Training Our Children to Worship
Posted in Keystone Magazine Articles
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
by Craig & Barbara Smith
This verse is a promise for us to claim. It is not a “probability”, that our children “might” not depart from the faith when they get older: it says they “will not depart from it.” Neither is it a verse to comfort us because our children have gone astray, saying that one day they will come back, as in: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will come back to it.”
No, if we train up our children in the way they are to go (the condition God lays on us before He will fulfil His promise), then God promises that they will not depart from it, even when the child is old! When we were expecting Genevieve (22 now), we went to Parent Centre as we prepared for her birth. The leader there made a comment that has influenced us ever since. She said, “Your children will grow up in spite of you.” We looked at each other and decided right there and then that we did not want our children growing up in spite of us. The comment reflected a nonChristian worldview wherein you just sort of take what comes and hope for the best. No, we would be involved a great deal in the training of our children. We would claim God’s promise in Proverbs 22:6.
As this promise indicates, we need to be training up our children in every area of their lives. Training them implies discipline and methodology, goals and objective standards. This needs to take place in every area, not just in some and hoping they’ll “turn out” (a baking term used in kitchens) ok in the other areas. And among all the areas of training, what greater one exists than training children in the worship of God? It is an activity with everlasting consequences. It is to be our all consuming vocation in this life as well as in the life to come. Psalm 111:10 tells us, “His praise endures forever.” Revelation 4:8-11 indicates that in heaven they do not cease to sing, praise and worship God, for ever and ever, Amen!
God Values the Praise of Children
We know this from passages like Matthew 19:13-15 or Mark 10:13-16, but we often have quite a sanitised and idealistic picture of Jesus blessing the little children, all standing orderly before Him, each in his or her own national costume….why the disciples would object to this is somewhat problematic, but we like the scenario nevertheless. Karl A. Hubenthal in Children & Worship says that this scene was possibly far from tranquil. These women and children may have walked a long way. The children were probably hungry, thirsty, tired, needing a change, one or two infants even screaming their lungs out. Yes, this raises implications for an orderly and reverent church service, which is why older folks need to be patient with parents as they train their children to worship. Maybe they could reserve the pews at the back or near the door especially for such families. Some churches have a sound-proofed room with speakers and a large window so little ones in training and their parents can still be part of the worship without unduly distracting others.
The Challenge of Worship
Think about it for a moment….exactly how are we training our children when it comes to worship? “Ssssshhhhh!!!! Be still!!!!” For many, that about sums it up. It perfectly describes the training Craig had. And Barbara hardly went to church. So we two are only just now starting to understand what it means to train our children to worship. Robbie Castleman’s book Parenting in the Pew showed us the vast difference between “going to church” and “going to worship”. When children are not trained to worship, “going to church” is about your only option. Castleman writes, “For many parents, sixty minutes in a pew with a squirmy toddler or a sulky teen can seem like forever! Worship can be the farthest thing from our minds when children are distracting.”
Wasn’t it Loyola of the Jesuits who said, “Give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man”? James Dobson in Dr Dobson Answers Your Questions also says that these first seven years are “prime time” for accomplishing the most important aspects of child training. We Christians must be doing something wrong in our training to worship, for we know exactly what Robbie Castleman means when she mentions squirmy toddlers and sulky teens. And haven’t most of us seen the heartache of teens who just plain refuse to come to church anymore? Sunday morning with children in the pew can be the longest hour of the week, or it can provide the very best preparation for eternal joy. To ensure it is the latter, we must actively train our children to worship, not just lessen the stress of that hour in the pew.
Castleman says, “Worship is not a refueling to get us through another week. Worship is not a system of traditions built up over many years of congregational life until everyone feels comfortable. Worship is not a time to unwind, relax, tune out or take a mental vacation. Worship is not an hour of Christian entertainment. It is not what makes us good people, faithful Christians or successful parents. Worship is the surrender of our souls to a God who is jealous for our attention, time and love. Worship is a challenge. With children it is a bigger challenge.”
