“Help! The Church Nursery is Closed!” (by Jessica Burrell)

Today has brought about many changes in our culture: schools shutting down and mask-wearing becoming a requirement in most establishments, to name a few.  Many of these changes in recent days affect our everyday life, even for the stay-at-home mom.  While we may be inconvenienced by some of the new CDC requirements, like trying to keep masks on our squirming children while in public, there are some challenges that prove more difficult than others.  As Christian mothers, one of the greatest difficulties we face may be that of the closing of the church nurseries.  Due to the light-speed way that children can transfer germs from one person or surface to another, most churches have closed down their nurseries for the time being.  This leaves parents with younger children only two options: stay home and live-stream the service from the living room, or attend church as a family, all in one pew, squirming children and all.  I will be approaching this issue as a sister in Christ, loving mother, and wife of a pastor.  This is a difficulty facing many young families today, and there is no easy answer.

Don’t Stop Going To Church

As hard as it may seem to take your family to church and sit in the pew with the entire family while you try to keep the young children quiet as the pastor preaches, this is your calling from the Lord.  Whether you are a pastor’s wife and your husband has to sit on the front row or stand in the pulpit while you try to manage the children in the pew alone, or whether you have two parents with grandparents able to help share the load, whether you are a single mom or dad bringing your children to church who have never once sat through a church service because they always go to nursery or children’s church, your God-given calling and obligation is to have your family in church – assembling together with the saints.  We might think that live-stream is an easy “out,” or a suitable alternative, but I would suggest that this is not the case.

Many churches are re-assembling with caution and are keeping live-stream available for those who are at risk and for those who are maintaining a “shelter-in-place” lifestyle.  For the rest of us, families included, we are in some part back to the grocery stores, vacations and outings.  If this is the case for your family, it stands to reason that you should be back to church as a family, as well.  There are many factors that could cause difficulties with bringing children into the church who are not used to sitting in the pews.  Regardless of the factors involved, this is no excuse to forsake God’s commands (Heb 10:25); this is simply a new growth opportunity that the Lord has placed in your path.  There is nowhere in the Scriptures that makes provision for the church to forsake the assembling together until nursery or children’s church is available.  No matter the age of your child or children, you need to be in church, and so do they.  As much as it is difficult to adjust to this (whether by choice or for lack of any other options), many of us are being required to turn “family integrated” for a time.  I know these are not easy words to speak, and I can say from experience that it is even harder to live out.  It can be a very difficult thing to adjust to, but just because it isn’t easy, doesn’t make skipping church an option.

How I Got Started on this Journey

For me, this journey started when I had four young children.  Our oldest was 6 years old (a girl). After her, we had three boys in a row (5, 3, and 16 months).  Our youngest son had seriously injured his hand and was in need of multiple surgeries and frequent doctors visits.  It was an hour drive to the Pediatric Hand Specialist’s office, and after having four young children strapped in their car seats for an hour, they were then expected to wait in a waiting room and accompany me into the patient room where the three oldest would have to be left without my watchful eye as I took their little brother to a nearby room for x-rays.  After we returned to the patient room, we would wait until the doctor arrived to discuss this very serious situation with me.  All the while, there were four children, 6 and younger, going completely stir-crazy and one frazzled Mommy trying to control the situation and have a coherent conversation with the doctor.  This was a very rude wake-up call for me when I realized that I had no choice but to somehow survive this situation again and again at every doctor’s visit, every x-ray, and every consultation.  It was impossible for my husband to take more time off work to help me after he had already taken time for two hospitalizations and hand surgeries for our little guy.  My only option was to train my children at home to behave the way I needed them to so that we could make it through all of these trips without chaos and tears for all five of us!

It may sound crazy to expect so much from a little one who many say can’t even reason yet, but there is nothing ridiculous at all about teaching your child to sit relatively still and occupy himself quietly for a little while.  As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to say that the parent who never trains their child to be still for a length of time is actually depriving their child of learning self-control at a younger age when it comes a little easier.  The practice of sitting “still and quiet,” or whatever you will call it, will be a blessing to you as the parent, as well as anyone you encounter.  You will also find that God rewards your child with a more content spirit when they are taught to be still for short periods of time.

Trust me when I say, “You can do this.”  But while you are sitting in a church service with 100 other people trying to listening to a 30-45 minute sermon, you will realize that this is NOT the time to teach your child how you expect them to behave.  This will only frustrate you and your child (Eph. 6:4).  You must work on training your child to sit quietly while in the comfort and safety of your own home.  If you are interested in the way I trained my children at home, please look for my follow-up post.  “How I trained my little ones to sit still and quiet”

Keeping Your Kids in the Pew Begins At Home

I would like to give a few practical pointers to help you wrap your mind around this concept.  From the early infancy age through toddlers and preschoolers with the wiggles, it is not easy to ask children to sit “still and quiet,” as we say in my home, for an hour-long service.  But they can do it.  It is also important to be considerate of those around you and not insist on keeping a screaming toddler in the service during his entire tantrum.  My first suggestion would be to find an area in the church that has easy access to one of the exits.  Next, plan to arrive at church early enough to claim this area for your family so that you ensure an easy exit if someone gets too rowdy or disruptive.

