CM on Children and Church

Dear Reader,

The upcoming Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival will be on the section of her third book called “Some Unconsidered Aspects of Religious Training.”  There is a lot one could discuss here, and a lot of it I probably have touched on in the past. I have, for example, posts on “A Few Thoughts from CM on Religious Education,” “CM on the KNowledge of God,” and “Let’s Talk about Sunday School,”  among many others.

But this time what I would like to focus on is how we instill religious habits in children. Now I am the first to say that a habit is useless if it is only skin-deep. This is particularly true of religious habits. It is our hearts God wants, not our outward obedience only. But He does want our outward obedience as well and I have largely been won over by Charlotte’s emphasis on habit training. I don’t know if praying with our children every day or ordering them to read their Bibles will result in their ultimate salvation, but they will be a lot better off if they have these things as well established habits in their youth. How many adults have you heard complain that they struggle with daily prayer and Bible reading? These things are not the be-all and end-all of Christian life but to have them well-established as habits early on frees one up to struggle with other things later on 😉

Charlotte begins her discussion of religious habits with “the thought of God,” that is, that the child should be in the habit of thinking of His Creator continually. Charlotte speaks as if this is the natural inclination of children and we grown-ups must only encourage it and allow it to continue. I am not sure I would agree with that presupposition. I have a more negative view of children’s innate states than Charlotte does. But I do think that for children raised in godly homes, it may seem this way since they have heard of Him since their infancy. And in many ways children are more ready to receive the idea of God than their elders. Doesn’t Christ say that we should all be as children to enter is kingdom?

But how do we instill this habit in our children? Even more than in other areas, I think the power of example cannot be underrated here. We must ourselves be mindful that God is always with us, thanking Him for the good in our lives, turning to Him in our troubles, and speaking of Him as we go through our days. Of course this can be done very artificially and I do not mean that we should be always preaching to our children. Rather, we should learn this habit for ourselves and not be afraid to speak our own thoughts aloud to our children so they may come to know that we also rely upon Him in everything.

If possible, it is also good to let them see the example of other adults. Cultivating relationships with older people in the church who are not related to them can benefit children a lot. One of the best things we ever did was to regularly attend a prayer meeting at our old church. Most of the time there were not other children there. But our kids were welcome and able to sit through it all (very easy after sitting through Sunday service actually) and I think they got a lot from just hearing other adults pray and discuss the Bible.

Charlotte goes on to speak of having a reverent attitude in prayer and worship. I have to confess that we have often failed here. We thank God before meals but often the child praying rushes through a brief “Thank you God for this food” and sometimes doesn’t even wait till everyone else is seated before praying. So I am convicted that no matter how hungry we are we need to slow down this part of our day and make sure it is done respectfully.

When it comes to Bible reading, Charlotte extols the use of the Scriptures themselves rather than Bible stories edited for children. For the most part I agree with her on this. We did make use of The Beginner’s Bible when our children were younger but I think the earlier one can move on to the text itself the better. Of course, in all areas we seek to use real living books for our kids, but, when it comes to God’s Word, this is even more important.

Charlotte next speaks of hymn singing. We do not do hymns around here but sing only Psalms in worship. I am not very musical myself (a vast understatement) but my husband leads us in Psalm-singing as a part of our family worship after dinner most nights.

Lastly, Charlotte speaks of “Sunday-keeping.” We are not the strictest Sabbath keepers though we do strive to make some distinction between the Lord’s day and other days. We do not, for example, go to stores or restaurants on the Sabbath (unless there is some necessity, like needing medicine). We also do not let the children do computer games on Sunday (mostly because we have one child who could easily be addicted to the computer screen). But we do play games and watch some TV and don’t restrict their play in other ways.

One final topic which I would like to touch on, though Charlotte does not give it its own heading, is the need to participate in the corporate worship of the church. I have written on this before, but I find it incredibly valuable to the children’s spiritual development to have them sit in worship (all of worship) as early on as they can. I find for most children who start from birth, they can usually make it through a service by age 3 if not before. Of course, if you start later, it make take a while for them to get used to the idea. We do let our kids do things during the sermon like draw or color.  Quiet toys may be appropriate for babies and toddlers but I like to limit them as much as  possible. I don’t want to belabor the point, but I just don’t see how separating children into Sunday school classes or children’s church while the adults worship is going to prepare them to be worshippers themselves. My observation from my friends is that after 12 years of Sunday school they still don’t feel their kids are ready for grown-up worship while my own children who have been in worship since infancy do fine by two and half years old.

How about you? What do you do to encourage religious habits in your children? What has worked and what hasn’t?



9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Naptime Seamstess on April 5, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    We’re among the mean parents who take their children to grown-up church! *L* And by times, the children are loud, or fight(*gasp*). And thankfully, our church family doesn’t seem to mind. We generally take the children out and have a little talk (or a little spank) and bring them back in and start over.

    I do agree, Nebby, it seems pointless to have junior church if your goal is for them to eventually come into regular church at some point.

    I have friends whose church actually doesn’t allow children to be in the communion service. To me, using the same reasoning, this doesn’t make sense. One of my friends explained it saying that the communion services are such a serious, deep service that they don’t want the distraction of the children; they want the children to realize what a serious, mature service that communion service is, so they don’t allow them in until they’ve saved.

    So, I guess there are two sides to everything. But my gut feeling is the same as yours. Let’s involve the children in all aspects of worship right from the get-go.