We need to get our thinking right. Is going to worship primarily for our benefit or God’s? Romans 12:1 says, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” or “your reasonable service.” Worship is our reasonable service….that’s why it is called a worship service. But as living sacrifices, everything we do is to be an act of worship, our vocation being our calling from God, whether we eat or whether we drink, we are to do all to the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31). Castleman says, “Worship is the exercise of our souls in blessing God. In the Pslams we read or sing, ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul!’ However, our chief concern is usually ‘Bless my soul, O Lord!’” We need to change this kind of thinking. Worship is for God’s glory, not our benefit!
It is a true saying that today people worship their work, work at their play and play at their worship. Christians, we need to work at our worship. With children we will need to work harder. It is just like excelling at anything, says Castleman. “Great baseball players are not made in the bleachers. Ballet dancing is not learned by remote control. Children learn to worship by worshiping – through participation, practice and patience.”
We parents must personally be full of anticipation before worship and full of joy and celebration and reverence and holy fear during worship. Then our children can learn from our example. We do not want to be self-consciously wondering what others are thinking of the children’s behaviour nor full of resentment and frustration at having to control these unruly children when, before they were born, we could look forward to an hour of peace and quiet in the pew. Such activities of the mind are called “stinking thinking”, and are not a pleasant odour to bring before the altar of God. We cannot expect our children to worship, we cannot train them to do so, if we are having difficulty worshipping ourselves. Work at it!
Too many adults are simply being quiet in church, just as they were taught, but tragically remaining unmoved by the holy presence of God….and passing that on to their children. Training children to worship while there in the pew can help parents pay more attention to the worship service as well. Pastors of even the quietest congregations love it when to the rhetorical questions of Isaiah 6:8, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”, a wee five year old will answer, “I’ll go if mum will let me!” The little one was paying attention as well keen to be involved. Active listening may include a judiciously placed and clearly audible, “Amen!” in response to a point made by the preacher, as well as the usual positive body language and facial expressions.
Work at Our Worship
Though “worship” in the dictionary follows “worn-out”, “worry” and “worse”, let not your Sunday morning follow a similar sequence. The noticeable drop-out rate of older children is clear evidence that we need to do more than just get them to the church on time. Let us follow the fourth commandment: “Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.”
During the week
*Talk about preparations for worship
*Memorise and review scripture relating to the sermon
*Memorise the creeds, 10 commandments, prayers, etc.
*Teach children world geography and current events so they’ll recognise those items during the congregational prayers.
*Use family devotions as a time of training for worship (more on this later)
*Teach youth the meanings behind Psalms and hymns
*Plan big parties for Friday nights rather than for Saturday nights.
*Clean our homes
*Cook for Sunday
*Prepare clothes for Sunday (1 Samuel 16:7)
*Dress for worshipping God, not impressing others
*Wear comfortable clothes that will not be a distraction
*Wear modest clothes that will not be a distraction
*Prepare the tithes and offerings of yourself and your children. Train the children to be cheerful givers of their own money — 10% of $1.00 earned is important to God
*Prepare attitudes for Sunday – build a joyous expectation for worship
*Have an early night
*Don’t sleep in, causing Sunday morning to be rushed
*Have Psalms and hymns playing in the back-ground
*Have a good breakfast so children are not hungry during Church
*Make something special for breakfast
*Restrict liquid so children won’t need to visit the toilet during service
*Allow plenty of time to arrive and settle in at Church unrushed
*Ensure conversation in the car leads into the worship of God
*Before going into worship take children to the toilet
During Worship Service
*Family sit together
*Older women and older childless couples can help younger families in training by temporarily having certain children sit with them
*Children sitting with other children doesn’t help with training but only winds them all up.
*Aim to have no toys or colour-ins to keep them quiet and occupied. Try starting by making them wait for 10 minutes with no toys or colouring-in, then each Sunday extend the wait time longer until they don’t need these items anymore. Of course you are using the “wait time” to train them to worship.
*No going to the toilet unless there is a medical need.
*Help children and toddlers prepare for worship during the silent confession as well – young children can be quietly guided in this
*Older children can take notes.
