Child Training for God's Servants
Ginger Geftakys wrote this pamphlet on training Assembly children sometime after 1989. Note that she carefully avoids any mention of spanking, pinching, shaming or isolation, using instead the ambiguous word 'correction'. The teaching on spanking and other 'consequences' was given verbally, not committed to print. Editor's note: One of my biggest regrets is that I was responsible for rearing my own children this way, and teaching it to Assembly parents by precept and example. Another major regret is that we allowed ourselves to be coerced into putting one of our children in Cornerstone Academy.
Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth. (Ps. 26:8)
David loved God's house. To be in God's presence was his chief joy. As parents, we want our children to develop that same appreciation for the house of God. Our goal is to see our children flourish as God's servants and participate with His people in their calling as a holy priesthood.
For them to be able to make their contribution in the meetings, we must prepare them in specific ways. Beginning as babes, and continuing through childhood, there are many ways of training our children to cultivate an understanding of and love for the things of God.
The following is a summary of training suggestions for you to use to prepare your children for the weekly meetings. [See reader's comment below about this overall goal.] Like steps, they build upon one another. These things must be taught and practiced consistently and thoroughly. Remember, we don't want just well-behaved children who are quiet in the meetings. We want to see young devoted servants for Christ formed. This formation will occur only through your training and God's enabling.
Attitude of the Parents
Your attitude is contagious! Do you love to come with God's people to worship? Your child can tell if you do. Talk about your joy and anticipation to go to the meetings. Communicate your enthusiasm in your conversation at breakfast or dinner before the meetings as well as in the car on the way to the meetings. Let your child hear you talk with your spouse in the car on the way home about how the Lord spoke to you. Expect your child to listen to some of the ministry and ask him about what he heard. Your attitude will affect your child's attitude more than any other single thing you do to train him for the meetings. The joy of the Lord is your strength. Let it be seen and heard by your child every day and every week all through the years!
As part of your attitude, teaching your child respect is crucial. Keep in mind as you train that the way you allow your child to respond to you is the way he will respond to others. And it is the way he will respond to God. If you want him to have respect towards any others, you first must teach him to respect you. Teaching first-time obedience is equivalent to teaching respect, for in obeying your command the first time you give it, you are teaching your child to esteem, honor and defer to your will.
By obeying you, he is learning to consider another above himself. This attitude of deference and respect then can be transferred to situations outside the home as you teach him how to respond to others. From the simplest form of respect in greeting an adult to the more difficult form of respect for another's differing point of view, all begin with your commitment to teach respect to your child.
Training in Babyhood
Most of your training relative to the meetings during the first six months of life concerns getting your little one on a schedule that flows well with the activities of your life. This includes teaching your baby when to sleep, wake, eat and play. Plan the times for these things to coincide with the times of the weekly meetings. You want your baby to be sleeping as much as possible during meeting times, so make sure the baby's naps each day correspond to these activities. If the Sunday meeting is from 9:30-12:30, you need to make sure your baby is sleeping during this same time at home during the week.
That means NO errands in the car with baby in the car seat during this time. Otherwise you disturb his sleep pattern and your training is more difficult. Remember, the key word in training is consistency. Do your errands during the baby's waking times, not his sleeping times.
Second, during these first six months, get your baby used to hearing you say, "Head down"each time he goes down for his nap. Of course he won't understand what it means for the first few months, but this is your first place of training. If he hears this continually for four months, then when his neck muscles are strong enough to lift his head when you want him to put it down, you can begin the training for it more easily.
In addition to teaching him to put his head down on his mat and in his crib, teach him also to put his head down on your shoulder and to rest on your lap by straddling your lap and resting his head against your chest. Don't wait for the meetings to do this. Do it at various times during the day at home--when the child is sleepy, when he is awake but you want him to calm down and be still, when you are at the table and he is getting a bit fussy, or just for the sake of training him to put his head down.
Finally, keep in mind that during the baby months you are forging strong bonds of love and security. Your baby needs you to hold him much of the time because he needs your physical touch. So when you come to the meetings, don't think that you must now isolate your child on the mat for the duration of the meeting. Hold him and sing together at the beginning and end of the meetings.
