Church, Parenting, Worship

Churchmanship 101: Training Your Child to Behave in Church

This is the second installment of our series Churchmanship 101.
(You can find the first here.) This article was first published
under a different title at Satisfaction Through Christ.


they all walked sedately into the church. The first clang of the bell rang out when they were on the steps.

After that, there was nothing to do but sit still till the sermon was over. It was two hours long. Almanzo’s legs ached and his jaw wanted to yawn, but he dared not yawn or fidget. He must sit perfectly still and never take his eyes from the preacher’s solemn face and wagging beard. Almanzo couldn’t understand how Father knew that he wasn’t looking at the preacher, if Father was looking at the preacher himself. But Father always did know.

From Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder¹

A hundred and fifty-ish years ago, this is how children were expected to behave in church. I love a good sermon, but I’m not sure even I could meet those behavioral expectations, and, these days, I certainly wouldn’t expect my children to. But fast forward from the 1800’s to 2015, and think about how you may have seen some children behave in church. It’s quite a bit different from Almanzo’s experience, wouldn’t you say?

I don’t think we need to dial things back a hundred and fifty years, though. A little fidgeting, a Bible dropped loudly on the floor, a few seconds of wailing while you frantically search for the lost pacifier, a bit of jabbering, none of these things are a big deal. But neither should a toddler be allowed to run up and down the aisles of the sanctuary for the bulk of the sermon. Eight year olds do not need to be crawling around on the floor between the pews playing with toys. Twelve year olds can reasonably be expected to stay awake, sit still, and pay attention during the service. We expect our children to obey us (and other adults) and behave properly in a variety of places: school, the grocery store, restaurants, on their sports teams, at scout meetings. Why, when the worship service is far more important than any of these, would we not require them to act appropriately in church? And when we require them to behave themselves in all these other venues but not in church, what are we teaching them about the importance of church, reverence, God?

But, if you’ll determine in your heart to train your child to control himself and behave appropriately during church, you might be surprised at all the blessings and benefits you encounter along the way.

What is appropriate church behavior?

That’s going to vary by age. Obviously, a three year old isn’t going to sit perfectly still for thirty minutes and take sermon notes. But, believe it or not, you can start (and I would strongly recommend) training your child from infancy that church is a place where we sit still, sit quietly, listen when it’s time to listen, and participate when it’s time to participate.

How do I train my child?

The first and best way to train your child is by modeling proper church behavior yourself. Does he see you singing enthusiastically during the worship time? Are you checking your makeup or Facebook during prayer? Are you visibly paying attention during the sermon? Constantly talking to your husband or a friend during the service? Your child will imitate what he sees and take his cues from you as to what is acceptable behavior.

Otherwise, you train your child in church the same way you would train him in any other situation. If you were at a restaurant, and your baby was crying incessantly, you would tend to his needs at the table, or, if you couldn’t, you would take him out to the lobby or outside until he calmed down. The simple act of doing so begins to plant the idea in his mind that a certain level of behavior is expected in that venue.

If your school aged child won’t sit quietly in his seat at school, the teacher administers the appropriate discipline, and, possibly, you do too, at home.

It’s the same way at church. You let your child know what is expected of him behavior-wise at church, praise him when he does well, and administer discipline when he disobeys.

A few helpful hints:

Infants and toddlers:
If your church offers a nursery, there’s no shame in making use of it. As a stay at home mom, I well remember the days when church was the only opportunity I had for a small breather from my children, adult fellowship, and hearing God’s word without interruption.

But if you want to have your infant or toddler in church with you, that’s great! Be sure your diaper bag is well stocked with anything you might need to keep a little one relatively still and quiet. Bottles, pacifiers, small snacks that won’t make too much of a mess, some small, soft toys (such as stuffed animals or board books- maybe even a special one that’s only for Sundays) that he can quietly play with in his lap.

Try to choose a seat on the aisle near a door in case you need to make a hasty exit. Also, try to sit somewhere where any noise your child might make won’t be picked up by the pastor’s (or other) microphone.

Older children:
Sometimes well meaning Sunday school teachers serve sugary snacks or other foods/drinks that might make your child jittery. If so, it may be more difficult for him to sit quietly during church. Check out the snack situation in your child’s class, and serve him a breakfast that won’t give him the fidgets.

Make a bathroom/water fountain pit stop before the service a weekly habit. If your child would benefit from running a lap or two outside before the service to work off some energy, make that part of the weekly routine as well.

Dress your child appropriately, yet comfortably for church. I still remember scratchy lace on some of my childhood Sunday dresses. And sitting up against the back of a pew or chair wearing a dress that ties in the back? Absolute torture when that knot dug into my spine. It’s kind of hard to sit still when your entire outfit is conspiring against you.

Get them started on taking notes during the sermon. Give your preschooler some crayons and paper and help him listen for something in the sermon he can draw a picture of (a sheep, Jesus, an angel, a garden…).

