There’s no chaos like Sunday morning chaos. Where are your shoes? Did anyone knock on her door? Did you eat breakfast? Those pants are way too small! Has anyone seen the car keys?
If the alarm is going to fail, it will fail on a Sunday morning. If the water heater is going to malfunction, if there’s going to be unexpected overnight snowfall, if we’re going to run out of milk, it will happen on a Sunday morning. Or at least it seems that way.
And that’s to say nothing of the state of our hearts. I’ve long thought that the psalmist on his way to the temple had his children in mind: “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!” (Ps. 120:7).
Many Sundays, our family has tumbled into the minivan minutes late before we’ve even started. At a glance, everyone is present and most of our shoes are on the correct feet. We’re ready for church. But we don’t feel ready.
Ready for Church?
I’m sure many of the 151 men who assembled in England in the 17th century to draft the Westminster Standards knew how hard it was to get their kids to church too. Has anyone milked the cow? Did you bank the fire? Those breeches are way too small!
Everyone is present and most of our shoes are on the correct feet. We’re ready for church. But we don’t feel ready.
Even those theologians and their kids probably showed up to church sometimes with hair unbrushed and hearts unfocused. Thankfully, as they wrote, preaching is designed for sinners: “Driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ” (Larger Catechism, 155). On Sunday morning, the Lord welcomes the weak and gives grace to the unready.
But the men also knew that simply having everyone dressed and accounted for didn’t mean they’d succeeded at getting ready for church. Those who listen to preaching, they wrote, should “attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer” (Larger Catechism, 160). As much as we prepare our bodies, we should also prepare our hearts.
Even if you just have a few minutes at the breakfast table or in the car, consider these ways to focus your heart and the hearts of your children on worship. If you do, they may walk out with mismatched socks, but they’ll be ready for church.
5 Minutes: Pray
In the five minutes it takes to eat a bowl of cereal or drive to church, you can pray together. Ask the Lord to forgive your sin, remind you of his grace, make you eager to praise him, and enable you to worship with your whole heart. Ask him to help your children listen well and sing heartily. Ask him to work in the hearts of everyone in the congregation, saving any who might be apart from Christ.
When we pray with our children before church, we remind them of two things: First, we depend on the Spirit for everything, even for the ability to worship. Second, we all depend on the Spirit, even grown-ups. Prayer is a great equalizer, and praying with our children on Sunday mornings affirms that we parents need the same help to worship God that they do.
10–15 Minutes: Pray and Sing
If you have a little longer, you can add song to your Sunday morning. Give young children a chance to suggest a favorite hymn and sing it together as you zip up your coats and head out the door. Your family chorus may be more joyful noise than skillful music, but it’ll stretch your vocal cords and stir your hearts.
Every choir spends time before a performance warming up, familiarizing themselves with the music and readying their voices. In our families, a hymn or two sung on the way to church is a set of scales for our souls, making sure even the smallest members are ready to take their place in the congregational choir.
20–30 Minutes: Pray, Sing, and Read
With just a few minutes more, you can also read Scripture together. You may want to do this on Saturday night. Find out what Scripture text your pastor plans to read and preach the next morning (it’s often on the church website or in the email newsletter), and read the passage together as a family. If you have time, discuss it. Define any hard words for young kids and give everyone a sense of what to expect when the sermon begins.
Your family chorus may be more joyful noise than skillful music, but it will stretch your vocal cords and stir your hearts.
Young children take great delight in recognizing the text read from the pulpit as the same one your family read the night before. When they hear the familiar sentences in church, they’ll be primed to listen.
It should be no surprise that the Evil One would be extra busy on Sunday mornings, sowing frustration and confusion before we even step into church. Missing hairbows and grumpy responses are the weekly work of the Devil. But by inviting praise from our children, we encourage them to prepare their hearts for meeting with Jesus. Their loud hosannas, ordained by God himself, “silence the foe and the avenger” (Ps. 8:2, NIV; cf. Matt. 21:15–16). When children get ready for church, Satan shuts his mouth and Christ is exalted.
Get ready for Sunday with Meg Is Not Alone, a new picture book by Megan Hill from TGC Kids (available now at Amazon and the TGC Bookstore). Meg Is Not Alone is the story of a girl who learns that the church is always ready to help.