When he wakes from his nap too early and needs a bit more rest or sleep, but you know he won't go back to sleep on the mat, feel free to have I him sit on your lap and rest against you. Just say, "Head down" as you have trained him at home and let him sleep on your lap. You also can let him sit quietly on your lap when he is awake and you can see he is running out of self-control on the mat.
Once your baby isn't napping as much in the meetings and is awake more, it becomes more difficult to keep him under control. (The ages from 7 months through 14 months seem to be the hardest for both baby and mom!) So break up the child's time on the mat by letting him sit on your lap--not to play, but to be held by you. Then when he is calm again, in perhaps 15-30 minutes, he will want to return to the mat.
When your child is about six months old you can begin mat training. However, you first must get your child used to the mat as a safe and fun place to be. At two months of age, start putting him on the mat for a little while each day. Let him take one of his daily naps there sometimes.
Put the mat wherever you are with all the accompanying lights and noise, even some good music. This will get him used to sleeping in the meetings with the various levels of noise in preaching, singing and praying. If your baby sleeps only in the quiet and darkness of his own room he will not be able to sleep well in the meetings. But if you vary his sleeping place (though keeping his sleeping times the same) he can learn to sleep anywhere. By the time he is six months old and you are ready to begin mat training, your baby will be well acquainted with his mat.
Training for Ages 1-3
By the time your child is 1, your mat training should have been in your schedule for about six months. The purpose of mat training is to teach your child to play alone quietly so that when you come to the meetings together he can be awake yet quiet for a while. The mat time should be a daily scheduled time that is a priority in your day, especially when your child is very young. You can begin this around six months or when you see your child is developing some capacity to play and entertain himself.
Start with 15 or 20 minutes a day for this age. Use the mat or blanket you use at the meetings and have your child play on it, keeping all his body parts within the perimeter of the mat. Let him have only one toy at a time to play with rather than many. This helps to develop his power of concentration.
In order to teach him to play quietly, you must give him a verbal command when you set him on the mat. A simple phrase such as, "Play quietly" or "No talking" is fine. At first when he makes noise, put your hand over his mouth and repeat your command. After a period of time however, you will need to use correction. It's fine to leave him on the mat when you correct him rather than removing him and making a big ordeal of it. Then when he stops crying, you can get him right back into the play situation and again tell him to play quietly. Be sure to praise him when he does well and obeys you.
As his attention span increases with time, you can give him several things to play with, but never load his mat with toys and books. By the time your child is 18 months old, he has the capacity to play by himself for a long enough period of time to be able to last throughout the morning meeting.
Whether or not he actually can do so depends on your training and how you have been using his mat times at home to stretch his ability to control himself and play quietly. It also depends on how well you manage his time during the meeting so that he doesn't have to do the same thing for too long a span. Remember, capacity takes time to develop. If you start at 6 months with 15 minutes and your goal is to reach two hours by 18 months you can plan accordingly. But you must be diligent and patient!
When you are at the meetings keep track of how your child is doing on the mat. Don't ignore him. Young children run out of the capacity to entertain themselves quickly and you need to be ready to change your child's environment when that happens. If you maintain awareness of him you often can prevent a crying episode that would take you both out of the meeting simply by picking him up or rearranging his play area.
You also can let him stand up next to his mat in front of you and hold on to your leg or chair for a stretch of time. You don't want him to hold onto the chair in front of him because that might distract someone, but you can let him stand by you as long as he doesn't get too bouncy or walk around on the mat.
Do not use the meetings as a place to train your child. Rather, consider the meeting a time to see how well your child has learned what you taught him that week. When he has difficulty on the mat or keeping his head down or is too fussy, you will see what you need to give attention to during the following week.
If your child needs to be taken out of the meeting, keep his time out as short as possible. Don't let him play or walk around. Otherwise he will begin to fuss regularly just to get you to remove him from the structured environment of the meeting to the more unstructured one of the bathroom or back room.
