Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Worshiping with OTHER people

Do we, as parents, ever make it through an entire worship service with our children without wondering what other people must think?  Research undertaken by AC Neilsen for our church (Attracting New Zealanders to Spiritual Life 2002) revealed that parents of young children do not think churches are Kids Friendly places.  We’ve worked with many churches over the past 10 years to turn that perception and experience around.  But there's always more work to be done!

In this blog Rebecca Kirkpatrick an ordained Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) suggests that a change in our perception can result in rewarding and teachable moments for our children and great memories of worshiping together.

Rebecca:  “Maybe it is connected to Einstein’s theory of relativity, but I am convinced that almost all other children in the world are better behaved, more thoughtful, and more engaged in worship than the one child that I am related to. I am not alone in this perception.

Why is this? Why would I gladly scoop up any other child in my congregation and bring them to sit with me during worship, while I dread trying to make it through a service with my own son?

I know for sure that one of the reasons that worship attendance in my congregation dips so low in the summer is because children stay in worship for the entire service rather than being shipped off to alternative activities after the children’s sermon. I know that for most families it is easier to just not go to church than face the struggles of being in church next to our own children.

A lot of it has to do with our expectations: expectations about how our children should behave in worship (or about how other people think our children should behave) and expectations about what WE as parents are supposed to get out of worship.
Here is how people describe to me their expectations for worship that are affected by having their children with them:

·         We expect quiet and moments of reflection, time to be still for at least one moment during a hectic week of parenting.
·         We expect to be emotionally and intellectually stimulated.
·         We expect to walk away feeling better.

Here is what we expect of our children:
·         We expect that they will value our expectations.

Clearly there is a disconnect. So why do I feel so differently when I am with other people’s children? Maybe it’s because instead of seeing that time in worship as a time to meet my personal expectations, I see it as an opportunity to share my love for worship with them. I am their pastor; that’s what I am supposed to do.

When I look seriously at my very best moments with my son in worship, I see that they are the times when I didn't act like his mother, but instead like his pastor – when I stopped caring what anyone else around me thought I was doing and just talked to him about what was happening around us. When I sit with other people’s children, it never crosses my mind to worry that people will think negative things about me because I am engaging with a child during worship. Why should I worry just because it happens to be my child?

We might just have to change our expectations for what worship is about for us as parents (and adults).  What if these were our opportunities instead:
·         An opportunity to teach our children about the intricacies of Christian worship, and possibly reconsider its meaning for us as well.
·         An opportunity to shape our children into teenagers and adults who want to be in worship with us.
·         An opportunity to let the community teach our children about worship by engaging with them and being present in worship with them on a regular basis.
·         And from the Kids Friendly team: an opportunity for us to experience how children minister to us in worship!

The most important thing that I have learned is that worship is not going to be about meeting my needs for a while – just like I am resigned to the fact that eating in a restaurant with my child will not necessarily be relaxing and that vacationing with my child is not about creating a dream get-away… at least not yet.

In a practical sense, one way that this has played out for my son and me is that we sit down together during the hymns in our service. I struggled countless times to get him to stand up straight next to me, to hold his half of the hymnal confidently, and to sing out boldly with me. But he would always fuss and rebel…and then I decided that even though 250 other people were standing all around us, it was okay for us to sit together as we sang. My simple act of sitting with him gave him the motivation to pay better attention to the hymn and even to make an effort to sing along. And even though he assures me that this is how he wants to play things out for the foreseeable future, every so often he looks and me and says, “hey, let’s stand for this one,” and worships in exactly the way I would want him to.

This week I asked him if he thinks we will sit together for the hymns when he is 40 and I am 68. He looked and me, winked, and said, “no, probably not.” I am going to hold him to that promise.”

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