Parenting in the Pew by Robbie Castleman

Robbie Castleman is a professor of biblical studies and theology and a pastor’s wife.  She is also the mother of two sons who have grown into strong men who love the Lord. I recently read her book Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship. The book aims to equip parents to train their children to worship the Triune God. She says, “This book is an expression of my joy in learning with my children how to remember the Lord’s Day and keep it holy.”[1]

If you have been at Trinity for even a week, you may have an idea as to why this book may have piqued my interest. Castleman makes the case that children should be present in corporate worship with their parents who must train them to worship God with God’s people. This is our conviction at Trinity as well.

For most Christians today, this seems like an odd idea despite the fact that this has been the practice of the Christian church for almost its entire history, and for many traditions it remains the practice. However, on the whole, Evangelicalism and much of mainline Christianity have adopted a model of Sunday school, children’s church, and/or nursery which has effectively removed young children from corporate worship. In some churches, “worship experiences” are created to fit every life stage and music preference such that it isn’t until after college that young people are integrated into corporate worship with the rest of the body. At Trinity, we believe non-integrated worship is not only harmful to our formation as disciples but that it is unfaithful to our witness to the kingdom. So I am grateful for resources such as Castleman’s book because they serve to help us relearn how to worship together.

I must admit, I didn’t find the whole book helpful. Some of Castleman’s discussion deals with forms of corporate worship that do not fit Trinity’s context (i.e. chapters 6 & 7). I actually think the strength of the book lies with the first five chapters (chapters 4 & 5 being the best). But there are nuggets of wisdom throughout. I want to offer some highlights from the first five chapters of the book so that you will consider reading the whole thing. In order to grasp the full arguments, you need to read the book, and I strongly encourage all of our parents and soon to be parents to read it and to talk about it with others at home group.

Chapter 1: Daddy, I’d Like You To Meet My Children

  • While it is difficult to pay attention in corporate worship while we have young children, training our children to worship will pay off in the long run for both child and parent since both will grow in their attentiveness and participation through the training.
  • Attending or going to church is different than participating in worship. Parents should be aimed at training their children to worship, not just be quiet.
  • Parents make the effort to train their kids in numerous ways (sports, education, work, money, etc.), and they should be just as diligent, if not more, to train their children to worship.

Chapter 2: Worship BC (before children) and AD (after diapers)

  • Worship is not primarily about what we get out of worship but what we give to God. Children can and do interfere with our experience of corporate worship (for a season), but our main concern should be with God’s glory in the worship of his people. Worship of God takes work, and with children it takes hard work.
  • Children learn best by doing, and so training children to worship requires that we help them do it with us.
  • As a pastor’s wife whose husband spent most of his time leading worship services, Castleman was the primary and usually only person responsible for training her children. It took time, practice, energy, and attention, but she was able to train two young boys almost on her own.
  • Worship begins in the heart of the believer. It is easy to blame the church or our children for our frustrations or spiritual dryness, but we need to take responsibility for ourselves and make our participation and the participation of our children a priority.
  • Only when our hearts are in the right place will we be freed from the fear of what other people are thinking about us and the behavior of our children.

Chapter 3: Praise and Puppies

  • Children have a unique perspective on the world and can actually enhance the worship of God enjoyed by the congregation because of their unfettered faith and expectation.
  • Children have a unique capacity for faith and a joyful expectation of God that must challenge and encourage the church.
  • Most churches develop children’s programs because the parents are not equipped or willing to train their own children. Integrated worship only works if parents are training their children at home in the faith.

Chapter 4: Sunday Morning Starts Saturday Night

  • Sunday’s are often the most hectic and stressful time of the week for parents as they try to get their family to church. But this is often true because parents do not work ahead of time to prepare for corporate worship.
  • The Lord’s Day is meant to be a day of rest and worship, but it will not be a day of rest if we do not work the other 6 days of the week and Saturday in particular.
  • We have to take time to prepare our hearts for corporate worship so that we are eager and grateful to come to worship. We cannot come having given no forethought and with a packed schedule leading up to church and expect everything at church to go smoothly.
  • Practically, we need to plan a day ahead what we will wear, what we need at church, what we will eat before and after, and so forth so that there isn’t a mad rush to get to church and get out.
  • We need to build an environment in our homes that looks forward to Sunday and that sets it apart as a time of rest and corporate worship. This includes setting the day apart and not allowing travel, sports, work, and other activities to slide into the Lord’s Day from the other six days of the week.
  • Corporate worship must be a non-negotiable for the family, something only missed in extreme situations or due to sickness. Otherwise, corporate worship will become like everything else, just another thing to juggle in our hectic lives.
  • Make it a priority to show hospitality after corporate worship so as to enjoy fellowship with God’s people.

Chapter 5: Counting Bricks or Encountering God

  • The entertainment culture we live in shapes us to only pay attention to that which entertains. It has popularized the notion that we entertain in order to teach. But education-as-entertainment has not improved the scholastic achievements of children, and it will not improve our children’s ability to worship either. Worship must remain the one element in our culture that refuses to accept the entertainment addiction.
  • Sit with your children in worship even when they are teenagers. It helps them pay attention, and there is no substitute for presence when it comes to teaching. If you train well, the relationship with your kids can move into companionship in the teenage years.
  • Castleman’s research and experience has taught her that by the age of 4, children can be trained to sit in the entire church service. Babies, toddlers, and younger children can be trained to be present for parts of the service, but may need to be taken to a nursery or toddler room.
  • Take children to the bathroom before the service, and then communicate and expect them to sit through the service without needing a bathroom break (unless of course there is an emergency).
  • Eliminate distractions in corporate worship, like toys, loose change, and even paper and pen. It is helpful to give your children paper to draw or take notes on during the sermon, but they should be participating in the other portions of the service.
  • Castleman also discourages candy or gum to keep kids quiet (although I personally found this helpful when my kids first starting sitting through sermons as a way of introducing them to being quiet and still for that long).
  • There is a long section on children with ADD or ADHD.
  • The discipline of our home life will show in the church service. If we are inconsistent in the expectations and consequences we give at home, then we will have a hard time training our children at church. But if our authority is established at home and we are empowering our children to make godly choices by listening to us at home, then our children will understand the consequences of being disruptive in church. In such cases, children will need to be removed by their parents for private discipline.

Castleman writes in a simple and straightforward manner, but she is no simpleton. A scholar in her own right, she comes to the topic with a deeply theological grasp of Scripture and with the practical experience to put it into practice. The book gave me hope that integrated worship is not only possible but vital to a rich environment of discipleship. I am excited about what the Lord can and will do as we train our children together. It will take focus and hard work, especially as we prioritize preparing for corporate worship beforehand, but we must train our children to worship. And as God’s grace trains each of us to worship him in spirit and in truth, we can train our children to worship.

[1] Robbie Castleman, Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship, Revised and Updated Edition (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2013), 23.