Parenting in The Pew Part 2: Where We’ve Been And Where We Are Going

This is Part Two of my Parenting in the Pew Journey. If you missed Part one find it here: Part 1: The Journey And The Destination

Part Two: Where We’ve Been And Where We Are Going
When we think of training worshippers as a journey, it is important to use your end result or outcome to help you develop achievable expectations. It helps to start with the end in mind. Just like a wise teacher or a smart business person starts with the end result we too should think about what kind of worshipers we want our kids to be 20 years from now.

For us our destination is two fold.

We want our children to understand worship is not about them or what they “need” from church and we want our children to develop into active listeners.

So the objectives I am working on look like this:

Worship is about God.

I want my children to be active listeners in church.

These two objectives shape everything on a Sunday morning for me. Everything.

Objective 1: Children will understand worship is about God.

This means worship is not about my kids and their entertainment. I have learned this the hard way. Mountains of coloring books, sticker books, matchbox cars, mazes. I spent almost four and a half years lugging around huge bags of activities until I realized those heavy bags were not only making me sweaty but those bags were working against my most valued objective.

Twenty years from now I don’t want worshippers that spend the service only doodling in the bulletin or playing tic tac toe with their brothers. The heavy bag was working against my first objective because I was showing my kids that I valued their entertainment over my first objective.

Worship is not about my children or their entertainment.

Worship is about God.

I have learned the hard way that coloring books and activities to entertain my kids during the service are actually working against me on the journey to my final destination.

Objective 2: our children will work towards active listening in church.

My goal is not, I want my children to be still and quiet statues in the pew. I can look still and quiet while I am counting all the tiny holes in the speakers up above the PowerPoint screen.

My long term goal is to have active listeners at the end of this journey. So if my children need to wiggle or make a joyful noise unto The Lord, as long as they are actively listening, I really don’t care anymore. I have small kids. We wiggle and we don’t completely know how to whisper.

I can give myself and them grace in this. Active listening and participation looks different in a five year old than it does in an adult. Honestly, visualize a kindergarten classroom compared to a college classroom or even an eighth grade classroom.

Currently, I am teaching active listening through recording tally marks. This keeps my sons busy and aligns with my two objectives.

On Friday I preview the sermon topic, look at the songs we will sing and I help my boys think of names of God they might want to listen for during the service.

They listen for the names of God during worship and tally them either on the iPad or on paper. In the beginning, I would give them a tootsie roll or a lollipop when the made it to five tallies. I needed them to see the reward quickly at first, Then I increased the reward to ten tallies and then twenty.

Recently I have found myself hardly giving out any prizes at all as they learn to just listen without the motivation.

My hope is this will turn into listening for different words, topics and eventually main ideas and note taking.

I use a free tally app on the iPad.


Not every week is perfect. Just on Easter Sunday my three and five year old where having a whisper fight whether or not to have eyes open or eyes closed during the congregational prayer. In these moments it helps to take a big breath and see the larger picture. One slip up on Easter might help you give yourself and your kids a little more grace when it feels like one step forward and three (or four) steps back on the journey.

Ah. And grace. There is abundant grace. I just read this Timothy Keller quote, “God does not give us hypothetical grace and a lifetime supply. He gives us what we need one day at a time.”

Ah. One Sunday at a time in the pew. God gives me the grace I need one Sunday at a time in the pew. And God is giving our kids the grace they need one Sunday at a time in the pew.

One Final Piece Helping Us Get To Out Destination
Location, Location, Location. We take a front row seat. If my conviction on worship is “worship is about God” we will have a front row seat.

I am a big Dave Matthews fan, like it or not, and when I go to a Dave concert it is all about DMB. I am going to sit as close as to the front as I can because I want the best experience I can have. Same with Reds games. No one calls the box office and says, “I would like to sit as far away from the action as possible.”

Location helps. We sit in the front so my small kids can see everything and do not have to squirm to see over rows and rows of people three times their size.

Also, in regards to location, sit in front of people who like you having your kids in the pew with you. I have developed a great friendship with the family that sits behind us. They know what I am trying to do and can fill in for me even when I am not able to be at church. My friend has even been ready to record a tally mark or her hands have been open for a quick pass of the baby when a curve ball comes my way.

Remember. This is a journey. Keep the destination in mind. Location. And grace.

“God does not give us hypothetical grace and a lifetime supply. He gives us what we need one day at a time.” -Timothy Keller

While on this parenting in the pew journey there is the grace we need. One Sunday at a time.

3 thoughts on “Parenting in The Pew Part 2: Where We’ve Been And Where We Are Going

  1. Allison S says:

    I really appreciate your thoughts on this subject! My mom used to do the tally mark thing when we were younger and I think it does help focus the objectives of worshipping God and actively listening. Also, I really appreciate your honesty w/your goal not being quiet, still kids, but the heart of the matter. I think sometimes we (as humans) focus on superficials still at church, not the true heart of knowing & worshipping God. Honestly, while this was aimed at training your kids, I feel convicted and encouraged, “are these MY goals too.” Or do I care about how other perceive me at church? Also, some great thoughts for when God gives us kids. Thanks, Great post!!


  2. Mr. Distracted says:

    I admire your tenacity in developing your children into active listeners. I am curious how well you are able to soak up God’s word from the sermon when you are busy teaching your kids how to listen during church though? The modern church service is not a kindergarten class as you mentioned its more like a lecture geared towards adults. My philosophy on this is that I need and want to hear and focus on Gods word so I can live it out to my kids while I parent them…if I am constantly distracted by my kids during the sermon we all lose out on that opportunity. So I just wonder have you forfeited your attention to the sermon to teach your kids to listen while you are doing this? How do you balance this? Is being a good worshipper something that can only be taught during a sermon in the pew?


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