Monday, April 15, 2013

The Church Pew

The church pew.

The place of  Biblical meditation, of joyous praise, of quiet reflection... unless of course you have a toddler... or two.  Then the pew becomes the magnifying glass, revealing all our parental blind spots, our short- comings, in a most unpleasant and public way.  Somehow the pew itself seems to suck every last drop of confidence out of our bodies leaving us helpless and at the mercy of our naughty children.  I mean, do you really want the WHOLE church watching you discipline your little stinker who has decided that the moment the congregation is silent for personal confession would be the perfect time to yell  "NO MOMMY!"... not that that's ever happened to me or anything...

Seriously though, it can be a very disturbing place for young mothers.  I have spoken to many moms who, through tears, confess that they often wish they could just stay home. And many have decided to do just that, because of the embarrassment they have felt after a particularly challenging Sunday.  Truly, my heart goes out to you.  Other parents opt for the nursery/children's church answer.  I hold a strong opinion that children should be in worship with their parents.. but that might be a rant for another day.

Let me say some encouraging things if you find yourself dreading the church pew.  First, you're not alone.  We've all made the long walk of shame out of the sanctuary.  Know that 90% of the congregation is sympathizing with you not judging you.  And the remaining 10% that might be annoyed or judgmental aren't about to offer you any assistance anyway, so just shut them out of your head.

Now, how to get those sweet little darlings to do what they ought.

Again I say this, the church pew is a magnifier.  It amplifies our less than perfectness... So use that.  Don't shy away from the revealing truth.  Surprise! You aren't perfect.  In fact... I bet you even SIN!  Repent. Ask for your faith to be strengthened and let's get to work.  Be courageous, parenting isn't for cowards.

How your children behave in the pew often reveals the very problems we parents should be working on.  So, identify the root of the issue.  What hasn't been taught?  Don't be fooled into thinking that your children should just know how to behave in church... or anywhere for that matter.  The goal is to work on certain skills BEFORE you sit in the pew, so that the instruction has already taken place and the correction has something to "hang on" and "stick to".  Make your expectations clear to your children even before you reach the pew.

Some ugly things the pew reveals:

Do your children obey you even when their desire is for something other than your wishes?  It's no great accomplishment to have children obey your command when it goes along with their desires.  But what happens when you say "sit down" when what they really want is to stand on the pew... or even jump?  If your child isn't obedient, I guarantee you, it will show up in the pew.  Teach your children to do what you say, when you say, how you say.  This is obedience.  Teach them to respond to short commands or corrections.  "Momma says no." It should be clear what the consequences are should the child ignore your correction. The type of reaction you get after correction will tell you if more work is needed.  I often tell my teens, that I can see how they are maturing by how they respond when given a "No" answer.  Pouting, whining, tantrums, these are all sure signs that mature obedience is not happening.  Know the difference between defiance and childishness.  Sometimes it takes a tuned in parent to really see when a behavior is defiant.  My niece is a doll, but she has a defiant streak in her that my sister is quick to recognize.  Sometimes I don't even know what's happened, until I see my sister swoop her up and remove her from the room for an attitude adjustment.  She knows her daughter.  She sees the signs of disobedience at its very root.  She acts swiftly and confidently to eradicate the behavior.  Then there are those moments when a child is curious, trying to figure out how something works.  There are times of forgetfulness, distraction, and confusion.  These are not signs of disobedience.  This is childishness.  It needs direction, not so much correction. Learn to spot the difference in your child.

Does your child know how to be bored?  Seriously.  This needs to be taught.  To be practiced.  Do you tend to hand them a game boy or ipod to play with when you grocery shop, or visit the doctor's office?  Try something else next time.  Teach them how to observe their surroundings.  Talk to them before you get to church about all the different things they will see.  If they are older, spend time at the dinner table talking about what happens in church. "Why does pastor wear those special clothes in church?"  "Do you remember how many stained glass windows there are in the sanctuary?  You could count them on Sunday for me."  Make them aware of what is around them.  Church is not boring.  People are boring.  Don't allow your children to be boring people.  Teach them to notice things.  As they mature, keep revealing to them the reasons we do what we do in church.  "The Lord's Prayer is in the Bible.  Jesus taught us to pray it."  "See how everyone bows when they kneel at the altar?  That is because they are showing respect to God. It is good to show respect."  The "kicker" with this is, that in order for you to accurately teach your children, you yourself must be aware of what is happening in church.  If you're not educated about your faith, this should cause you to run to the nearest Sunday school class or week day Bible study.  Do not expect to raise faithful children when you don't know the faith yourself.