    • Our church is very tolerant of kid noise too though real screamers usually get taken out.
      We have weekly communion (which is what it seems like the NT church did) so excluding kids wouldn’t work for us. Our old church used to have monthly communion but do it after a meal we all ate together, still sitting around the tables. It was very family-like. It was definitely not too formal or religious but casual. To me that is the feel communion should have.


  2. I’m uncomfortable with age segregation. However, as a parent of an autistic child, I think churches need to find ways to help families of children with disabilities participate. Most just stay home. My kids were ready to sit in a service at around age seven.


    • Posted by Naptime Seamstress on April 11, 2014 at 5:13 pm

      What would your suggestion be to a church? My church currently handles that on an individual basis. Most recently, a little girl was just so distracting that an older (grandmotherly) lady in the church offered to “babysit” the little girl in the toy room (nursery) so that the mom could have a chance to just sit and enjoy the service. Unfortunately, depending on how the offer is made and on how the offer is received, that can be a turn-off and the family leaves with a bad taste in their mouth. In our situation, the offer was made with gentleness and kindness, but the family hasn’t been back, except for VBS and things like that.
      I think on all sides, we all struggle with feelings of inferiority and hurt when someone offers to help us. The person isn’t saying that we’re a bad parent, but we feel that way simply because someone offered. Recognizing that makes people slow to offer help, which perpetuates the problem. Occasionally, people are “turned off” because no help was offered. But those who could offer were afraid to do so.
      Anyway, all that (!) to ask your advice on how a church should handle such a situation.


      • That’s a great question. I have a busy weekend but I wanted to let you know I will respond soon.


      • So it is much easier to point out issues than to come up with solutions, but I will try and brainstorm some. As I said in my reply to Tammy, I think having smaller churches is a good first step. We need to know each other so we can see needs and know how to help. I think it is great that someone offered to help watch the little girl. I know I had such offers many times when my kids were little. But I can also see how such things could be taken as subtle criticism and resented. Again, if you know people I think such misunderstandings are less likely to happen. I don’t think rigid policies are the way to go. At least one needs to be willing to make exceptions for those with complicating issues, whether they be developmental delays or something else. The most important thing I think is to set a general tone. Adults need to get used to dealing with a certain amount of distraction. I have been in services where the pastor very pointedly waited for a kid to be quiet before he continued his sermon. That was awkward and embarrassing. But I have also been in ones where the pastor makes some light-hearted comment in response to a kid’s noise. It kind of lets everyone know that this is okay and that we welcome children. Our bulletin has a blurb about we welcome kids to stay in service but for those who need it there is an attended nursery.

        In terms of being in the moment when a kid is distracting, I think it depends just how distracting. Is worship able to continue or are they really too loud? I would think it is a pretty rare situation where the kid is that loud and the parent is so oblivious that they are not embarrassed or do not try to do something about it. I hate to reward bad behavior but I remember my mom saying once that when my brother was acting up in church someone near them offered him a piece of gum and that kept him quiet. Our church has a lot of African immigrants who don’t understand much English. I know someone was going to bring coloring books and other silent toys so they would have something to do during service. Maybe having some things like that readily available to offer the parent? Ours doesn’t but some churches have kids’ pages they can do during service. Even a toddler could scribble on them. I think occasional sermons on how we view children or bible studies/women’s groups on how to deal with them in service and how to train them to sit through can help too. We can’t assume people will know what to do since they may not have been rasied in churches themselves or maybe just in ones with different standards.

        In the end though, if that woman was offended by what was meant (I assume) as a kindly offer, there may be nothing one can do. Sometimes there will be no perfect solution.


    • I agree. Obviously there can be lots of special cases and I don’t think we can make rigid rules like “kids over 5 must stay in service and be quiet.” I really think just having smaller churches is a big help. People need to know each other and know their needs. It is easy to look at a misbehaving child and judge the parents harshly but if you actually know people you are likely to be moe compasisonate and maybe to unerstand what is going on in their lives and why they are struggling or to be more comfortable offering help. I once heard it said that the pastor shoudl be able to know the name of all the kids in the church. If there are too many, the church is too big. Growth is a great thing but I tend to think it is better to plant more churches than to expand too big.


      • A couple of other thoughts:

        When my kids were distractible, I sat in a spot where I could make a quick exit. Some churches have them both up front and in back. Up front is nice because the children can see what is going on and, if you sit near the exit, you can quickly leave.

        I agree with everyone else that getting to know people is vital. Then you will know who needs a very soft touch in these matters. Since every family is different, it helps to ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Then, it invites the parents to come up with a way that works well with their unique situation.


  3. Posted by Naptime Seamstess on April 14, 2014 at 10:50 am

    I am soooooo much a believer in small churches!!! The idea of having several services, or one HUGE service just doesn’t mesh with the whole idea of community. When we have that sense of belonging (or of being welcomed by a smallish group of people) we are so much more likely to take offers of help as the kindness that was probably intended. We have been blessed with a small church where the pastor has known all the children’s names (and prayed for them, by name, each day!)

    We, as parents, do take things to keep our children busy……and we’ve been known to “share” things with other children. And I have been so thankful when other parents have shared toys with us! Keeping a separate bag of “just church” toys has never worked for us. Neither has filling a bag each Sunday. *L* The only thing that has helped is the children getting older! *L*

    I guess the end answer is that kind offers delivered with a smile will go a long way to making parents and children feel welcome in church.
    I’ve enjoyed our discussion, ladies!


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