During the second half of the first year (around nine months), you can begin giving your child a regular time in the day to be by himself and play alone. At first, of course, he will not know what to do and will think that you have just gone away. He might spend the entire time crying. That is fine--this is his time to do whatever he wants to do, and when he understands that you are not going to rescue him because of his tears he will begin to do other things. Start with 30 minutes or so and increase the time to one hour over the next couple of months. By the time he is one year old he will be able to entertain himself quite well for the entire hour.
Even though your child is playing alone, be sure to check on him regularly. It's fine for him to be able to see you in another room and even to hear your voice; this is especially comforting to him in the early months while he is adjusting to not being able to be with you every time he wishes.
You want to be sure he is safe during his play-alone time, so from time to time peek in on him but do not let him see you every time. You also want to make sure he isn't doing something you have forbidden, such as writing on the walls or screaming at the top of his lungs. Teach him to stay in his room with the door open by placing a long piece of string or yarn on the floor at the doorway and teaching him not to go past it. (You can use the yarn boundary for other rooms in the house as well, such as the kitchen.)
As a result of playing alone each day, your child will not only develop his ability to entertain himself, but will also develop the mental capacity to concentrate on one thing for long periods of time. This essential skill will serve him well in school and in the meetings while listening to the preaching of the Word. So you can be encouraged that by setting aside an hour each day for your child to play alone and pursue his own interests, you are actually broadening his capabilities to be a better thinker, a better listener, and, in the long run, a better student and servant for the Lord. You will find that this hour alone will serve him well throughout the years of childhood and beyond.
Behaviors for the Meetings
As soon as your child is able to understand you, begin to communicate your expectations for his behavior at the meetings. You can do this easily while you are driving there. For a very young child who cannot answer you in sentences yet, phrase your command to get a "Yes, Mama" or "Okay, Mama" response.
When he is old enough to speak in sentences, use questions that require a more complete response: "What are you going to do when it is time to sit on your mat?" "What are you going to do when it is time for the Lord's Supper?" "What are you going to do when it is time to lie down?" "What are you going to do when it is time to clean up your toys?" By asking questions rather than telling him what to do you are getting your child to engage his will, tune into your expectations and keep them in the front of his thinking. Do this each Sunday morning as well as during the week for the evening meetings.
Children become verbal during these years. You can teach your child to fold his hands and pray with you. Teach him to stand quietly during pre-prayer by teaching him at home to stand quietly for prayer during family devotions. Teach him to sing by singing to him every day and he will begin to imitate you.
As soon as he can stand on his own in one place for a few minutes, let him stand at the beginning of the meetings to sing with the saints. If he is awake at the end of the meeting, let him join the singing again, either standing on the floor or on the chair to share your hymn book. You can prepare him for this by saying to him: "Since you can stand up so well in devotions, now you get to stand up and sing the first song at the meetings with all the saints."
In this way you show him that his participation in the meeting is a reward he has earned by his obedience and efforts. As you expect him to participate more, continue to phrase your expectations in words such as these that will communicate your approval of him and show him that he is ready for his next privilege in God's house.
During the ministry, put your child on your lap sometimes just so he can sit still and listen. This will help him develop a reverence for the Lord's presence and the ability to concentrate on hearing the preaching of the Word. During the Lord's Supper do not let him play on his mat. He should sit still during this time, whether on your lap or in his own chair.
This applies to all ages. We want our young children to be tuned in to the Lord's presence, especially during this part of the worship. So remove all the distractions and let him observe and learn. If you must stay home on a Sunday, have your own little time of worship at home. Sing the first verse of some worship hymns and let each one pray. In this way you can begin teaching your child about the way to participate in the worship.
As you can see, the emphasis of your efforts is to increase your child's capacity for worship and participation in the meetings as he grows. So his play time naturally decreases as his involvement in the meetings increases. As his play time decreases in the meetings, his mat training time at home also decreases once he is able to remain quiet throughout the meetings (with the exception of occasional outbursts).
