctuary, feet not yet touching the floor, dressed in some variation of floral print, fold-down laced socks and dress shoes. Sometimes getting ready for church on Sundays was the most stressful part of the family’s week–everyone getting ready at the same time, hogging showers, digging the desired outfit out of the laundry basket. But eventually we made it, Mom and Dad in their shiny blue choir robes with red collars, choir members’ children lined up on the first crimson pew, nearest the choir loft.
Our church had children’s Sunday school but not children’s church, so we all attended the worship service as families. I’m sure this wasn’t always easy for my parents, as I was not necessarily the model child, and even when I wasn’t behaving badly, I was, still, a child. For example, I went through a stage, before I could follow sermons well, in which I determined to join in whenever the congregation was cued to answer a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question. It made me feel very grown up. Problem was, I hadn’t yet grasped the concept of the rhetorical question, so I answered loudly to anything that remotely resembled a question, arbitrarily guessing whether it was going to be a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, mortified when mine was the only voice in the room.
Or there was the time I was banned from playing with my fake furry mouse during church because I had almost caused a heart attack somewhere in the soprano section. Or that time I tried to pass the offering plate backward over my head, dropping the metal plate full of coins onto the tiled floor with a succession of loud clangs (Mom really didn’t like that one). When I wasn’t doing something to unintentionally attract attention, I had to do things like restrain little siblings from sticking their tongues into the tiny communion cups as they passed by.
I’m sure there were weeks when I retained almost nothing from those services. Week after week, in the box labeled “My Picture of the Sermon” in my children’s activity bulletin, I meticulously drew the same picture of our pastor speaking at the huge wooden pulpit. Not reassuring if looking for evidence of information retention. Yet, somehow, through those years of childlike but growing understanding, I learned a lot about God, about our faith, about the Bible. In fact, those weeks in church with my parents greatly shaped me. I saw that worship was important to my parents. It was something they actively participated in and expected me to participate in–sitting, standing, listening, singing, praying, eating. I began to see, over time, the importance and meaning of communion. And, importantly, sitting in a worship service with other kids, with my parents, with older people whose children were grown, helped me to see that worshiping with the body of Christ is something I am called to for my entire life. It is not something just for adults, nor is it something I would grow out of.
I guess it is because of what family worship services have meant to me that I am very eager to see families worshiping together whenever possible. I know that many churches offer tremendous and effective children’s programming, where children can learn in a way tailored specifically for them. But as wonderful (and as convenient) as children’s programming is, I urge any parent to supplement that–even periodically–by bringing their children with them to corporate worship. Give your children the opportunity to familiarize themselves with corporate worship so that their transition out of children’s church is a smooth one. Give them the chance to see you worshiping–singing, praying, listening, reading. Even when it seems hard, or your kids seem apathetic, seeds will be planted that can flourish into life-shaping, God-glorifying faith, in time.