Lower elementary aged children might enjoy taking “tally mark” notes. Make a brief list of words your child is likely to hear during the sermon (God, Jesus, Bible, Love…) and instruct him to make a tally mark next to the word any time he hears it during the sermon. Some pre-readers can even attempt this if you draw a couple of small pictures instead of words (a heart for “love,” a cross for “Jesus,” etc.) Before church starts, try to guess with your child which word will get the most marks. After church, count up the marks and see if you were right. You may even want to do your own tally mark sheet during the sermon to model for your child what you want him to do.

Some churches offer a fill in the blank sermon outline in the bulletin. This is a perfect note taking activity for older children and tweens. They can also be encouraged to turn in their Bibles to all the Scriptures the pastor mentions, copy down a verse from the text of the sermon, or write down any questions that occur to them as they listen.

And, speaking of questions, another fun activity is for each family member to write down a couple of questions, and their answers, from the sermon. Then, in the car on the way home, each person gets to ask his questions. Whoever gets the most correct answers gets to pick what’s for lunch (or bragging rights, or something else fun). It’ll keep EVERYONE paying attention, and it’s a great way to reinforce and discuss the sermon.

Attend church every Sunday. Not only is it biblical to attend faithfully, but children thrive on routine, and it will be easier for them to remember how to behave if they’re learning and practicing those behavior skills weekly instead of in a “hit and miss” fashion.


Training your child to behave well in church isn’t easy at times. I know. I have 6 children and we have raised all of them in church. But if you and your husband will invest the time and effort, everyone benefits. Your pastor will be able to preach uninterrupted. Your fellow church members will be able to worship undistracted. Once your child begins to behave himself better, you will be able to focus more on the service and be less frazzled. But most importantly, your child will develop the skills necessary for hearing and paying attention to God’s word being proclaimed, and what a blessing that will be to him now, and for the rest of his life.

What are some things that have worked well
to help your child behave in church?


¹Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy  (New York: Harper Collins, 1933), 90-91
Faith, Gratitude, Prayer, Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday ~ Welfare Check

Originally Published March 30, 2011

welfare check“Why can’t You just give me this so I don’t have to ask anymore?”

I know.  It sounds like a pretty spiritually immature thing to pray.  But to be honest, I was weary of taking this ongoing problem to the Lord every time it reared its ugly head.  Why couldn’t He just fix it permanently so I didn’t have to deal with it anymore?

Because I don’t like dealing with problems.  They make me uncomfortable.  I don’t like being uncomfortable.  I’d rather God would just make the problems go away and then everything would be blue skies and rainbows for me all the time.  Just the way I like it.

Even the most liberal Liberal has heard a story or two about the welfare system that made him raise an eyebrow.  As a radical, right-wing, uptight, Bible-thumping, evangelical Conservative, I’ll admit I’ve groused about the problems with the system a time or two.  I think one of the things that tends to bother most people about some of the stories we hear is the sense of entitlement a few (certainly not all) welfare recipients can develop.  It’s as though they are owed a nice lifestyle without having to lift a finger.  They take what they receive for granted, and whatever they are given is never enough.  They always want more.  Nicer.  Better.  No gratitude, just gimme.

That hits uncomfortably close to home.

You see, I’m living in God’s welfare system.

When was the last time I had to ask God for air to breathe?  Or to make my heart beat?  Or for clean water to drink, bathe, and do laundry in?  Or food for my table?

When was the last time I even thought about the fact that I can think clearly enough to thank Him that I don’t have a psychiatric disorder or a brain injury?  How often do I get down on my knees and praise God that I can get back up again?  I can walk.  I can talk.  I can see.  I can hear.

God has blessed my family with six beautiful, healthy children, four of whom I was able to conceive, carry, and bear, relatively complication free.

I have a wonderful, Godly husband and great father to my children who isn’t a drug addict or a gambling addict, or an alcoholic, or a workaholic, or unfaithful or abusive to me.  We live in a nice house, on a nice street, in a nice safe neighborhood.

God has blessed me with an extended family as well as a church family who both love me in spite of my numerous faults.  He’s even given me the humbling honor of being able to serve Him in ministry and as an author.

But I always want more.  Nicer.  Better.  No gratitude, just gimme.

Paul said in II Corinthians 12:7-9 that God gave him a thorn in the flesh to keep him from exalting himself.  Frequently our focus in that passage is on speculating as to what, exactly, the “thorn” was.  We fail to notice in the next verse that that thorn kept Paul coming back to the Lord, crying out to Him again and again.  And that’s right where Paul needed to be.

Sometimes that’s one of the purposes of our problems.  God has blessed us with so many things we can forget we need Him.  Until there’s a problem.  And that problem can drive us back to crying out to Him in dependence in a way that no blessing ever could.