Don't eliminate mat times at home all at once; however. He still needs regular times of practice at this at home. And you can use the mat time to your advantage. For example, spread out the mat near the kitchen when you are preparing a meal, or in the room you are cleaning. That gives your child a controlled area to play in while you do some work, and you can still attend to him if he needs correction.
But be clear in the direction you give him. If you want him to play without talking, make sure you tell him this and follow up if he disobeys. Don't tell him "No talking" and then let him talk a little while later. If you don't mind him talking while he plays on the mat, it might help if you use another blanket for him to sit on rather than his mat. That way it is easier for him to remember the mat is only for quiet play. But you still need to give him a clear instruction to let him know he can talk.
Teach your child that he is not to converse with you during meetings. You can work out little signs to use when he has a true need to tell you something and give simple, whispered commands when you want him to do something. But you must train him to know that while the meeting is going on, all of you are there to hear the Lord speak, not to hear each other speak.
Finally, don't underestimate the importance of praise. Teaching these things requires your continual attention and discipline, but remember your child also needs to know how well he is doing. Simple words of praise, such as "Good job!" and smiles and hugs from you for obedient responses are essential to child training.
In addition to praising your child at home for obedience, praise him for the things he does well at the meeting. Use your family's time together at dinner to praise him in front of everyone. By saying such things as, "You did a good job playing on your mat today;" or "I am proud of you for keeping your head down even when you were awake," or "I really like the picture you drew of the brother who was preaching," or "You sang very well today," you ensure that your child will try hard again the next week because he will want to please you.
If your child has not done as well as you would have liked, or if you are just beginning to train him, don't make the harmful mistake of labeling him "a bad child." Talk only about his behavior, not his character. Refer to the specifics of his disobedience, such as, "You didn't obey Mama when I told you to lie down," or "When I told you to put your toys away you started fussing." Then you give the appropriate consequence for his behavior.
Even if his behavior requires correction when you get home, be sure you also tell him what he did well. Your child is a planting of the Lord. Discipline is the necessary weed-killer that roots out the seeds of rebellion. But loving words of kindness and praise for obedience are the fertilizer and the sunshine and the rain that make that planting grow!
By age four, your child should be able to participate in the beginning of all the meetings. This includes standing quietly in pre-prayer, singing the hymns at the beginning of the meetings, as well as the first 20-30 minutes of Sunday morning. You should have been building his capacity for this by having him stand and sing from the time he knows how to stand up and stand still on his own.
When your child is 4 1/2 and ready to begin Childrens' Hour, he generally has the capacity to participate in most of the morning hour of worship on Sunday. Although it is difficult for him to stand for the entire hour, you can help him by allowing him to sit down for some of the prayers then stand again for the hymns.
When he sits for the prayers, don't allow him to play, although you might allow him to have a Bible storybook on his lap. But keep in mind that you are moving him away from mat time/play time toward more involvement and participation in the meetings. So now is a good time to let him have his own chair placed on top of his mat. This will encourage him to be a part of what is going on. It's good for him to just sit and listen rather than to have a book in his lap all the time.
You probably have been reading to your child for some years now, and by four years of age children can easily remember the sequence of events in a story. So now is a good time to begin doing "chapter summary" together. Read the chapter to your child a day or two ahead of the Bible study. Discuss it using simple language and let your child think of a title for it that he then can share at the Bible study.
In addition to this, he should be able to sit in the meeting and draw pictures from the ministry for thirty minutes or so. He can draw a picture of the brother preaching or something simple from a verse that is read. Let him tell you what he has drawn after the meeting is over and be very enthusiastic over his efforts. This will spur him on to greater things.
By age four your child is doing more listening and less playing in the meetings. Expect him to get a thought from times of ministry as well as from family devotions. Even if he only repeats the last thought that was shared, he is tuning in to the words and you want to encourage that. Look for ways to expand his ability to concentrate on what others say.
