As a pastor of a Reformed church that maintains the historic practice of parents worshiping with their children, I have sometimes heard parents voice objections to this tradition. For some, there are simply too many hurdles to overcome. As a parent of four covenant children myself, I sympathize with many of the concerns I hear from parents. Quite honestly, the practice of the family pew can be exhausting. But no matter how much we may feel frazzled, frustrated, and overwhelmedat having our children with us in worship, it never warrants throwing in the towel. There are good answers to the objections of the modern (and sometimes frustrated) parent. What follows are responses to some of the more common objections I have heard:
“My children are so young; they don’t understand everything in the sermon.”
It is true that when children are very little they won't be able to follow an expository sermon from beginning to end. But that is alright. They should still be in worship anyway. As they grow, they will begin to understand more and more. The first thing they should come to understand is the fact that they have been baptized into the church and belong to a Christian family. They, like their parents, are not their own, but belong body and soul to Christ. Corporate worship, therefore, is part of the warp and woof of growing up as part of the covenant community. It is a huge part of their idenity.
Secondly, covenant children need to witness the importance of corporate worship to their parents. Fathers and mothers: Do your children see your joy and enthusiasm about coming to the means of grace? Do their little eyes see the value you place on receiving from the Lord in Word and Sacrament? Do they understand that this is a priority for you and their family? Do you make an effort for them to understand that being called to worship weekly is not only God’s requirement of his people, but also our joyful privilege? Do you seek to make it a joy for them as well? It is important that we help our children understand (as inconceivable as it may seem to them!) that corporate worship is the highlight of every Christian’s week.
As early as possible get into the regular practice of asking your children what they did understood about the sermon. Without turning it into an interrogation or lecture, gently question them and explain a few basic concepts from the sermon which they might grasp. The regular routine of this practice is priceless. Like most things we do consistently as a family, our children will come to expect this practice and, in all likelihood, begin to listen more carefully and systematically to the sermon. Moreover, you will have countless opportunities to draw upon the text explained by the pastor and teach your children.
Above all, don’t give up. Pray for the graces of their spiritual understanding and your perseverance.
“But I have a squirmer! It is difficult for me to worship and pay attention during the service.”
You are hardly alone. Since the days of Seth, when “people began to call upon the name of the LORD” in worship (Gen 4.26), covenant families have been blessed with squirmy little ankle-biters. This is nothing uncommon. Still, a fidgety, restless child in worship can test the patience of the holiest of moms and dads. But be encouraged. It is only for a season that they are so small. Think long-term. Their spiritual nurture and development (as well as yours!) takes place over a lifetime. In most cases, the wiggly years will pass. As Robbie Castleman put it in her excellent little book, Parenting in the Pew, “It has been said that modern people worship their work, work at their play, and play at their worship. We need to work at our worship. With children, we often have to work harder.” This is especially true with our little ones in the younger years. Prepare ahead of time the best you can. Be creative. Remember that you are part of a worshiping community. Persevere in prayer!
“We are new to the Reformed faith; my kids are accustomed to going to a youth program during the service.”
Many of us were not privileged to grow up in a Reformed church. But, by God’s grace, we have come to discover the riches of Reformed Christianity and therefore cherish the theology and worship for the biblical gold it is. Nevertheless, the adjustments aren’t always easy. If we got a late start and our children are accustomed to being shipped off and entertained during the worship service, we should be prepared to meet resistance from them. A little extra teaching and explanation about the nature of worship will probably be in order. Explain to them that worship is not about entertainment; rather, it is the appointed time and place when God meets with his people and speaks with them. It is called a service because he serves us with Word and sacraments.
Your children may still hate it, complain that it is “boring,” and discourage you continuously. Explain it to them again, remind them of the fifth commandment, pray for them, love them, and continue to bring them anyway.
“Much of the service feels rote and routine; I am concerned that my children will think worship is lifeless and mechanical.”
Keep in mind that worship is about vertical conversation. The entire service is built around a dialogue between God and his people. He speaks and we respond. If it feels rote and routine, it may be because we are accustomed to entertainment in a worship service. Or, it may be that we have grown up in a Reformed church but never received instruction on what each element means. When we begin to understand these things - what the invocation is, why we read the law and confess our sins, or what the benediction is all about - we begin to see the beauty and depth of Reformed worship. Each element of the service is rooted in Scripture as well as 2,000 years of historic Christian practice. Not only is it biblical, but Reformed worship has a continuity throughout the world and throughout time.
This means that each week, our little ones take their place with the communion of saints as they pray the Lord's Prayer, recite the Creed, and sing the Gloria Patri. Each week, our children participate as worshipers in these important parts of worship, rather than sitting as mere spectators. Each week, parents have opportunity at home to instruct their children on the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and every other element of the service.
I am fine with my teenager sitting in worship with me as long as the church has a good youth group.
There is a tendency for some of us to think that in order for the worship service to be effective in the life of a teenager, it must be supplemented by a youth group. But have you ever stopped to reflect on such a notion? At its heart is the assumption that the worship service and God’s ordained means of grace are inadequate in the life of a teenager; something more is needed, namely, something more “relevant.” But have you ever considered that the Bible never speaks of a ‘youth group’ or the office of ‘youth pastor’? That is not to say that such meetings are wrong or cannot be of benefit, only that they are not essential. If they were, God would have prescribed them in the New Testament.
Sadly, many parents look for a church with a youth group as if it were a sacrament or one of the distinguishing marks of a true church. As popular as ‘youth groups’ may be in our culture, we must be careful not to accept blindly the notion that our young people need a program in order to be properly nurtured in the faith. Like any program, a 'youth group' is merely an extra to what is indispensable and cannot replace the responsibility of the minister on the Lord’s Day and the parents throughout the week.
God has given us all that we need for the spiritual growth and well being of us and our children. Let us diligently use the means he has provided and teach our children the importance of going to worship and not just church.