Kids & Church :: Listening to the Speaker

listening-to-the-speaker-in-churchPart 2 Listening to the Speaker

This is intended to be a few helpful steps that can be taken towards helping a child actually listen and extract something from a church meeting. If you are just joining in the series you can read the introduction to this series on kids and church here and part one which talked about helping children sit through a meeting.

So – the kid with a freshly relieved bladder has been prepped on what is expected of them during the church meeting (which for us is to sit still, listen to the message and try to catch something they recognize the speaker is saying, and then afterwards go shake his hand and tell the speaker what they heard him say)…. so you sit through a full sermon, packed full of things you know your kids already know, and then the speaker concludes with a prayer, gives an “Amen!” and you look expectantly at your child to see what they heard; and they stare back at you blankly … not sure what you are wanting from them.

This will happen. And it’s not a big deal. It is a discipline to sit, listen, extract and retain information — a discipline I would wager to bet most adults haven’t developed. {A discipline Paul and I are working on developing right along side our kids!}

While you may be able to force a child to sit still, you cannot force the mind to attention, and so it becomes a delicate battle. Delicate, because that is how they must be handled at all times. Battle, because you want to win it.

As a general rule I feel that when children fail at something (when they are allowed to fail!) they learn how to pick themselves up from failures and learn how to try again within the love and security of their family home. This is one scenario where I don’t want my children failing and I work hard at engaging their mind and gently draw them in to this habit of paying attention. “Failure” in this habit is entirely too easy. It feels good to let the mind wander. It is hard work to listen. There is no natural instinct that makes you want to try harder to listen the next time you’re sitting for an hour. Thus, I work hard to help build this into a natural and normal habit for them.

It is hard work. It is monotonous work. Lots of times I want to give it all up. But then I am reminded time and again that God is the one working on their hearts. I can teach the habits, the disciplines and yes, even lay the ground work of God’s truths. But it is God who speaks to them and reveals Himself to them — not me. In a society that is plugged in, noisy, busy and go-go-go I can teach them to sit and listen. But then He will call them to Himself. I am preparing them, God will do the work of teaching.

For clarity I should mention that our church does not have a pastor, and thus the speaking falls on men within our fellowship or guest speakers that are invited in – so there is a variety of men that share in the speaking responsibilities at our church. I have used the word “speaker.”

Here are somethings that have worked for us – some done simultaneously, others done in the past, others with just one boy and not the other — just ideas that I hope will inspire your own ideas for your own uniquely created children:

– When a boy has admitted to not having heard anything the speaker has said I have run through a super-condensed version of the message (45 seconds!) and asked him if he heard anything in there that he knew. (what I would run through would be a portion of the message that I knew the boy would have known from previous teaching.) He would excitedly pull the information out, given the briefness and intimacy of mommy having said it, and would go speak with the speaker.

– No thought is extracted, nothing is shared with the speaker, no “treasure hunters reward” is given (more in part 3 on our “treasure hunting” game) … this is devastating to the boy and I think in general it enforces a discouraged attitude more than it encourages discipline for the next week (a whole week to try again! I think the boys remember how they “feel” – not the details of what happened. Thus, if they constantly “fail” at their mission, they will feel bad, and not want to do it at all.) That being said, there are times that this is the right way to handle the situation, just delicately and with grace.

Gum will be given after they have listened and extracted their thought that they will share with the speaker at the end of his message. This motivates them to extract a thought.

– Check in through the meeting to see if they have recognized anything yet – sometimes they just need to be reminded

– If I can tell where the speaker seems to be going with his message (example, he tells us to turn to a certain chapter and I know it is a story the boys will know) I give them a whispered heads up of what is to come so they can be ready expectantly.

– I will illustrate the message for them with my pathetic drawings.

– We work on getting the boys acquainted with the men that speak at our chapel. In getting to know the various men that speak {having them over for meals mostly} the boys develop a relationship with the men who are speakers — and that alone is a powerfully motivating force for the boys to listen to them when they are speaking. They consider a lot of these men their friends; which speaks highly of the men themselves and their gracious ways with children.

– Throughout the week read them the Bible and Bible story books, play them Bible movies, listen to scripture set to music, play an audio Bible … invest in them and give them pegs to build on when they sit through a service on Sunday and try to extract thoughts from the speaker.

One other little side note on this subject of the children listening to and then approaching the men who speak: while we have had mostly wonderful responses from the men and they encourage the boys when the boys go talk to them after the meeting  (and we are so thankful for their insightful and loving manners with the boys!) not every man is comfortable with, nor even polite to, the boys. Despite having explained to them why the boys rush to talk to them after the service, the men remain unchanged. We work around that when those men are speaking and the only reason I mention this is that it is important to make sure the speaker understands what the child is doing and that the speaker is comfortable addressing children in a conversational setting. If the speaker is not comfortable alternatives are simple enough to come up with. One solution is that a grandparent or other adult could be asked to allow the child to tell them their thought.

Next Friday part 3 will talk about how we turned all of this into something that really captures their imagination and adds an element of fun to it all. We call it “treasure hunting.”

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Jessica Lynette

3 Comments

  1. I am really enjoying this series. I am a new mom (2 month old) who has decided alongside my husband not to send our boy to any of the children’s church programs or the nursery. The only options for our nursery is to simply drop your baby off and leave. So far I’ve not brought it up, but it will happen soon and I’m expecting some backlash from the children’s church teachers who’ve begun to tell me how they can’t wait to have him in nursery/sunday school etc. I’m not looking forward to fighting them because for some reason they seem to believe that a child cannot learn in ‘big church’ and these articles you’ve posted have been an amazing encouragement to me. My son can learn in ‘big church’ I just have to be willing to go to all lengths to help him do so. I suppose step one would be to firmly, but kindly enforce our decision as parents to the teachers and let them know it’s not anything against children’s church, but about keeping our family learning and growing together. Physically and mentally. Sorry for the length of the comment, and thanks again for these gems of information

    • Thanks for the comment Sharon 🙂
      I hope you find a balance that works well for your family and a way to firmly and graciously explain it to others!
      Our boys do attend Sunday School, but we have three meetings on Sunday mornings so there are two that they sit and listen through!
      And we are also really pleased with what they learn in their SS class, so we have no complaints on that, but I do know not all churches have good SS classes for young ones.
      Thanks for being an encouragement to me!

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