On Eating God’s Word: Or, How to Teach Children to Receive God’s Gifts in Church

“O taste and see how gracious the Lord is; blessed is the man that trusteth in Him.” Psalm 34:8

In a recent conversation with some parents, I had opportunity to talk about the challenges of children in church.

Make no mistake about it, it is a challenge. Going to the Divine Service is the only time in a child’s life when they are expected to be quiet, pay attention to things they don’t understand, sing, and above all sit still. What kind of crazy place is this? It’s a recipe for disaster, that’s what it is. If this is true for children whose family goes to church every day, how much more of a battle does this become when the family does not have this pattern of going to church? Or if the family is new to church?

This is why we as parents tend toward one of two solutions to the challenge:

  1. The first solution is behavior modification. If we can teach children to obey, then all of our problems will be solved. The problem with this model is that it is all Law, and it teaches that coming into the Divine Service and God’s house is basically about learning what to do.

  2. The second solution is church modification. If we can let our children be entertained, then they will become passive, and we will be able to do what we want (listen to the sermon, get coffee, whatever it might be).

After some thinking on this, I believe that the problem is we are thinking about going to church in the wrong way. Church isn’t about going to learn obedience or to be entertained. Church is about learning how to eat and be fed with God’s Word.

Think of it like this. When a child is born, it begins on its mother’s milk. You wouldn’t give a steak to an infant. It would choke them. You begin with milk, and slowly but surely, work them up to solid food. Frankly, that process is pretty messy along the way. But because you love them, you continue to feed them with what they are able to receive, moving them toward solid food, so that they may grow into what God has made them to be.

Let’s then take this with the Divine Service. A child cannot take all of this in at once. It is too much. It is steak when they are at milk. Some children can sit by and watch others eat the whole meal. Some want to start, uh, throwing the food. Each child will be different. As fathers and mothers, it is our job to teach them how to eat the food, that is, receive the gifts of God in the divine service. But the pace and way in which each child can receive this will vary. And that’s okay. It is how God has made us. We can either rejoice in it, or try to fight it to our own harm.

So let’s get down to the point, parents. If you are having a child that is having a hard time sitting through church, being fed, and they are “throwing the food” rather than eating it, here’s what I suggest. Don’t think of church as one big steak, but as 20 little bites of God’s Word.

Here’s what I mean. Our Divine Service is remarkably ordered and divided into bite sized pieces. Rather than try to eat it all at once, go into the service with a plan of what you are going to feed your child that morning. Come in and out of church as you need to. You are the parent and know what is best for your child. But if you decide you are going to stay in through the Gloria and then leave for 10 minutes, then they have been fed, and you have been fed. By waiting until they are crying and you are frustrated and angry, it has become a painful experience for both of you.

So as your pastor, I give you permission to go in and out as you need to. No one will mind, I promise. If they do, they can talk to me. Look at the service ahead of time and come up with a plan for when you will come and go. This leaves you in charge (not them), and it allows you to leave the divine service knowing that God is at work with you to teach your children how to receive (eat) God’s gifts.

And above all, remember that this is more like one big Thanksgiving meal, rather than 100 little fast food bags. We are in this together, pray for one another, and all want to receive God’s gifts together in Him.

God bless you all. I remain

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Peperkorn

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