I love to have my children in church with me. The suggestion that’s unusual makes my heart sink. As a parent, I found Parenting in the Pew deeply encouraging as it urges parents to press on, shepherding our children, because the impact is eternal.
Today, some Christian parents fail to lead in the discipleship of their children, despite God’s instructions in Deuteronomy 6:5–7. They drop off their children at Christian school, kids club, or youth group, but say or teach little about God. They rarely read the Bible together or engage in worship or prayer time at home.
Parents may apply the same hands-off approach to the worship service. While parents sit through “real” church, they send children to the basement – away from the worship gathering – for babysitting. Where children are present in the main gathering, the service plan often doesn’t acknowledge the age span, and parents give their children activities to keep quiet rather than engage in the worship gathering. This good behaviour seems proper, but author Robbie Castleman cautions, “A family can learn to sit still very well, but be unmoved by the holy presence of God.”
Today’s culture sees selecting a church much like choosing a dry cleaner, writes Castleman. “Does it suit my needs and personal preference?” If a family chooses a churches based on style and programming options for children and youth (to the neglect of family and intergenerational discipleship), the next generation eventually looks for a new place to belong when the life-stage-based peer group comes to an end before the young people are ready for the next group. These young people may give up and wander away from the faith that shaped them merely as “therapeutic moral deists,” not authentic Christ followers.
It takes the church to make disciples and it takes parents to make disciples of their children. Outsourcing the discipleship of our children to Christian education teachers may result in young people who only seek to improve their self-esteem and feel good about themselves. Research reveals that deep faith is rooted in the hearts and minds of children when their parents take seriously God’s call to disciple their children.
As a parent who also serves as associate pastor, I love the once-a-month Sundays we have a service for all generations. These services – often including testimonies, baptisms, and communion – always have increased energy and vibrancy. They’re designed to help all ages engage in worship, dig in the Word, pray together, and take part in church rituals. We seek to educate our people that all ages are a part of the family of God. However, not everyone sees the opportunity. It breaks my heart that some parents avoid these Sundays because they would rather not sit with their children.
I agree with Castleman: “Intergenerational communities making disciples of all ages are simply worth it. Old people need the fresh laughter and perplexing humour of teenagers. Teenagers need to hear stories of faith and perseverance that number more years than they have lived. Single parents need to be included in un-fractured families, and blended families need the inclusion of ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’ in a fiduciary family that is less complicated than their own. It takes work to figure out how to include children in small groups, teens in potluck suppers, and children in worship.”
If we go to church in order to get, sitting with our children in church can be a bother. But, when we go to church to worship God and give him glory, our mentality completely changes. We’re called to gather with our church family to worship God, celebrating who he is and what he has done for us, and then to minister to each other as a church family, together making an impact on our communities and around the world. We begin to see the huge opportunity of shepherding our younger generations because they are not the church of tomorrow but of today.
“Parenting in the pew can be a hassle. Or it can be holy,” writes Castleman. “It depends on who we are and how we see ourselves.” Do we sit with our children in church or in worship? She addresses several areas of a worship gathering and how to practically disciple one’s child. I’m proud to say that recently a parent from my church family created a “Celebrating Sunday” sheet to help children engage in each aspect of the worship gathering from prayer time, to music, tithe and offering time, to the sermon, and even the special news.
Castleman spends a chapter on how a good Sunday morning begins with a well-prepared Saturday night. There must be both practical home preparation and heart preparation before coming to worship. After all, on Sunday, the family is going to worship God with heart, soul, body, and mind; hurrying off to church on Sunday morning without any kind of preparation usually brings on worry, frustration and quarrels. (Do I hear an “Amen”?)
Parenting in the pew means letting our children see us celebrate before the Lord. Do we go to church to celebrate God or are we disengaged, keeping our eyes on our watches? Are we more concerned with what people think around us? “If our hearts are fixed on being with our children before the Lord and not before the congregation, we will begin to experience great relief and freedom,” writes Castleman. “We can be freed to help our children worship without the pull of external distractions or the self-consciousness of wondering what others are thinking. We can overcome the question that bothers so many parents with children in the pew: What do people think of me because of the way my children behave?”
Robbie Castleman, whose children are now adults discipling their own children, speaks from her parenting experience. In her 2013 revision to this 1993 book, she enhanced the discussion guide for parent groups and congregations.
The author is sensitive to various denominations. As a result, some of the worship practices and traditions she mentions may not apply to the reader’s church culture. Yet, Castleman seeks to include a wide range of churches and denominations in the passing on of faith.
I recommend this book to all children and family pastors as they seek to disciple parents to teach children to engage their hearts and minds in worship. I suspect that simply handing this book to an apathetic or overwhelmed parent would not be effective.
Castleman sums it up like this, “Parenting in the pew helps you pay attention to the most important thing you can ever train your child to do: worship. Worship is the one very important thing we can actually get to do forever” – all ages, genders, and races together!
—Merri Ellen Giesbrecht is associate pastor in kids ministry at Ross Road Community Church, Abbotsford, B.C.