*Younger children can draw picture portraits of the sermon, bur watch that it does not turn into doodling.
*Give young readers a list of key words for them to tick each time they hear the words spoken during the sermon.
*Parents work at the follow-through of training the child to worship: — We use our daily devotional time around the table to train the children how to behave as they should in Church. One will have the toddler on his/her knee and whisper, “We are praying now,” and we expect the toddler to pray as well. Use the same forms of discipline around the table as in Church. When the child’s behaviour is unacceptable, it is taken out of the dining room or church, dealt with, and brought straight back into church. Otherwise the child may see misbehaviour as a passport out of worship services, exerting his little will on you.
*Encourage children to sing or hum during singing no matter how young, just as at devotions at home. Make sure you are singing with gusto, according to the mood of the hymn.
*Trace a finger along the words of the hymn while singing – we also point out words the child already knows, and he will sing them while humming the rest.
*Sing church favourites at home so the children learn more quickly and can join in the congregational singing earlier.
*Have children stand up and sit down with the rest of congregation.
*Trace a finger along Bible passages as it is being read.
*Train the children to make the preacher’s prayers their silent prayers. Train them to pray themselves.
*Help the children listen to the sermon. Encourage them to listen by directing their attention to specific things: nudge and point; whisper, “Did you hear that?”, “Remember reading about that last week?” If children have questions during the service, write them down to answer afterwards if they require a long answer.
*Help the children see how the preacher’s point is relevant to them.
*During training time sit near the back or near doors so a quick exit to discipline or whatever is easy.
*Older children can write down their own questions to be answered after Church
*Children should stay near parents not running and bumping into older folks.
*Parents’ talk should always be edifying.
*No complaining about the service or other people.
*Practice hospitality by inviting others to lunch.
At Home After Worship
*Watch the talk in the car on the way home from worship – no complaining about the service, minister or people there, but let our talk be of how wonderful it was to be able to worship the Lord with His people.
*Go over the sermon with family and guests at lunch – review the highlights.
*Ask questions. If we expect our children to answer questions on the sermon afterwards, we’ll be surprised at how much they remember and how they begin to enjoy listening to the sermon.
*Visit those prayed about during the service and continue to pray for them as a family. Children will often remember better than we do those who need prayer.
*Do sermon post-mortems. Dr D.M. Lloyd-Jones says in his book Life in the Spirit in Marriage, Home and Work, “What are parents to do? They are to supplement the teaching of the church, and they are to apply the teaching of the church. So little can be done in a sermon. It has to be applied, to be explained, to be extended, to be supplemented. That is where the parents play their part.”
They Don’t Understand the Sermon
JC Ryle in The Duties of Parents says, “What I like to see is a whole family sitting together, old and young, side by side, – men, women, and children, serving God according to their households.” There’s that idea again of corporate worship being a service rendered to God, rather than something we attend to get something out of. He answers the objection often raised that little ones cannot understand the sermon by showing how neither Samuel nor the Apostles seemed to understand, yet they did their duty (I Samuel 3:7, John 12:15).
Do we go to church or do we go to worship? As Castleman says, “God must be real in our experience of faith. He must be known and encountered. We cannot be satisfied with worship that simply fulfills social and religious obligations.” It is clear also that we will not be satisfied with worship that simply fulfills social and religious obligations…..our children will not stick around if that’s all it is.
There are already countless activities specifically for children. But corporate worship is unique. This is where children belong: within the family of God, as one body, worshipping Him. Like home education, there are many wanting to break it up, who insist on special programmes just for children. But remember, worship is to serve God, not to serve children, although of course children’s best interests are served as they perform with you this service of worship.
Christian parents, brothers and sisters in Christ, there is no greater calling in our lives as Christians than to raise up the next generation of faithful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. Surely within that calling, the most noble, the most necessary, the most foundational task is to ensure our children have been thoroughly trained to properly, earnestly, honestly, from the heart and soul and mind and strength, offer their reasonable service, their spiritual worhip to God the Father Almighty in the name of His only begotten Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
From Keystone Magazine
July 2002, Vol. VIII No. 4
PO Box 9064
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