Nancy Wilson's author of Fruit of her Hands Little One's in Church
Babies in Church
Lisa Barry: I'm sure many of us have had those distracting times in a worship service when someone allows their baby to cry through the whole service. But is putting a child in the nursery always the best way to handle the situation? Elisabeth Elliot thinks there's a viable alternative.
All this week on Gateway To Joy she's reading the most common questions that come to her through the mail. One of those is what to do about babies in the worship service. Now that might seem like an open and shut case for many people, but you may have reason to think otherwise after you hear today's program. Find out why, as we begin this Tuesday edition of Gateway To Joy.
Elisabeth Elliot: "You are loved with an everlasting love." That's what the Bible says, "and underneath are the everlasting arms." This is your friend, Elisabeth Elliot, talking again today with common questions from my radio listeners. And I want you to know how grateful I am for listeners, and so many of you have written to me asking questions which I sometimes can answer and very often can't. But I was reading at the end of yesterday's program from someone else who wrote a book, not a book but just a little leaflet, called "Babies in Church."
"None of the bad scenes witnessed in church nurseries proves that all nurseries are bad. Neither do any of the bad scenes with little ones in the worship service prove that all who take their babies to a church service have done the wrong thing. There are some wonderful benefits and blessings in store for parent/child congregation, and inevitably for the Lord when a baby is brought to the worship service with his parents and trained properly.
"Yes, I did use the word trained. Every person must learn, at one time or another, how to behave in a worship service, if the Lord is to be glorified and the individual inspired. After raising our children and watching others for over 25 adult years, I have rarely seen the training in the nursery prepare a child for worship services." I put in a parenthesis here that this is not Elisabeth Elliot talking. You are hearing my voice, but I am reading from a woman who had been watching others in church over 25 adult years.
"Whenever the child enters the worship service, whether at the age of two, three or ten, if he has been in an extended session, he is seldom ready to sit still and be quiet. On the other hand, the infant who is carried to services and taught from the earliest days to be reverent in the service and obedient to his parents will have learned a basic lesson very early, which will bless him all his days. Did I say it was an easy task? Certainly not, anything really worthwhile is rarely easy. And many, indeed most, will not see the necessity of such early training. It is for those who do see that necessity that I offer these words of encouragement.
"Number one, responsibility. When our girls were little," she says, "logical that if anyone should miss a portion of the service because of our child, it should be me. It would have been easier to abdicate that responsibility and to leave them in the care of a nursery attendant while I worshiped and studied in 'peace.' Or, to place the child in the care of another church member while I served in the choir, at the piano, or in an extended session.
"While being cared for by someone else, our baby might have been instructed just as we wished. Or, she might have learned to play, be rocked, fed, or to riffle through someone's purse, write in the songbook, whisper, be passed from one person to another, walk down the pew, or coo over a shoulder at someone behind. None of these were acceptable behavior in the worship service at any time.
"I chose rather to sit in a back pew during those early training weeks, to know exactly what our child was doing, to remove that child when she became noisy and return with her when she had quieted. No, the time spent out of the auditorium was not a pleasant experience. We had a long-range goal that our children would as older children, teenagers, and eventually adults know how to conduct themselves in a worship service in a manner befitting the child of a king.
"My heart grieves as I observe older young people and adults who have never learned to truly participate in a worship service and probably never will. They put little into the worship and take even less away. They sleep, talk, watch the clock or stare straight ahead, unseeing and unhearing. They are bored. They make unneeded trips to the bathroom and take drinks for which there is no thirst. However and wherever the bad worship habits were learned, one thing is certain: They were learned well. Unless a conscious effort is made to correct them, these habits may eventually lead to the loss of their eternal life in heaven.
