There is a group of people that work during worship services almost as hard as the preacher– the parents of small children. These men and women are doing their best to worship and grow themselves, while at the same time teaching their children to behave during worship services. They are also doing what they can to keep their children from distracting those around them. After services you can see those brave parents leave, visibly more haggard and disheveled than when they entered, but glad that they were there.
I realize that small children are not the primary consideration for most worship services. However, I think that there are a few small things that we can do that would help those parents in their plight. I also think that many other people in the assembly would appreciate these same suggestions.
· To Prayer Leaders:
Keep it short and simple. Prayer asks intense concentration, reverence, and silence from an audience. With my children with me, then I can give you that for a couple of minutes – maybe 5 minutes on a really good day. Beyond that, the task of keeping children quiet becomes so stressful that I have no idea what else you have prayed about, and can only breathe a sigh of relief when you finally finish. Don’t get me wrong; I am a HUGE advocate of prayer, but there is a time and place for lengthy prayers, and the regular worship service is not that place.
You might say that long prayers are a sign of spirituality and maturity. However, consider the example of our Lord when he taught His disciple to pray. In the New King James Version the “Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13) is only 66 words long. It is short and simple, yet very powerful. John 17 contains the longest prayer in the whole New Testament, yet the entire text can be easily read aloud in about 3 minutes time. Surely these examples show that a prayer’s value is not measured by great length and wordiness. The point is that a short, thoughtful public prayer might be more effective than a long, winding one.
· To Song Leaders:
The song service is largely a welcome respite for parents. Kids don’t have to be as quiet, and can actually participate in a verbal way in this portion of the worship service. The one suggestion I have for this portion of worship is that having the songs on PowerPoint would be helpful. That way I can wrestle my son with both hands and still see the words to the song. There are times when, frankly, it just isn’t worth messing with the song book.
· To Preachers:
Having served for years as an associate and also a pulpit minister, I have spent enough sermons both in the pulpit and the pew to understand each side quite well. The task of preaching is an important one, and I do not ask you to shorten your sermons. Take as much time as you need to cover the topic, but please don’t make me listen to (and keep my child occupied through) meaningless fluff. If we’re going to fight to keep our toddler quiet and still so that we can listen to you, then reward us with substance worth listening to. I can remember a guest speaker once who spent almost 20 minutes in introductory chatting and small talk before he actually began his lesson – which of course ran quite long. An audience’s best attention (and a child’s best capacity to sit still) is at the very beginning of the sermon. Don’t waste this time. Get right into the lesson as quickly as you can.
Having said all of that, these are just my opinions. I recognize that everyone has their opinions and preferences, and yours may differ from mine. That’s fine when it comes to matters of discretion. I only intend to present a perspective that I hope that fellow worship leaders will take into consideration at congregations with small children. What are your thoughts on the matter?