Do your children come when you call them?  So you have more than one child in the pew, and little Johnny decides to take advantage of the fact that you are outnumbered (especially those of us who have spouses in ministry or attend church without a spouse) and takes a stroll up the center aisle while you're frantically whispering in a raspy, not-so-whispery voice, "Johnny, GET. BACK. HERE."  ... Yeah.  Teach your child to come when you call them.  Seems silly, I know, but every three year old should come immediately when called.  This is for their own safety.  Practice this at home. When they come to you, praise them liberally and tell them that obedience keeps them safe.  A disobedient child is an unsafe child. Have you ever seen those dog owners whose canines just walk willingly along at their side?  Now, have you ever seen those dog owners who are pulled, jerked, and yanked down the street by an animal who decides he's in charge? So what happens to those two dogs when the leashes break?  The first dog hears and obeys the voice of his owner commanding him to sit.  The second dog charges across the street, ignoring his owners cries for obedience, darts into oncoming traffic and gets hit by a car.  I hope you get my point.  Though it might not be a car... there many more equally dangerous things in this life that can steal our children from us.  The greatest ones are the voices of others.  When we neglect to teach our young children to come to the sound of our voice, we have little hope of them coming to us as teenagers or young adults.  Beyond this, teach your children to look for your guidance.  "Momma knows" is a phrase I use a lot.  If you train your children that you are their safety, you are their shelter, you are their wisdom... they will begin to come to you of their own free will, seeking your direction.  It is a beautiful thing.  This training prepares them to trust in their Heavenly Father and know His voice.  For truly, what we have done as parents is speak His Words from our own mouths.

Lack of Empathy:
Do you have varied aged children?  Teach the olders to care for the youngers.  This should be a blessing to you.  Siblings are connected in a way that no other people are.  Teach your children to cherish, care for, and serve their siblings.  Praise liberally for random acts of kindness.  Be watchful for helpfulness and use specific language.  "Cindy, you are momma's helper.  You were kind to Bobby when you picked up his blanket for him. He is so blessed to have you for a big sister."   Do this outside of the pew, and I guarantee you will have willing assistants when the time comes.  An extra pair of hands in the pew is blessing to a momma.  Empathy is something that is lacking with today's children.  Being aware of another's need and then doing something to help fill that need is a character trait we want to cultivate in our children.  Make your older children aware of the needs of others.  They might not recognize them on their own yet, so help them think through empathy. Sometimes suggesting an action is better than giving a direct command.  "Oh, I forgot the diaper bag in the other room.  Hmmm, how can I get it over here where I'll need it."... "Oh, Momma, I'll go get it for you!"  "Oh thank you, that would be so helpful.  What a helpful boy you are."  An empathetic child produces mature children.  Just because our children inevitably get older, doesn't necessarily mean they become mature.  It is our responsibility to mature them.

Can your children focus on something that isn't about them?  Or do they act out when they aren't the center of attention? Sit closer.  Yes, that's what I said.  Sit closer.  "But then everyone will SEE us."  Yes.  But your children won't see everyone.  This is the point.  The farther back families sit, the more distracted the children will be.  I've seen it over and over and over again.  If you want your children to focus, put them up where the action is.  Give them something to watch, to participate in.  Plus the fewer number of people they can see in front of them, the fewer distractions for them.  I will tell you that the first Sundays will be difficult, but stick with it and you will be amazed by how well they will do.  When they see the action in front of them, it will show them that they aren't the reason all these people came to church.  While the world says we need to hype them up on self esteem, I am saying we need to humble them with the realization of their own insignificance.  There is a reason we are in church, and the reason isn't me.  The reason, the focus, is Christ and His Word.  Teach them about God's design and His order to creation. Teach your children their proper place in the home. If everything in the home is made to accommodate your child, this will become an expectation of theirs in other places.  If the only restaurants you take your children to, cater to their noisiness, their tastes, and their comforts, you are reinforcing a sense of entitlement and self-centeredness.  Of course our children hold a high priority in our lives. We would do nothing short of sacrifice ourselves for them. We want them to know they are loved.  But this love, this commitment to them, should not be confused with worship.  We don't worship our children.  That distorts God's good order.  That puts our children in an inappropriate place.  The church pew reveals this sin when our children expect to be the one worshiped,  focused on, and attended to instead of seeing that we come to the pew to worship God.

