The Family at Church – Week 3
This week’s readings in Scott Brown’s book, The Family at Church, focused on two major topics: Practical advice for keeping children attentive during worship gatherings and helping children learn to love singing with the gathered church.
“Keeping children of all ages with you in church services can be tough sledding. It creates interesting situations – sometimes exasperating situations. It can be embarrassing and distracting. Having little children with you can feel like you just missed half the sermon. You start thinking that your children missed the whole sermon . . . It is easy to get frustrated” (p. 99).
Well, many of you might have been relieved that he started the chapter off with this admission! God’s way is often the hard way. The way our flesh hates, because our flesh is spiritually dead and lazy. But the author goes on to say, “Keeping your children with you often exposes defiant hearts, right in front of God and everybody.” And I agree with him that this is not necessarily a bad thing.
“Deliberate preparation is very helpful to children who sit in church services” (p. 100).
“The best way to prepare your children for church meetings is to maintain daily worship in the home . . . well-ordered family worship is indispensable for preparing them for Sunday” (p. 101).
Bingo! By God’s grace, my wife and I began in-home family worship when our oldest daughter was about 4-5 years old, and our youngest daughter was newborn. Nothing, I repeat, nothing, made more difference spiritually in ALL of our lives. Our girls were given Divine grace to grow into worshipers. Worship was a way of life for us in our home, and our church gatherings were glorious extensions of it. If you need a practical guide for implementing family worship, I recommend Donald Whitney’s book, Family Worship: In the Bible, In History, and In Your Home.
On p. 103, Scott Brown addresses the idea that toddlers, or two-year olds, simply cannot be expected to obey. He says, “Unfortunately, this principle is usually a prophesy. You pretty much get what you expect.”
“Here is a dose of reality: when a child can sit still, he is teachable, under authority, and able to exercise self-control. This is a pathway to success in later years” (p. 103).
Amen! When our girls were little, we would hold “Sit Still Drills” in our home. They would be placed in a chair and told to sit still and quietly until we told them otherwise. No wiggling. No talking. No sleeping. Just practice sitting still. We started out with just a minute or two at first, and gradually increased the time. We would sometimes leave the room, pop back in to check on them, and so on. Any disobedience was corrected with loving, biblical discipline. Sometimes, if our girls wiggled too much in a worship gathering or flirted with being noisy, when we got home we disciplined them, and then immediately had them do a more lengthy “Sit Still Drill.” I think our grown girls would testify to the gracious effectiveness.
“Don’t be afraid to leave the service to get your child back on track. You should not take them out for every little peep. But if it becomes too distracting for the other worshipers, or if they are flat out rebelling, please do the whole church a favor and take them out” (p. 103).
Good counsel. I would only add to remember not everyone around you may have the same tolerance for ceaseless noises, or crying, or squirming as you do. “Think of others more highly than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). And in our church, we have a Family Room designed precisely for parents to train children to sit in a worship gathering and learn to participate well. Please use it!
“My experience is that a common denominator of unrestrainable children in the worship service is a father who is not taking personal responsibility. Of course, husbands and wives need to work together on this” (p. 105).
Yes and amen! And moms of boys must grasp that often only Dad’s authority will seal the deal here. Dads must lead out in this matter. And wives must embrace their husband’s loving authority to do so.
Citing another author, Brown says, “it is hard to hit the moving object of a distracted soul” (p. 107).
Thus begins a chapter with practical advice on helping remove distractions from your child during worship. Children today are hyper-distracted. Good parenting demands much more strict controls of screen times, and phones (which I argue no child needs until they are driving). These devices are literally re-wiring our brains and destroying our attention spans. The proliferation of psychological diagnoses of ADD or ADHD are mere symptoms of this obsession with online devices. Remove them! Not just on Sundays. But minimize them throughout the week.
This is why, by the way, I often exhort our members to bring “real Bibles” to worship or Bible study. While I am thankful we have access to God’s Word on our phones, a growing body of research is now showing us that reading from a device does not cause the same synapses in our brains to fire as reading from an actual page. In other words, reading a real book forces more long-term focus, and encourages perseverance as you can see how many pages are in the chapter, how many paragraphs in the passage, etc. Real pages force our brains to search for the logic of an argument, to see connections between words and phrases. Not to mention, when you, as a parent, pull out a phone in a worship gathering, you are teaching your children. You are modeling for them. And they might get the wrong impression because to them phones are for Instagram and Tik-Tok. Pull out a big, leather-bound Bible. And teach your children to sit with an open Bible, following along if they can read. You can have them circle words the pastor emphasizes. Underline a phrase. And discuss them later at home.
In our church, we have various children’s sermon note-taking guides available each week. Use them!
“Relax. Knowledge is cumulative. Learning is always a slow pile-up of truth. They don’t need to hear everything or understand everything” (p. 109).
“Train them to keep their eyes on the preacher” (p. 110).
“True churches experience authentic community” (p. 113).
This chapter is a goldmine of reminders that churches are made up of sinners being conformed to the image of Jesus. Every Christian is a work-in-progress. As relational strains arise, or disagreements are expressed, these are only opportunities for everyone to grow more like Jesus. To practice mortifying the deeds of the flesh. To put on Christ. Far too many Americans who profess Christ want “easy church.” By which they mean no offenses ever given or taken. Nobody ever disagrees with me or God forbid rebukes me. I am never made to feel uncomfortable. Never expected to push through conflict and resolve it God’s way – with confession of sin, humility, repentance, forbearance and forgiveness. Church-hopping is endemic in America. And our children are watching and learning. What if Jesus treated you the way you treat others in the church, or the church at-large?
“Christian parents are divinely appointed singing teachers” (p. 117).
Non-musical parents are likely to be scared to death of such a statement. Yet, God commands His people to sing! It’s not optional. So, sing to God together in your homes. Fill your homes with the music of Zion. Music is a gift of God to move our affections. Children all love music. It’s only a matter of what kind of music we will fill our hearts and homes with day-by-day. Why not ask your church to publish the songs that will be sung in worship for the next week or month (if your church plans that far ahead)? Then sing those songs with your children.
Few things bless me as deeply as a pastor than the sound of children and teens singing out to God in our worship gatherings. O, it is a foretaste of heaven!
“Make sure you use the Bible to teach your children how to sing in church” (p. 121).
This chapter is chocked full of practical advice on how to teach your children what songs are designed by God to do. Songs of the church declare our faith and doctrine. Move us emotionally to respond to God in faith or devotion. Singing encourages and teaches others around us (It’s not just Jesus and me). Songs in church proclaim the gospel of how a holy God saves unholy sinners by the righteous life, atoning death and powerful resurrection of Jesus. Singing fixes our gaze upon “things above.” Singing strengthens our souls. Our children will remember the hymns and spiritual songs of the church far more than they will remember the three points of a sermon. This is not at all to discount how God’s Spirit works through His Word. But godly songs are Word-saturated, and thus the Spirit also deeply impresses the truths of Scripture into our hearts by way of song.
It is no accident that some of the most raw, real, heart-rending praise and worship to God in the Bible is found in the . . . Psalms.
I praise God that my own childhood was crammed full of lyrics and tunes like this:
My sin, O the bliss, of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
(It is Well With My Soul, Horatio Spafford)
by Keith McWhorter