Next, you must plan for Sunday morning the night before.  You don’t want to show up to church frazzled and frustrated before the service has even started.  This will not help you to have the patience and grace needed to guide your children through the worship service.   Saturday night, be sure that all baths are taken care of, clothes are picked out and ironed if needed, shoes are found and matched, hair bows are selected, etc.  In our home, everyone must have Mommy approve their outfit before dinnertime on Saturday so that there is not “whoops” on Sunday morning.  Sunday morning your only goal should be to make sure everyone is clothed, fed, and ready to leave.  Once in the pew, I have found that less is more as far as busy activities go.  I used to pack a full bag of books, toys, snacks and crayons, only to find that at the end of the service I had an entire half-acre of mess to clean up.  Not to mention needing to offer apologies for the new “art” on the underside of the pews.

When thinking about your child’s needs for the service, pack appropriately according to their age.  If your child is able to write, give them a few writing tools and a notebook.  You can draw a word, for example: “God,” and your child can copy it.  Then you can draw a picture on one side of the page and your child can write it on the other side.  At this point their imagination usually takes over and they will doodle quite happily for a while.  If you have a young child, be sure that you pack pacifiers, quiet (and not messy) snacks, and a select few books and toys in a small bag that the child can access easily on their own to play with quietly.  As you make all of these preparations on Saturday night, remember that your training begins at home.  Be sure that your children understand your expectations before you get to the church.  We now have seven children in our home and can easily fill an entire pew.  There was a season when we had to assign each child their “spot” and tell them which siblings would be sitting on either side of them so that we would not have any arguments or disruptions in the pew.

Don’t Grow Weary – You Can Do This

Last of all: do not grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:9).  There have been Sundays in church or weekdays in a doctor’s office that I wanted to throw my hands in the air and say, “I’m done training today!  We’ll be waiting in the car!”  We have had a few days when I had to abandon the grocery cart in the middle of the store and head to the van to deal with behavior that couldn’t wait.  What I came to realize was that the grocery shopping was not my highest priority.  Taking that moment to train my child would last a lot longer than those groceries did.  I would encourage you to keep the same perspective when sitting through worship.  Is it fun to take a child out and deal with behavior, walk back into church, only to have to leave and deal with them again?  No.  But what you are doing is training your child that this behavior is not an option.  No matter how many tantrums he throws, the result will be the same: correction and re-entering the service.  I would caution against staying in the foyer to allow the disruptive child to play for the rest of the service.  If your child is having a day where he is completely uncooperative and is a distraction to everyone else in the sanctuary, look for a bench in the foyer to sit on.  But still practice sitting quietly during this time so he sees that his defiant behavior is not rewarded with playtime.  If this level of disobedience in public is common, maybe this is a sign that more time needs to be dedicated to training at home.

Although this task seems at times insurmountable, it is doable!  Trust me; I didn’t start until I already had four children.  Talk about challenging!  There were many times I wanted to give up.  I often felt as though there would never be a break and that I could never get a thing out of the worship service unless all of my children were tucked away in their classes and I could just focus on the pastor alone.  This is not true, though.  And as soon as we thinking that “just one thing” will make it all better, we need to make sure we aren’t manufacturing an idol in our hearts.  God didn’t give you a quiet pew without children.  God gave you those adorable rowdy children to love and care for, and He still requires you to come and worship Him.

I know that this may only be a short-term goal for you.  Perhaps you are only going to keep your children in the service until nursery becomes available again.  You must understand that this is a worth-while effort and a God-required effort you must make to bring your children to church.  We have to expel the notion that we are coming to church for our own selfish good.  First, we do this because the Lord commands it (John 14:15).  He gives us the desire for it, which is a blessing, but more than that, He requires it.  If it’s “no fun,” or “I don’t get anything out of it right now,” that’s okay.  You are honoring the Lord with your self-sacrifice.  Just remember that it’s not all about you.  It’s hard to live this out, but it’s true.  And for most of us, this season will get easier.  Our children don’t stay little forever.

We don’t have it all figured out.  And if you come to the church where we worship, you will see squirming kids, hear rustling papers, and probably even see a little one being taken out for a “talk.” And that’s a good thing.  Actually, if you were to come to church this week, you wouldn’t even see our whole family in the pew.  One of my children has a medical condition that has prevented her and me from returning to church yet. It is at this time more than ever I am so grateful for the Providential situation all those years ago when I was forced to teach my children how to be content to be still.  My husband is a pastor and elder in our church and cannot sit with our children during the entire service.  When he is on the platform, it is such a blessing to us both to know that our children have been trained to obey us and sit still and respectfully while he does what he needs to do.  That little 16-month-old with the hand injury is now six years old and sits quietly, taking what notes he is able to, or drawing a picture of his Daddy reading Scripture from the pulpit.  We don’t have it all together, and we never will.  But God has been faithful to do a work in our children, little by little.  We are weak vessels through whom the Lord has been pleased to exhibit His strength.

I hope this article has encouraged you and caused you to consider your responsibility for raising your children before the Lord.  If you are interested in a more how-to based article where I describe how I practically trained my children in these concepts at home, please look for my follow-up post.

Jessica E. Burrell

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