So maybe it’s time for a little welfare check:

1. Have you thanked God lately–really thanked Him–for all the blessings we tend to take for granted– food, clothing, freedom, a vehicle, etc.?  Do you live as though God owes you these things?

2. In what ways do problems tend to drive you towards, or away from, God?

3. What does your prayer life look like when everything is going well in your life?  When problems arise?  How can you apply Philippians 4:6 in your prayer life?

Wednesday's Word

Wednesday’s Word ~ Jude



Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,

To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error andperished in Korah’s rebellion. 12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.

14 It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 16 These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.

17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Questions to Consider:

1. What is the overall theme of Jude?

2. According to verse 4, why did Jude feel it necessary to write on the topic of contending for the faith instead of the topic of salvation?

3. What are “the way of Cain” (Genesis 4:5-8), “Balaam’s error” (2 Peter 2:15), and “Korah’s rebellion” (Numbers 16), mentioned in verse 11? What led Jude to give the false teachers these labels?

4. According to verses 17-19, who is it that causes division in the church, the false teachers or those rebuking the false teachers?

5. How does the book of Jude apply to the church today?

Faith, Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday ~ Back to the Basics, Part 3: “Himmed” In

Originally published: February 16, 2011

himmed in

Establish my footsteps in Your word,
And do not let any iniquity have dominion over me. 
Psalm 119:133

A few years ago, we had a little dog named Mathilda. She was cute, but to be honest, she was not one of my favorite dogs because she was completely disobedient. Maybe it was because she was rebellious. Maybe it was because she was dumb as a rock. I never did figure that one out.

We’d tell her to come; she’d run away. We’d tell her to stay; she’d run away. Frankly, pretty much anything we told her to do, she’d ignore and run away. Which was all well and good as long as she stayed inside the confines of our fenced back yard. As long as she stayed in familiar territory, she knew where and how far she could run and still be safe.

The problem was that in order to get from our back door to our carport, we had to go through the gate that kept Mathilda in the back yard.

Did I mention she liked to run away?

pei_091One day, someone opened the gate, and Mathilda was off like a shot. My daughter was on search and rescue duty that day, so she took off after Mathilda. Unfortunately, Mathilda, with no boundaries to contain her and in unfamiliar territory, got confused and crossed the street at exactly the wrong time– just as a car was coming. And, sadly, this is where her story ends.

Have you ever heard someone say, “Children need boundaries”? Well, children aren’t the only ones. Just as Mathilda discovered, the world can be a big confusing place, fraught with unseen dangers. Even before the Fall, when there were only two people in the world and things were perfect, God didn’t just turn Adam and Eve loose to roam the planet indiscriminately. He placed them in the confines of Eden and gave them a one rule boundary. It was for their protection and their joy.

As Christians today, our confines are less visible than the borders of a garden. Our boundary is the Bible. For our protection and our joy, we must stay inside the walls of God’s Word. In order to do that, we must:

Know what the Word says:

I will meditate on Your statutes.
Psalm 119:48

Study God’s Word. Memorize it. Dig down deep into it. Listen to Biblical preaching and teaching.

Obey the Word:

So I will keep Your law continually,
Forever and ever. 
Psalm 119:44

Often, the problems we experience and the confusing situations in which we find ourselves are a direct result of sin. God’s commands are for our good, our joy, and His glory. When we stray from them, things get messed up. And after all He has done for us, is obedience too much to ask?

Go Back to what You Know:

For I trust in Your word.
Psalm 119:42

Sometimes, despite our obedience and our love for the Lord, he allows confusing, painful, awful situations into our lives. We don’t understand what’s happening or why God would allow this terrible thing to take place. It’s especially important at these times to stay inside the fence of God’s word, draw upon His truths we have memorized and studied, and trust Him. When we’re not sure what’s going on around us, we can go back and stand on what we can be certain of: God’s promises.

God is good, not evil. Psalm 100:5

God loves us. Romans 5:5,8

If we depend on Him and trust Him, God will strengthen us to walk through any situation He sends our way. Philippians 4:13

God can bring good out of any situation. Romans 8:28

Suffering can bring about invaluable spiritual growth. Psalm 119:67, 71, Philippians 3:10, Romans 5:3-4

God’s overall greater purpose is more important than an individual’s personal comfort. Genesis 50:20, John 3:16

God is faithful and will not abandon us. II Thessalonians 3:3, Deuteronomy 31:6,8

God’s comfort is available to us. II Corinthians 1:3-5, II Thessalonians 2:16-17

One day, all things will be set right. Romans 12:19, Revelation 21:3-4

Know the Word. Live it. Breathe it. Stay inside its good and protective boundaries. It’s for God’s glory and our joy.

Wednesday's Word

Wednesday’s Word ~ Isaiah 55

is 55

Isaiah 55

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
    a leader and commander for the peoples.
Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
    and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has glorified you.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

12 “For you shall go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall break forth into singing,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
    an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers

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