Archa O. Dart, former Assistant Secretary of Home and Parent Education at the General Conference.

The other day an elder came to me and asked, "What can I do with the children in my church? They are so hard to control we cannot keep Sabbath school teachers very long. Yesterday one of the division leaders told me that she did not have one helper when it was time to open Sabbath school. The song director, the pianist, her assistant, and all the teachers were absent. She went next door to 'borrow' someone, but found to her dismay that the children in that division were entirely alone. They didn't have even a leader. The adults just refuse to have anything to do with the children's divisions because of the way the children act. What can a pastor do in a situation like this?"

Our Responsibility

First of all it is the responsibility of the church to see that the best leaders available are chosen for this important field of labor. Occasionally the nominating committee seemingly selects all the first-rate leaders to work for the seniors and then recommends what is left for the children. The ones who might "feel hurt if left out entirely" are asked to mold and train the very ones who are the most susceptible to influences good and bad. In some of our institutions the juniors are turned over entirely to college students. Good as many of these students are, dealing with some situations satisfactorily becomes an awkward problem when faculty members' children are involved. In the majority of places it would be best to have some senior person in charge of the junior division.

True, all first-rate workers are not necessarily ideal children's leaders. Each has his own talents. Some have a talent for music, some for writing, some for preaching, but those who can and will give their best for the children should not be encumbered with so many other duties that they must neglect the children.

The leader in the children's divisions must first of all love God and know Him as a personal Friend. He must enjoy sweet communion with his Father in prayer and Bible study. Second, he must love children. Children know a hireling. They can detect when a man or a woman would rather be in the senior division than working for them, and they resent such people. They may not understand their own emotions, but their actions say very plainly to all such, "I don't like you either." The more the hireling resents the children the worse they behave. The worse they are the more he resents them, until a breaking point is reached. But one who loves the children can usually find a responsive chord somewhere. Third, the good leader will devote time to his work. He will be constantly improving. He will use the books, magazine articles, and other helps available and make his teaching interesting and instructive.

The good leader is there on time to greet the children as they arrive and to give them a hearty welcome. His program is full of interest and delight. There are no dull moments or long intervals between parts. The songs, stories, exercises, and drills are purposeful. The children must have a leader who will feed them the bread of heaven in an appetizing manner.

No matter how good a leader may be, he cannot do his best without proper equipment. He may talk long and earnestly about being quiet in church, but if the floor is built out of thunder board and the chair legs have brass cymbals under them, the lesson on quietness is soon forgotten. The children's room should be attractive. The decoration and furnishing should help to inspire awe and reverence. When the teacher tells the class that someday they will walk on the streets of gold with the canopy of heaven above them and wondrous beauties to behold in every direction, and they look down at the hard cement floor and glance at the torn wallpaper hanging from he ceiling, their concept of heaven may be distorted.

The Children's Responsibility

But in spite of all these necessary precautions, the children themselves must learn to take the responsibility of being reverent in the house of God. It is inexcusable to allow a child to imagine that if the program isn't to his liking he is at liberty to misbehave.

Some misinformed persons would lead us to believe that the conduct of the children is the full responsibility of the leaders, that if the children become restless, inattentive, or even downright rude the leaders are always to blame. The children do not go to church to be entertained, but to meet with their Lord.

Each child has a responsibility of his own. Suppose the leader is disorganized, the speaker dull, and the music poor, does that give the child the right to turn into a hoodlum? Whether it is Sabbath morning or Tuesday afternoon, whether adults are present or not, the church is a sacred place and must be so regarded.

A child, regardless of his age, who will not behave, will not listen to his teacher, or heed the counsel of his leader is "too little" to be alone. He should be taken to his mother (or father) and left with her until he is "old enough" to control himself. As a rule it is not advisable for the mother to leave her class and accompany the child to his class.

The child should sit with her in her division. He will get far more good out of the senior class than he will in his own if he is bent on mischief. Two or three Sabbaths ought to be long enough for the average child to understand that wickedness will not be tolerated in the house of God, but if it takes longer for some, the time should be extended until complete victory is won.

This extreme measure will not be necessary in the great majority of cases. All children are likely to forget at times where they are and just what is proper behavior. But a knowing look or a touch on the hand is all that is needed to remind them.

Some may need a private visit with the teacher in order to get at the root of the problem. It may be that sitting next to Henry is too great a temptation. After he sees the point, he may suggest himself that he would like to sit next to the teacher.

At first someone might answer quickly, "Yes, by all means. Let him wear anything he likes; just keep him coming to church." Another may take a little more time to think things through and declare, "Sport clothes should not be worn in church."

We go over the problem with the mother and determine whether the desire to wear jeans to church is his major ambition or whether to be a man is what he most desire.

Reverence Is the Answer

In our eagerness to have children attend church with us we should never give the impression that the child is free to act in any way he desires. God is dishonored, angels are grieved, and the saints are robbed of their blessing when divine worship is disturbed by babies crying, small children running up and down the aisles, and teenagers whispering and laughing.

The church is no place for uncontroled children. The way some children misbehave makes the whole church service nothing short of burlesque. This is a sin. Visitors will remember the rude acts of these children but will retain nothing of the sermon. Hungry souls came to be fed, but the bread of life was snatched away from them.

A spiritual leader cannot permit children or anyone to desecrate the house of God. What should he do? Should he interrupt his sermon and reprimand the offender? Should he say nothing until after the service and have a personal talk with the ones concerned? Should the church board delegate the deacons to keep order? These and other methods have been used with more or less success, but one thing is certain if these children and their parents are to be saved they will have to learn to be reverent.

One preacher's soul was stirred within him when he moved to a new parish and found many rude children and indifferent parents in it. He preached a sermon on reverence. That did a great deal of good, but as can be expected some of those who needed the sermon the most were not there to hear it. He ordered a good supply of the Christian pamphlet about that issue and gave it to the parents who needed it. Within a few weeks an entire reformation had taken place in that church, and the children as well as the parents and other members were enjoying the services and were receiving the spiritual blessing God desired them to have.

Reverence is the highest form of courtesy known to man. Only intelligent human beings are capable of expressing their love in such a sublime manner.

Reverence enables one to do his best-
his movements will be the most graceful
his manner will be the most charming
his speech will be the most courteous
his singing will be the most melodious
his listening will be the most attentive
his thoughts will be the clearest
his prayer will be the most fervent
his meditations will be the most profound
his desires will be the loftiest
his faith will be the strongest
his devotion will be the sweetest
his love will be the most sublime.
Reverence opens the door into the sanctum, and prepares one to enter into the presence of God.

Archa O. Dart, former Assistant Secretary of Home and Parent Education at the General Conference.