LCN Article
Training Our Children for Sabbath Worship

September / October 2023
Woman To Woman

Dinah Winnail

Parenting children is one of the great challenges of life. For Christians, this includes not only the necessities of daily life, but also the “training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). We are to teach our children about God’s law, His ways, and His expectations for how we worship Him and treat others. In the same way that our children must be taught to use eating utensils, we must teach them how to behave in God’s presence at Sabbath services.

And we are in God’s presence during Sabbath services. That time belongs to Him and requires special behavior of all who are present. Just as we dress differently when we come before God, we should also behave differently than we do every other day. As attention spans shrink, teaching our children to be attentive and respectful during Sabbath services is ever more challenging—and ever more important. I see parents trying very hard to do this, and I know it is not an easy task. 

Perhaps a little encouragement from those who have already walked that path can be helpful. I write as a mother who struggled to help her own children learn, and I hope to encourage you that you and your children will get there—given time, patience, and practice.

Why do we want children to be quiet and still during Sabbath services? If it is just so that we can hear the messages, then our reasoning is incomplete, because we are not the only ones called by God. He tells us that the promise is also for our children (Acts 2:39). Yes, we do want our children to learn to be quiet in services. But, more importantly, we want them to learn to revere God and to honor Him on His Sabbath day. It is good for very young children to learn to be quiet because that is what Mommy or Daddy tell them to do. But, as they grow in maturity, having been taught to listen quietly and pay attention, they begin learning His ways on a deeper level and drawing closer to Him, able to choose to live His way for themselves.

So, what steps can we take to help them?

A Child’s Place in Services

First, we work to teach them to be quiet. I say work to teach them because, if they are very young, it is a process. When I had babies, older and wiser women told me that 18 months seemed to be the age when children could really start to comprehend their training. I found this to be generally true for my children. Much younger than that age, we do what we can, but we must be willing to take them out of services if they are disruptive and cannot understand what is expected of them.

Parents show love to their brethren when they remove noisy little ones from services so that others can hear the service. In small congregations that meet in small rooms, it can become impossible to hear the messages. It is understandable that the parents don’t want to miss the sermon, but the season of life when we have babies is temporary—during that time, we can ask God’s help to profit from the sermons we are not able to hear in their entirety. I remember vividly each sermon that I heard from start to finish when my children were small, because it was such a rare occurrence. It helps if babies can nap during services, but this isn’t always realistic. When my children were small, we were in different locations each week at different meeting times with long car rides to get there. That was just our reality as a family.

We parents get used to a certain level of noise from our children. We function daily in that noise and cease to notice it. That is not the case, though, for our brethren. So, we must show love for them, too, by removing our disruptive little ones until they can calm and quiet down. Notice, I did not say “teach them to whisper.” Sometimes, whispering can be almost as loud as speaking. So, we as parents must use discretion. I taught “no talking” during Sabbath services, but if my children absolutely had to ask me something, that was the time to whisper quietly. It is a good idea to practice whispering during the week—Church services are not the place to teach it. We need to teach our children that during Sabbath services they do not speak to us in the same voice they use before or after services or at home.

Another aspect of training is to provide a mat or blanket for the floor where a child can have his or her space. I taught my children that the appropriate place for them to be during services is either on their mat or in a chair. This gave them clear boundaries and reinforced that they should not be wandering around the room while services are in progress. It is also good to have some quiet “Sabbath-only” toys they can look forward to playing with each week. It may even be helpful to have enough to rotate them out of the Sabbath bag from time to time to keep their interest. 

But be careful here. One of my children could find a way to make noise with almost any toy, so it was a challenge until we had that child fully trained. Some helpful items may be soft sided-books, coloring books, stuffed animals, and the like. I tried to provide toys that would help focus on God and His creation, too. For instance, my children had a soft-sided Noah’s ark with little stuffed animals, as well as coloring books and picture books about God’s  creation. The goals here are to help children learn the difference between the Sabbath and the other six days of the week, while also making the Sabbath a delight for us all.

Training Begins at Home, Not at Church

Perhaps the most important point I can share is that once-a-week Sabbath services are not the place to train little ones for Sabbath services. It takes practice—in a time and place where you can pause and instruct. I would practice with my children several times during the week at home. 

Starting small, I got out their mats and a few Sabbath toys—varying them each time to keep it fresh—and I played a sermon on the television. Before we started, I explained to them that we were going to “practice church.” I let them know what I expected, and we started. I would continue only as long as the children could play or rest quietly. At first it was sometimes five minutes or ten minutes, but over time it became a half-hour and then longer. Once they can make it for a whole sermon at home, you know they understand. It may even be helpful to practice at home at approximately the same time as the weekly Sabbath service. I always followed this practice time with a reward that my children appreciated. And I also let them know that it made God happy, too, when they did well. I worked to make practice time a positive experience for them and only practiced each day for as long as they could be quiet and still. 

If you know parents in the Church who have already reared their children, you could ask them for other suggestions, too. What works for one family or child may not work for another.

And, if your congregation is blessed to have other children, be sure to teach your children that they should not talk to their friends during services. Playing with and talking to friends is a reward for after services—because, of course, our children need fellowship, too.

Finally, the key is to keep trying—asking God to guide you to the best ways of training that will work for you and your family. Practicing for Sabbath services is not convenient, but it is an investment in the spiritual health of our families. It is an act of faith and service to our heavenly Father and His Son, who have offered us a gift greater than we can comprehend—in which They want our children to share. 

Even from Their Youth

Training children to worship God on His Sabbath day is an important part of parenting. It is important for our children and their relationship with God, and it shows our love for our brethren. It is also an investment in our own spiritual health; parents of small children know well the absolute luxury of hearing an entire sermon on the Sabbath.

Success is possible—it just takes dedication, consistency, and practice. Years ago, I was walking around a hotel lobby one Sabbath, struggling with an unhappy baby, when an older man in our congregation approached me, looked into my eyes with great care, and said, “There is no more important thing that you can be doing as a mother than teaching your little ones how to worship God on His Sabbath day.” I needed those words that day. I hope they can help encourage you, too.