"And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law" (Nehemiah 8:2-3).
Years ago, when Pastor David Dickerson preached a series from Nehemiah, he voiced the question, "At what age can children understand?" He then answered his own question thus: "A lot sooner than most people give them credit for."
But lest there be any misunderstanding, I found this verse:
"Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet" (Joel 2:15-16).
My friend Twinklemoose recently wrote a wonderful article on child training. I especially liked her analogy of painting trees. (See Psalm 1:3.) As sometimes happens, I found that my reply to her article was turning into an article of my own. You will have a better understanding of my post if you read hers first.
As I read through Twink's article, I suddenly thought, "Couldn't we arrange Baby's weekday schedule to be a little closer to the Lord's Day schedule?" After all, that would help teach Baby that the Lord's day is special, not tedious and trying. Then, just as suddenly, I was surprised to realize that I had already done that, completely without conscious effort.
I, too, once thought that NOTHING should interfere with Baby's schedule. I even had the support of a well-known missionary/author/conference speaker/radio host! She went so far as to suggest that Mother stay home with Baby while Father and Older Child(ren) went to services that went past Baby's bedtime.
I resented that I had to struggle with fussy children and that my pastor/husband wanted children trained to sit in the service at as young an age as possible instead of being in the nursery. I know others might feel the same resentment, so what happened in our house quite by accident might help them. Here's what happened:
We always struggled with keeping even primary-aged children (ages 6-8 or so) awake during morning and evening services. Then, for completely different reasons, I changed the children's nap and bed times to be about an hour later than before. It wasn't until I read Twink's article that I realized that this one minor change in the weekday schedule had made all the difference in the world with the Sunday schedule.
No longer do I regularly struggle to keep a child awake during services. If I sense that a child needs more sleep because of a rough night, I can easily make an exception and allow the child to sack out on the floor by my feet, covered with my sweater or the baby's blanket. (If the floor of your church isn't carpeted like ours is, and you can anticipate your child's probable need for a little nap, you might bring an extra small blanket to use as a pallet.)
We begin teaching our children to go through the motions very early. My son John is not tall enough to see over the top of the chair/pew in front of him, so we supplied a small stool for him to stand on. When we stand to sing or for the Scripture reading, he stands--on his stool, not on the chair/pew we sit on. My son Timothy is still too young for the stool, so when we stand, I hold him against me while he sits on the back of the chair/pew in front of me. When we sing, John likes to hold a hymnbook. I teach him to hold it still, and not play with it or make noise turning the pages. When we read from the Scripture, John likes to hold a Bible. I teach him to hold it still, just like the hymnbook. Sometimes he tires of holding it, so I have him set it on the chair next to him. Then he just sits quietly through the rest of the service. I don't give him toys to play with, books to look at, or paper to write on. I found that doing so made for more distraction when he dropped toys or wanted to show people his books or paper.
Timothy, at almost 13 months, is still in the process of learning to be still. I keep him in the service all through the singing portion of the service. He sits on my lap or on the chair/pew next to me. He doesn't play with toys, either, because he drops them purposely and wants them picked up so he can drop them again. He also does not sit on the floor because he will crawl away. If he's sleepy/fussy, I nurse him. No one at our church objects to me doing so in the service since I am discreet about this. If he is antsy to the point of wiggling and making happy noises, I will stand, holding him, in the back of the auditorium. My younger children and I sit in the back anyway, so I can still supervise the ones who are sitting down.
If things get to the point when I have to take Timothy out because he is too noisy, I take him to the room set aside as a nursery where I let him play a little while. I usually bring John out, too, and have him sit quietly in a chair. Here I will let John work a few simple puzzles or look at Bible story books. But because I still have him be quiet, I can continue to hear the sermon coming through on the speaker.
At home, during dinner time, we go around the table asking the children what they learned. They can choose whether to tell about Sunday school or the morning sermon. This provides interesting and profitable mealtime conversation that even the younger ones get involved in.
It helps when the pastor finds ways to include the children in his sermon. Every now and then, Tom will say that such-and-such is like what so-and-so learned in Sunday school recently. He will call the child's name and remind them of what they learned previously and how that relates to what he is preaching about now. And he knows a lot about what all the classes are learning because he requires the children to say something about their lessons before they can choose a hymn on Sunday nights. And my younger children enjoy being used as sermon illustrations. (My older children are not quite so enthusiastic about this!)
This has turned into a longer post than I anticipated, but I hope it helps someone.