One good way is to have him learn to repeat whole sentences that you say at home or that brothers say when preaching. Another good way to expand his mental capacity is to teach him memory verses at home or help him memorize the verses he is learning in Childrens' Hour. Children at this age can learn whole Psalms or passages from Scripture. And how excited they are when they hear brothers preach from verses they have committed to memory!
Once your child has entered Kindergarten he will begin to learn how to print letters of the alphabet. If he hasn't been copying the outline from the board, now is a good time to let him start doing so. Get him a notebook or pad of paper so he can copy letters as well as draw a picture. Let him use crayons or markers to trace over the letters and color in the drawings.
When your child is five, you can begin teaching him what it means to have a morning time. Set aside ten or fifteen minutes several times a week for this purpose. Choose simple portions of the Word, such as the Psalms or the gospels, to read together. Read a short section to your child and ask him to tell you what it said.
Teach him how to pray about what he learned from it and have a short time of prayer together. Let your child pray for himself as well as others. Later, when he has learned how to print the letters of the alphabet, he can begin recording one of the verses he read in his morning time. Establish these times in the Word as a habit with your child. But keep them simple and short. If you do this, your child will maintain this habit on his own as he learns to read.
Five-year-olds are well able to alternate standing and sitting for the duration of the worship time. In addition, they also should be sitting quietly during the Lord's Supper. Then, if you are having your child draw something from the ministry for the first 20 minutes or so, that leaves them a little more than an hour to play quietly, if they do not take a nap.
Keep in mind that this play time will diminish as the child gets older. Since five and six-year-olds are doing some writing and drawing, you should be decreasing the amount of toys and books they bring to the meetings. By the time your child is in third or fourth grade, depending on how well he can read, he should not bring anything to the meetings other than his Bible, hymn book, notebook and pens.
In the evenings before you put your child to bed, read to him and pray with him. He needs to have a time each evening when he confesses his sins to the Lord. Although you have been dealing with the sins throughout the day, your child still needs to learn that he is accountable to God for the things he has done.
And teach him how to pray for others during this time. If he learns to do this early in life, it will teach him how to go to the Lord in his times of conflicts with others, and it will teach him how to labor in prayer. Pray with your child every night for many years to come.
First graders are learning to read and write. Your child will begin to recognize words printed on the board as well as verses in his Bible. Now you can expect him to copy the board at each meeting as well as print and illustrate some verses. At home, expect him to be able to repeat a whole verse (if it is not too long) the first time you read it. In addition, he can record a verse in his journal each time you have a morning time together.
Six-year-olds are also learning to count up to higher numbers, so you can teach your child how to begin to find the hymns being sung. He also can begin to learn to follow along in the hymn book as you point to the words.
Second-graders are learning to read and spell words at a rapid rate. By the middle of the second grade year, if your child is an average reader, he should be able to read many of the words written on the board during meetings and seminars. Therefore, expect him to print what is on the boards at the beginning of the meetings.
He now is able to begin a simple form of taking notes because he is learning to make up and write his own sentences at school. Even if he doesn't know how to spell all the words correctly, he can still write out a few sentences from ministry. Have him listen to the brother preaching and write down a little bit of what he is saying. Watch what he is doing and you will learn what to help him with and what to praise him for.
When he tires let him continue to listen and draw pictures. A little later he can write more or copy some of the verses the brothers are reading. Your child might have memorized the order of the books of the Bible in school or Childrens' Hour, and now that he is learning to recognize their names you can help him turn to them. After the meetings are over, take a few minutes to go over the things he has written down and praise him for his efforts.
Eight and nine-year-olds (third and fourth-graders) are becoming independent readers. They have the capacity to read most or all of what is written on the board as well as most of the words in the verses read. Their spelling also is improving steadily. So extend the time of listening and taking notes accordingly. If your child is reading well at these ages, now is the time to make the transition to no other books or toys in the meeting. Even though he might not be able to concentrate and take notes the entire time, he should not have other things to distract him. When you see he has done what he could, he can draw in his notebook or just listen.
