You can spot them a mile away. Her makeup was clearly done in the car, and she’s wearing the same dress she’s worn three Sundays in a row. He’s got a giant coffee stain on his shirt and a look that screams, I just want to go home and get back in bed. You know who I’m talking about…nearly every parent with kids on a Sunday morning right as they arrive at church.
You don’t even have to have raised unruly children in order to sympathize with this pair. They’re pitiful, and they need a break. But unfortunately, when the church service ends, they’ll still have to chase that same rowdy pack of kids through the parking lot.
I distinctly remember that notorious Mother’s Day when our children went out to the church playground after the service while my wife and I stayed inside talking with the other adults (who were probably also trying to forget they were parents). When we found the kids, they had basically ruined their new church clothes, and all three of them were in tears. Kimberly was not amused. Needless to say, the post-church, Mother’s Day pictures did not turn out the way she had hoped—we still warmly and tenderly refer to that day as “Mudder’s Day.”
While I have no advice for the ruckus that takes place after the Benediction, I do have some guidance that I believe will help make your preparation for and trip to church more pleasant. After all, do we really want to dread going to worship Christ on the Lord’s Day?
Let me preface these tips by saying we are still raising our three children; their ages range from 8 to 12. We’ve thrice survived the bottle, diaper, and stroller years. We’ve made it through the terrible-twos, the inquisitive-threes, and the sassy-sevens. The junior high and teen years are upon is. (Bless our little hearts.) While the verdict is not in for the teen years, Kimberly and I feel like the baby years were the hardest for us so far. If you’re a young parent, hang in there. This is just a chapter. It’s never too early to start getting ready for a loud and busy house. For those whose children are a little older, here are four tips for getting to church on time and having a Christ-honoring Sunday morning.
“Is Today Church Day?” vs. “Are We Going to Church?”
These are two very different question. One of them means your child has trouble knowing the days of the week, while the other question may reveal that your children are unsure whether church is a priority for your family. My youngest is 8 and he still only knows three days of the week: school day, free day, and church day. He often asks, “Is today church day?” but when he finds out that it is, in fact, Sunday he doesn’t ask, “Are we going to church?” He already knows the answer.
Next time your child asks these types of questions, listen closely. If they are asking, are we going kind of questions, it might be time to sit down and have a family meeting to explain your convictions and priorities. Here’s a short talk you can give them:
We go to church every Sunday. We leave at 8:30 AM. We do this because Jesus resurrected on Sunday (Matthew 28:1-2), and God has commanded us to gather each Lord’s Day with other Christians (Hebrews 10:25-26). We go each week to worship God through things like preaching, singing, and reading Scripture. Worshiping God and learning the teachings of Christ helps us to grow into mature Christians (Ephesians 4:11-16) so that we can be prepared to tell others about Jesus (1 Peter 3:15).
Resolving to obey Christ’s command to assemble is an important first step. Your children need to know that gathering with the body of Christ is a major priority for your family.
Preparation Starts on Saturday
There are a lot of small things you can do on Saturday—lay out your clothes, find everyone’s shoes, set the coffee pot to automatically switch on. Certain things will work best for your family; figure out those things and make them your Saturday evening rituals. Just start with three small things. Do those things for 4-5 weeks in a row and see if the Sunday morning rush improves for you.
One major area you should prepare for is breakfast and lunch. When there is no milk or coffee in our house, we go into panic mode. We can live without just about anything, as long as we have these two staples. Sunday at 8:30 AM is not a time to be realizing there is some major food item missing. Have a plan. Some choose to keep meals simple so they can rest on Sundays. That’s fine. Other’s choose a big “Sunday lunch.” That’s fine too, but make preparations ahead of time.
Preparation on Saturday doesn’t just apply to the big things. If you’re out until 2 AM on a camping trip every week during the summer, it’s going to make attending church in a decent state of mind very difficult. It might mean that the best thing for your family, especially while your children are young, is to cut that camping trip short so you can get home and be well-rested for the Lord’s Day. You’ll definitely need to weigh your options and set some priorities for your family.
Have a Predictable yet Unique Morning Routine
Kimberly has a rule in our house. It applies on school days and church day—you must be dressed before you can eat breakfast. Our kids love breakfast, so this is a really good motivation for them to be fully dressed. We haven’t always had this rule. I can remember times when I had to yell “Go put your pants on!” down the hallway. We eventually figured out that this was good for us, and now we stick to it.
Something else will work for you. Put some thought into this. Come up with some basic expectations that work on school days, and then expect those to be done on Sunday morning.
We also have had unique routines on Sunday AM. Here is one we currently do. It’s weird, but it works for us. As soon as my feet hit the floor, I set a timer counting down to our time of departure. I then go into the kids’ room and say in the most annoying dad-voice I can muster: “This train leave is 90 minutes. 90 minutes.” I give an announcement about every 15 minutes: “This train leave is 75 minutes. 75 minutes.” See, I told you it was weird.
I do this for a few reasons: 1) It’s completely unique to Sunday mornings. 2) It’s practical because the kids know exactly what’s expected of them, and they can adjust their actions in order to be ready. 3) It’s daddy-centric. In a culture where getting the kids ready is often viewed as woman’s work, this is a fun and goofy way I lead so Kimberly can have a break. It’s also quite humorous when, every now and then, Kimberly asks, “Hey Daddy, when’s the train leaving?”
Having a predictable yet unique morning routine will not happen by accident, and it will not be easy to create. You can’t “parent from the couch” and hope to accomplish this; you’ll need to get up and engage your children. You can do this. Get serious and get busy!
Find an Outlet to Volunteer at Church
Ever since my children were young, we’ve sought out little jobs for them to do at church. When Aaron was only three, he used to go in early with me and help pass out the orders of worship to the musicians. I used to tell him, “That’s your ministry, Bud.” Now, Noah helps print the bulletins and setup microphones, Julianna folds the bulletins and assembles the music binders for the musicians, and Aaron puts batteries in the microphones and mans the sound board. They are very aware that we need to do arrive at church in time to do this service.
Help your children become contributors, not just consumers. If you only ever do the minimum expectation—Well, I guess we better make an appearance and show our faces this week—then getting to church will always be a mad dash. Help your kids understand that church is not just a place we go to see friends, hear cool songs, and get candy. Cultivate a sense of service in your children. Help them see that church is not just something we have to go do.
Maybe getting to church on time is not the problem. What if this is just a symptom of a greater problem? It may be time to do a family checkup. Sitting down to get their input, may be a good way to create buy-in and explain your values. Here are some questions to sit down and ask your children:
As Christians how many times in a year should we go to church?
once or twice a year
a few times per year
once a month
more than once each week
What are some reasons Christians go to church?
What are some things we can do on Saturday to be ready for church on Sunday?
What are some areas where we can volunteer and help when we get to church?