Friday, January 20, 2012

Parenting in the Pew

If you're a Christian parent of young kids I highly recommend Parenting in the Pew by mother and pastor's wife Robbie Castleman. As with any book on parenting there are a few things I have reservations about, but I wholeheartedly endorse the main thrust, which is that training our children how to worship is a Christian parent's most important job. Worship is the one thing we get to do for all eternity.

Our oldest son is almost three, and at the point where my wife and I want to begin exposing him to what goes on in "big church." We want to begin exposing him to the rhythm of worship as expressed in the songs, creeds, and prayers of God's people. It's amazing how much he picks up! Needless to say to those who have experience with the Pre-K years, there are some big challenges to this. Honestly, it's much easier to drop him off at the nursery with his baby brother instead of struggling to keep him quiet and reasonably contained in a pew. Not only that our "worship experience" is much better without the distraction. But, and here we get to one of Castleman's best insights, that attitude betrays a typical contemporary mindset that worship is primarily for my benefit.

Here is how she explains it:

There is a big difference between worship B.C. and worship A.D.—worship "before children" and worship "after diapers"! I have heard more than a few parents confess, "I used to get more out of church before I had kids."

But the bigger issue is, what does God get out of worship? Worship is good for God. Worship concerns itself with his pleasure, his benefit, his good. Worship is the exercise of our souls in blessing God. In the Psalms we read or sing, "Bless the Lord, O my soul!" However, our chief concern is usually "Bless my soul, O Lord!" (p. 23)

Children can infringe on our worship experience. I know more than a few parents who have resented the distractions ushered into the pew by the presence of their children. Many just give up. However, children do not have to interfere with God's experience of worship! Worship is first a blessing to God, and he values the presence and praise of children (Matthew 18:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16). (p. 24)

Castleman suggests that often our reluctance to include children in worship is because we're worried about how their behavior will reflect on us as parents. While not minimizing the importance of teaching our kids how to be quiet in church, the highest priority is teaching them how to worship in church. Many adults learned how to be quiet in church, but they never learned to worship. No wonder so many of our worship services are cold and lifeless!

I really appreciated this book's focus on keeping children, even young ones, with their parents as much as possible during Lord's Day worship. This goes for the teenage years too, when your kids might rather sit with their friends than with you. Castleman isn't totally against children's church, but I think she calls it like it is when she writes: "Too many children's churches are cut-and-paste times to keep children occupied until the adult service is over." Instead, Sunday School and children's church should be "designed to train children in worship." (p. 60)

Sprinkled throughout this warmly written book are anecdotes from Castleman's own experience of parenting her two sons in the pew. Reading this book has inspired me to try and do the same with my two sons, despite the potential for frustration it could bring. Here's one more quote. . .

Parenting in the pew can be a hassle. Or it can be holy. It depends on who we are and how we see ourselves. Do we sit with our children "in church" or "in worship"? (p. 30)

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