Let me say a word about sitting with friends during the meetings. In general, this practice is not recommended for two reasons. First, the meetings are a time for the family to be in the Lord's presence together. Second, when friends sit together it tends to distract both children. The purpose of being in the meeting is to hear the Lord speak, not to be with a friend. Even if they only pass notes to one another they have tuned the Lord out. They can find plenty of time to play and talk together after the meeting.
Now is an appropriate time to teach your child to have his own morning time. If you try to do this before he is an independent reader, he might get discouraged and think it is too hard. If he can't read the Word on his own, a morning time without your assistance will be meaningless. But when he can read and write on his own he is ready to start spending time in the Word alone.
Still, you need to show him how to do this and help him select the portions he reads so they are manageable for him. Expect him to share what he gets from his morning time at breakfast. In the evening around the dinner table discuss how the Lord has met each of you. When he shares, let him know you can see the Lord is speaking to him. Once he has begun to have morning times successfully make sure it becomes a daily habit, a part of his regular routine. Though he will go through rough times here and there, if he has learned the habit of seeking the Lord, he will return to it for the rest of his life.
Sometime during third and fourth grade, many parents wonder when to stop bringing the child's mat to the meeting. The answer is simply when he is not sleeping at home during that time. If your child goes to bed between 7:30-9:30 during the week, he should also lie down at the meetings. Although he might like to stay up past his bedtime, he will suffer for it the next day at school (and so will his teacher). Even if he participates in the chapter summary, he can still lie down for an hour afterward.
Third and fourth-graders are capable of doing entire chapter summaries. Expect your child to. Set aside a sufficient amount of time to do this before the evening of the Bible study. Encourage him to enter into his privilege. If he still needs your help to read and understand the chapter, make sure you set aside time in your afternoon schedule for this.
At the meetings, expect active, joyful, meaningful singing. Be on time to pre-prayer. Be sure to talk about the ministry on the way home and include your child in the discussion. All these things will provoke him to take an active part in the meetings and make his unique contribution. Be assured, you will get the product you expect and work for.
Praise ye the LORD...let the children of Zion be joyful in their King. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth. (Ps. 149:1-2,6)
Here are reports from grown-up 'Assembly Kids' about how this approach worked out in their lives:
Comments from readers:
September 17, 2006 C. T. J.: "There was a popular child-training movement in the 1990s called “Growing Kids God’s Way.” It came out of John MacArthur's Grace Community Church, though the church later renounced it, and Focus on the Family objected to it as well. After being involved with the program for awhile, I told my wife we are leaving it, because its intent was clear: to force children’s behavior to be that most convenient to the parents.
"In this document, Ginger Geftakys threw an insidious curve: the intent of this information is clearly to make the child’s behavior as convenient as possible for the meetings! This is operant conditioning (think Pavlov’s dogs) of the worst kind. Your focus of early childhood development is to control their behavior for those three hours on Sunday and two hours in the evenings? Though in reality it is very good training for a lifetime of devoted service to George Geftakys' Heavenly Vision. How are Ginger's kids doing? Just wondered."
Editor's response: Thank you for the feedback. You make a very important point. The Ezzo's program is very similar to Assembly instruction regarding child rearing.
Ginger very, very often kept her children home from meetings, ostensibly because of health issues, so her daughters did not receive anywhere near the full brunt of the conditioning taught in the pamphlet. It has been reported by a single person who lived in their home that she gave them art lessons during absences from the Assembly meetings!
More about Assembly Child Training
The blog post Does discipline produce godly character? critiques Assembly child training. Two former members have also written about their observations in Child Training...or Child Abuse?, and Infant Abuse in the Assembly.
The Growing Kids God's Way and On Becoming Babywise programs developed by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo were used to undergird Assembly teaching on children. The Ezzos were formerly very involved in John MacArthur's Grace Community Church where Gary was an elder. At some point, the elder board became alarmed at certain elements in their teaching and issued a public statement distancing the church from it. Grace Church now has a website devoted to the problems with the Ezzo program. In earlier years the Assembly used What the Bible Says about Child Training by Richard and Virginia Fugate. Here are some readers' comments on the Fugate program.