The Marshlings stay in the service with us and we have, from earliest times, been concerned about them developing bad habits (like only appearing attentive) or getting nothing of spiritual value from a sermon. Our solutions are not perfect, nor even perfectly applied, but they do represent our best effort to make sure our children learn to listen attentively and with open hearts to the preaching of God’s Word. As they grow and we all learn what is effective and what isn’t, we modify our practices.
We have made it clear to our children why we all stay together in the services. They understand and agree with the rationale but also recognize that it is sometimes hard to pay attention. So, all of six of us are consistently looking for ways we can help each other glean the most benefit from a sermon.
|The 'Sermon Kit'|
To begin with, everyone is prepared. Each person has, at the least, a Bible, a notebook and a pencil or pen. The notebooks are used only for taking notes on the sermon, not for colouring, or other purposes. Similarly, the Bible is for looking up the passage being preached upon or related passages that the message prompts, but not for reading unrelated to the message.
During the sermon itself, the older ones can take their own notes and have learned how to listen carefully enough to outline a sermon. If the speaker has a clear outline so much the better. A PowerPoint presentation with his main points? Best of all. Of course, the speaker who is a little fuzzy or lacks a clear structure to his message can be frustrating to the children, but then, that sort of message can be frustrating to adults as well. The goal is to never the less glean what we can from the message.
|Ready for a sermon!|
The younger ones who can not yet write quickly enough to take notes will sit near their mother or I who will outline the message for them: writing out each major point. They will then be asked to draw (and perhaps even colour) a picture that illustrates the point.
At lunch, and sometimes even in the van on the way home, we will discuss the message. Because we have all heard the same teaching it is much easier to address any questions or clarify any confusion. If there was a point someone disagrees with or is uncertain about, it is a wonderful time to gather together around the Bible and explore what it says about the subject. This can prompt terrific conversations which will sometimes spill in to the rest of the week.
Not all speakers are equally gifted or prepared, so this is also a good chance to teach graciousness and understanding. Rather than have “roast preacher” for lunch, we talk about the good elements of the teaching and discuss things that might have been clarified.
A final game is to test each others listening. Based on the sermon, sometimes I will ask the question, sometimes one of the children will. Questions can be as obvious as the title of the sermon or as obscure as the example he used to illustrate his final point. It is a fun way to keep each other attentive and the children love an opportunity to try to trip up Daddy (or each other).
These are all simple, straight forward things we do. There is nothing terribly original and it requires a lot of work from both parents and children, but then, learning always does. Our hope and prayer is that our children will learn the art of listening while they are young so that when they are older, they can continue to derive rich benefit from hearing the Word preached.