A Cry for the Cry-Room

crying-baby

Over the past several years, I have heard some funny names used for the cry-room in our church building, names such as, “the penalty box,” “romper room,” and “the torture chamber.” My favorite, however, is “purgatory.” Like the Roman Catholic teaching of purgatory, the cry-room is a place where souls suffer until they are ready to enter into God’s presence and the assembly of the saints! Although purgatory does not exist, the potential suffering of those using the cry-room does. Any parent who has spent numerous Sunday mornings worshiping in the cry-room with their infant or toddler can tell you about the challenges. It can be noisy. It can be crazy. It can feel like purgatory…without the flames.

I sympathize, therefore, with parents who, at times, may feel discouraged and perhaps frustrated with life in the cry-room. As a pastor of souls, I do not want my parishioners to feel disheartened about attending the means of grace. For this reason, I hope to encourage parents who, with their little ones, make their way to the cry-room each Lord’s Day. I also want to encourage everyone in our congregation to be supportive of those with young children in our covenant community.

 A Place for Training

 While we typically call it a “cry” room, it may be more appropriate to describe it as a training room. As parents, we have the responsibility to train our children, to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6.4). This includes teaching our children the meaning and importance of the worship service. As baptized members of the covenant of grace, our children belong in the worship service with us. They are to grow up learning and singing the songs of Zion, confessing the creeds of Christ’s church, and praying the Lord’s Prayer. Most importantly, they are to grow up hearing God speak to his people through the preaching of the Gospel. In the worship service each Lord’s Day, God condescends to us to announce his promises and renew his covenant. It is in this divine act, which is unlike anything else we experience in this life, that God ushers us into his heavenly presence so that we might receive from his open hand (Heb 12.18-29)…and he ushers our children with us.

While the cry-room might seem inconvenient to us at times, we must realize that theology, not convenience, informs our worship. One of the central tenets of our theology is the covenant of grace. God makes his covenant not only with those adults who can make a credible profession of faith in Jesus as their only comfort in life and in death, but also with the children of believers, who cannot yet make such a profession. Throughout redemptive history, God has included the children of believers into his visible covenant community. Baptized children, therefore, are entitled to the worship service as much as their parents are. That is where they belong!

The cry-room, then, provides a place of training for our little ones. It is far more in line with our theology than a nursery-room. In a nursery-room, baptized children are, in most cases, dropped off by their parents and completely removed from the assembly of God’s people. When this happens, these precious heirs of the covenant are denied exposure to and training in the vital act of corporate worship. In a nursery-room, infants and toddlers are deprived of the opportunity of hearing mommy or daddy confess their sins, sing the doxology, confess the creed, pray the Lord’s prayer, and partake of communion. As inconvenient as the cry-room may feel at times, it nevertheless provides a setting more conducive to parental training than a nursery-room. In the cry-room, parents are preparing their children to become active participants in the worship service.

 A Place for Transition

The goal of our training and preparation is to graduate our children to the main auditorium (i.e. “sanctuary”). The cry-room, therefore is a place of transition. As our infants grow into toddlers, parents can begin making excursions into the service with their children. Explain to your little one ahead of time what you plan to do. Proactive preparation is the key here. Explain to them on Saturday night, and again on Sunday morning on the way to worship, that they have the opportunity to sit with the congregation for the first part of the service.

I have found that many children become excited about this. Estimate how much of the service you think your little one can handle, have a plan, and give it a shot. If they begin to squeal and shriek, you can always take them back to the cry-room. At first, they may only be able to sit still until the first hymn. In time, it may be up to the song of preparation before the sermon. Eventually, with a lot of training and perseverance, children will make the transition into worshipers.

This is transition does not end once our little ones are sitting through the whole service quietly. The goal is not merely for our children to sit still and be quiet. The goal is for them to become mature worshipers, to become active listeners who eagerly receive from God in Word and sacrament, and respond to God in song, prayer, and giving. This, of course, is a lifelong process.

Yes, it requires work. There is no plenary indulgence offered to families so that they can spring a suffering soul from the purgatory of the cry-room! Rather, it takes a lot of planning, effort, and perseverance to make the transition. But the transition can be made; it is not impossible. And the cry-room helps to that end.

A Place that is Temporary

The Word of God endures forever, but the cry-room does not. It is only for a season. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, for a family with several small children, that light might seem rather dim at times; when one child finally graduates to the main auditorium, another is born. With the joy of a child’s birth can come the potentially gloomy prospect of spending more years in the cry-room. Nevertheless, the cry-room is not forever. Like all parental responsibilities, training our children in the cry-room is only for a season. Eventually, this too shall pass.

In the meantime, some parents may find it helpful to trade off services with their spouse. If mom trains the baby in the morning service, then perhaps dad can do the same in the evening service, allowing mom to be freed up to receive the means of grace without distraction. This is yet another good reason for having two services on the Lord’s Day.

 It is only for a short period that we have the opportunity to train our children in the instruction and discipline of the Lord. May we be faithful stewards and wisely use the time we have been given. And may we encourage one another in our congregation as we see parents engaging in the hard and sometimes frustrating work of training and preparing these little heirs of the covenant. May we be patient with one another and pray for each other, asking the Lord of the covenant to bear much fruit in these children of the promise.