"Yes, we had a goal. And that goal was too important, too big a responsibility to leave to someone else. If our goal was not reached, there would be no one to blame but ourselves. Now let's teach now, not later. As we progressed in this training process, our children learned to sit quietly when they entered the service, to open the book and sing at the appropriate times, to bow their heads and shut their eyes during prayer, and to be still during the sermon. Talking at any time, for any reason except illness, was forbidden. It took self-control on their part in those early days, and obedience. Two very good qualities in the Christian life, and they learned this worship behavior and they learned it well.
"Some will argue that such behavior in a toddler is unnatural and unnecessary, and will cause him to dislike church meetings for the rest of his life. I have observed that just the opposite is true. A child who is well behaved in a church service can be and should be praised for his fine conduct. 'You're a good boy in church services,' he should be told often. Such praise usually brings the desire to be even better. Happiness comes from obedience.
"Little children who know proper conduct in a worship service are far more likely to benefit from not only the adult service but every learning situation in church and later in school, because they have learned to control their actions and be attentive. A child can learn in adult worship. Many will say that there's no beneficial learning that a little one can experience in an adult service. Not so. An infant or toddler will learn impressions from his parents and the reverence of the service at these early ages that can be learned at no better time. It will be caught rather than taught. Much in life is. And there's a sense of security in being with dad and mom that cannot be equaled anywhere else.
"Now here are some don'ts for the young parents:
(1) Don't sit in the front but in the back row near a quick and unnoticed exit.
(2) Don't let your baby disturb the service. Remove him when he begins to be disruptive. Others really do have a right to worship in peace and quiet.
(3) Don't take a toy box in your purse.
(4) Don't let the baby entertain others.
(5) Don't let others entertain the baby.
(6) Don't make a trip outside the auditorium pleasant. A simple spanking may work. But, perhaps, even better, pick a room out of earshot and where absolutely no activity is going on. Hold your little one firmly on your lap until he realizes a quiet room is more boring than an auditorium.
(7) Don't take your baby to the nursery from the worship service. He will never forget it, or how he was able to get there.
(8) Don't be discouraged. It takes time to train.
"Now here are six dos:
(1) Do remember your long-range goals.
(2) Do be patient with those who criticize.
(3) Be consistent in your training.
(4) Set the very best possible example.
(5) Prepare your child at home. Sit down everyday with your baby, holding him quietly on your lap. Start immediately for a few minutes and increase the time daily. Use an instructional news program on TV or a record for background.
(6) Pray daily for your little one.
"Now, these are not easy ways and will not appeal to everyone, but an ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure. The tiny, honey-haired girl who sat by my side held up a small card, rolled into a tube with a tissue stuffed in the end. She gave me her biggest grin and I returned it. While many experts tell us that 22-month-old toddlers cannot sit still more than a few moments at a time, this child had been quietly playing with the card and tissue for 20 minutes. And she played on, disturbing no one while my full attention went back to the sermon.
"Babies can learn. Indeed, babies do learn. They are soaking up habits, attitudes and principles from the moment of birth. Unfortunately, they will absorb the bad as easily as the good, and that's why God gave children parents to teach them, to train them in the way they should go. The devil would like us to believe that there's always time but wise Solomon, inspired by God, wrote, 'Discipline your children while they are young enough to learn. If you don't, you are helping them destroy themselves.'"
Wonderfully practical advice about training the smallest children to be able to sit in church rather than in the nursery.
Lisa Barry: As we close for today I want to thank those of you who have written to Elisabeth with your questions. It's a great way for us to know what matters most to you. That kind of information guides our decision making regarding the topics we choose and the resources we offer. I say this because I want you to know how hard we're working to be sure that Gateway To Joy is always relevant to you and a place where you can find the direction you're seeking.
And if this is a place you draw strength from, I hope you'll make that known to us by offering your support through prayer and giving. We're delighted to have partners like you who rally around us and say, "Yeah, you can count on me." God bless you for that.
Copyright © 2009 The Good News Broadcasting Association, Inc. (Back to the Bible) Lincoln, Nebraska, USA Used by permission. All rights reserved http://www.backtothebible.org