How do you allow your children to treat the church and specifically the things in the pew?  Yes, there are sometimes envelopes and pencils available to members... are you allowing your children to use them for their own purposes?  Wasting them? What about the hymnals?  Are you teaching your child how to use one?  How to turn the pages appropriately?  Borrow one from church and teach them at home the different parts of the hymnal and how to be gentle with the pages.  When your children make a mess in the pew with their goldfish crackers, do you let them see you clean up after them or do you just leave that for someone else?  Teach them about appropriateness.  Why we don't run in church.  Why we don't jump on the pews.  Why we walk slowly around the elderly and disabled.  Why we don't talk loudly during the service.  Show them the proper way to respect the altar.  Teach them that some parts of the church are off limits.   If you're teaching these things at home, they will be easier to reinforce in church.  There should be places in your home that are off limits.  If for no other reason than to teach respect of boundaries.  Have items in your house that your children know are special; a knick-knack maybe.  Talk to them about its significance and why it is important.  I don't mean to foster idolatry here.  Obviously, respect and worship are related, but we can teach our children that there are important things in our home that need special attention or care without crossing the line into idolatry.  That way when we get to church and see the beautiful statue of Jesus, our children aren't tempted to give him a "high five" on the way out of church.  They will be familiar with respect because they were taught it at home.

Lack of planning:
Set your children up for success.  Don't dash into church 5 minutes late and try to jockey up to the second pew.  You'll be setting yourself up for failure.  Plan to succeed.  Get to church early enough to settle all your wee ones in properly.  I know this is easier said than done.  But if you can get there at 10... you can get there at 9:30, you just have to make it a priority.  Start the night before.  Think through the morning and be prepared.  If you have more than a few children, talk to someone about being your pew buddy.  Your mother's helper.  Teenage girls are great for this so long as you find one that will do what you ask.  Older ladies are great too, but they tend to have their own opinions about how to raise children, and if you aren't on the same page, it might be more trouble than help.  Choose wisely.  With the exception of potty training children, most kids should be expected to last through the entire service without a potty break.  Ban drinks before service, and make sure children have used the facilities before sitting down. If you, a mother who has had her bladder sat on for nine months, can make it through a service without a potty break, then your children can too.  Make pre-service potty time a part of your planning. (alliteration unintentional) ;)  Make note of other areas that you might do better at planning ahead.  Do you find yourself late for many functions? Unprepared for the situation?  Spend time thinking through your day before you start.  I remember when my kids were little and I physically walked myself through the day's events.  I must have looked like a madwoman, murmuring to myself and pretending to do tasks.  I was trying to think of all the scenarios I would encounter and what I might need in order to come out alive at the end of the day.  Extra clothes, diapers, lunch sacks if we couldn't get home in time from errands, etc.  You can't always be perfectly prepared.  Sometimes we were late to a function because of my poor time management skills.  So confess.  Say to the person who waited for you, "I'm so sorry that my lack of planning caused you to have to wait.  Please forgive me."  Don't make a bunch of excuses about traffic, or naughty kids... just confess.  Just repent.  Then plan better next time.

When we say one thing and do another, we teach our children not to trust our words.  We teach them that we don't really mean what we say.  But this can go even deeper when we aren't faithful in our attendance at church.  If you really want your children to know how to behave in the pew... be there... consistently.  The "Once-in-a-while-when-the-guilt-strikes" way of church attendance isn't the best method for rearing faithful children.  Mean what you say.  If you tell your children that going to church is important, then you MUST follow through and make it a priority.  No one is better at spotting a fake than a child.  They will expose it. You've seen this:  the child who waits until they are in a public place to act up and put their parent on the spot. He knows that his parent behaves differently in public than at home.  Check yourself to see if this is you.  Either your methods at home are something you're ashamed of, or you're afraid to do what you know is necessary in public for fear of judgment.  But the truth is, you'll be judged no matter what.  People have opinions, that's never going to change.  So know what you expect from your child and expect it, consistently.  And when you fail at being consistent...because you will.  Repent and know you are forgiven.  Don't let this be confined to the pew.  Bring church home with you.  Church attendance is great, but bringing God's Word into your home is awesome!  Be the family that prays before meals, prays after meals, discusses sermons at dinner, reads Scripture together, learns the faith together.  The more "church pew" you bring into your home, the more comfortable and familiar the pew at church will be for your children.  In the end, this is the key.

I hope this gives some helpful ideas and serves to encourage moms (and dads) who struggle in the pew.  I say this often in my Mothers Classes:  Put in the hard work now, and you will reap wonderful benefits later.

God be with you,

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