 ~ Pastor Brown

 

 

 

 

The only "youth program" your kids need: some thoughts on family worship and catechesis

Family

When my wife and I were introduced to Reformed Christianity, one of the things that stood out vividly to us was the practice of family prayer or "family worship." In the revivalist, evangelical church in which I grew up, this practice was never emphasized. To be sure, the church in which I was raised encouraged important devotional acts such as praying and reading one's Bible, but I can't ever remember a pastor emphasizing the necessity and importance of regular family worship during the week. Instead, there was a full array of programs and small groups offered, each tailor-made to every member of the family: Jr.High group, high school group, college-and-career, men's group, ladies' group, young marrieds, married-with-children, empty-nesters, etc., etc. Not that everything in all of these groups was always bad. It's just that there seemed to be an emphasis upon separating the family as a unit during the week in order to "minister" to each person's needs. Oddly enough, Sunday worship wasn't much different. My family would arrive at church only to split up into our segregated groups for worship: I, a "youth pastor," would go to the high school "worship service," while my wife went into the main service with the adults, and my daughters went to "children's' church" with the toddlers. The first time we worshiped together as a family was the first Sunday we visited a confessional, Reformed church (!). 

Coming to Reformed Christianity, my wife and I not only learned the sobering truth about the means of grace and what actually happens during the Divine Service on the Lord's Day, we also learned about the vital importance of regular family worship throughout the week. Clearly, this was a practice far more biblical (and historical) than the compartmentalized, hustle-bustle of a busy week at church. The ancient paths God carved out for families to walk in long ago were new to us. We learned how he designed the family to be a worshiping unit, an entity that would engage in prayer, praise and instruction in the course of ordinary, daily life. We learned how Christian parents have the covenantal responsibility—both toward God and their children—of bringing up their little ones as disciples in the historic Christian faith. Suddenly, all those passages about training up your children began to come into color:

Deut 6.4-9: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Eph 6.4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”

Passages such as these, however, cannot be reduced to mere proof-texts for sending our children to Christian schools or buying Christian home-school curriculum. They require of us something far more vital than that. In the first place, they require the indispensable practice of the “family pew,” that is, a commitment of bringing our children to corporate worship every week. In worship, our children - no less than us - are summoned by God to receive his good gifts, confess their sins, and bring him praise and honor as the Creator and Redeemer of his people.

But these commands also require a commitment to daily catechesis so that our children will know what they believe and why they believe it. This is precisely why the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers, as well as the seventeenth-century Puritans who followed them, wrote rich catechisms and strongly advocated the practice of family worship. They understood each family to be a ‘little church,’ in which the father was called to be priest and spiritual head of his home under Christ.

It is for this reason that the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches that worship is to be conducted “in private families daily” (21.6). This was taken so seriously by our fathers in the faith, that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland not only included in its editions of the Westminster Standards a "Directory for Family Worship," but even mandated disciplinary action against heads of households who neglected “this necessary duty"!

Hughes Oliphant Old describes the rhythm of family worship in Puritan life:

What the liturgy of the hours was for monks of the Middle Ages, the discipline of family prayer was for the Puritans. The typical Puritan home of seventeenth-century England may not have looked much like the splendid cloisters of Cluny, but there was something in common. The daily life of both Catholic monk and Puritan family man was ordered by a rhythm of prayer and praise. With Cistercian solemnity, the Puritan household would gather around the dinner table, father, mother, children, a maiden aunt, perhaps servants or an apprentice. A metrical psalm was sung. Then the head of the house would open up a great leather bound family Bible and read a chapter. This finished, the father would lead in prayer. The Puritans, whether on the Connecticut frontier or in the heart of London, whether they were Cambridge scholars or Shropshire cotters, gave great importance to maintaining a daily discipline of family prayer.

So what happened in the church that we have lost this vital practice? Why have we forgotten the wisdom of these ancient paths? As with most questions in historical theology, there is not one easy answer. There are several contributing factors that led to the corrosion of this practice. One of them, however, must certainly be the rise of American pragmatism.

As Americans, we have an unquenchable thirst for knowing the cash value of something. It may seem to many American Christians that investing in the rigorous daily duty of family worship is too costly. After all, getting a family in 2008 to meet together regularly around a table and take out thirty minutes of the day may seem almost impossible. It would require reordering and restructuring our daily lives. It would require slowing down a little bit. It would require turning off the television a little more (gasp!).

The fact of the matter is, family worship is a great investment. In fact, it is a no-brainer. It pays such high dividends that it is - to use the modern vernacular - like stealing money. In fact, I cannot think of many things in life that pay greater dividends than the ordinary practice of daily family worship. Let me quote Presbyterian minister Terry Johnson to give you an idea of what I mean:

If your children are in your home for 18 years, you have [over 5,600] occasions (figuring a 6 day week) for family worship. If you learn a new Psalm or hymn each month, they will be exposed to 216 in those 18 years. If you read a chapter a day, you will complete the Bible 4.5 times in 18 years. Every day they will affirm a creed or recite the law. Every day they will confess their sins and plead for mercy. Every day they will intercede on behalf of others. Think in terms of the long view. What is the cumulative impact of just 15 minutes of this each day, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, for 18 years? At the rate of 6 days a week (excluding Sunday), one spends an hour and a half a week in family worship (about the length of a home Bible study), 78 hours a year (about the length of two weekend retreats), and 1,404 hours over the course of 18 years (about the length of eight week-long summer camps). When you establish your priorities, think in terms of the cumulative effect of this upon your children. Think of the cumulative effect of this upon you, after 40 or 60 or 80 years of daily family worship. All this without having to drive anywhere.

The family is essentially a discipleship group. In praying and reading the Bible together (and maybe singing too), the whole family is being spiritually nurtured as the truths of the historic Christian faith are pressed before them each day. Parents are humbled as they are constrained to assume the role of priest for their family. They are driven to their knees in a sense of inadequacy of such a task. They are forced to adjust their lifestyle in order to carry out the responsibility of raising their children in the Lord. And they are confronted with the reality of appearing either consistent or inconsistent in the eyes of their little ones.

In the meantime, children are growing up watching their parents humble themselves before the Lord. They are learning of Christ’s claim and Lordship on their lives. They are absorbing Scripture and realizing its authority. They are provided with a medium for reinforcing memorization of Scripture, catechism questions, creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, etc. And they are seeing how they are different than the world in that God has set them apart as his own special people. All of this has a great effect on covenant children: it is part of the means God uses to bring them to faith.

But as you read this, you may be thinking, “Fine. I agree. Consistent family worship seems indispensable. But where do I begin? How do I do family worship?” Let me offer a few recommendations:

First, FIND A TIME that works well for your family. For many, this will be the dinner table. Believe it or not, it is actually very simple to transition from eating a meal together (an invaluable and neglected practice in itself) to having family worship without ever leaving the table. On the other hand, maybe bedtime will be more conducive for your family. Whatever the case, just find a time in which everyone in the family is together for at least 15-20 minutes a day. If no such time exists for your family, then you desperately need to make one! Settle on a time that will become as fixed a routine for your family as getting dressed or brushing teeth. Settle on it and guard it! When the phone rings, let the answering machine pick it up. Instead of being enslaved to technology, let it serve you!

Second, KEEP IT SIMPLE. There is no reason to make family worship long or complex. You can keep it as simple as these three elements: Scripture reading, catechism and prayer.

With regard to Scripture reading, try reading a chapter a day, working your way through particular books of the Bible. Perhaps on certain days, read the passage that was preached in worship the previous Lord’s Day. This will help your family to review what you heard and hopefully develop a practice of meditating on it during the week.

For catechism, work on memory with your children. Teach them to memorize the Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed. Then move on to Heidelberg Catechism Q.1, breaking it down in to parts until they have the whole thing mastered. Move on from there to these essential questions: ##2-5, 21, 27, 60, 65, 69, 75, 86, 116. It will take a while (maybe years), but despite what you might think, they can do it. Be patient. Think long term. Don’t give up.

With regard to prayer, teach your children how to pray by modeling it for them. Conclude family worship with the simple acrostic A-C-T-S: adoration of God, confession of sins, thanksgiving for all he has done and given, and supplications for those in need. This is a great opportunity to pull out the bulletin and look at the particular prayer needs in the congregation, teaching our little ones to intercede for others in the household of God.

You may also consider singing a Psalm or hymn together before reading Scripture. But whatever the case, family worship should only take about 15 or 20 minutes. Seriously. There is no reason to turn this into a massive ordeal. In fact, fathers, resist the temptation to do that! Once in a while, you may find your family engaged in an extended discussion over a particular doctrine or theological question. It is a beautiful thing when this happens spontaneously and naturally. But don't force it. Ask a few questions, keep it simple, and conclude. If your family comes to expect a forty-five to sixty minute Bible study from dad, they may begin to dread the exercise.

Third, GET STARTED! To borrow an old slogan from Nike, “Just do it!” Don’t procrastinate and put it off. Each day your children get a little older. Redeem the time given to you.

Fourth, BE CONSISTENT. When you miss a day (or two or three!), don’t throw in the towel. Get back on track and go. Too much is at stake to give up.

Finally, Dad, Mom, BE SUPPORTIVE OF ONE ANOTHER. Satan is against you in this, so be prepared. He wants nothing more than for you to pick at one another during family worship, become frustrated and quit. He wants you to leave the Bible and catechism book on the shelf and reach for the remote at the time you have designated for family worship. He wants wives to be resistant and husbands to be lazy. So, encourage, support and be respectful of one another as you engage in this daily practice.

Family worship is a joy, but it takes work. It usually requires some rearranging of our priorities in daily life. And if you are getting a late start with your kids, it will probably be met with some resistance. Pray for one another with regard to your duties in this simple, but awesome practice.

A Few More Thoughts on the Family Pew

empty-pews

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.