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.

What do we mean when we say we are a "Reformed" Church? Part 10 of 10 - The Church and Its Worship

[Editor's Note: Read part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5part 6part 7part 8, and part 9 of this series.]

We believe that the church is God’s New Covenant community called by God to worship him together as his people in the ways taught by Scripture. There are five interconnected principles that shape the Reformed understanding of corporate worship: 1) regulation, 2) understanding, 3) simplicity, 4) participation, and 5) gospel-centrality.

The Regulative Principle of Worship

Reformed Christians believe that our consciences can only be bound by God. No man, pastor or otherwise, has the authority to command us to obey from the heart. This principle of Christian freedom and God’s sovereignty has implications for corporate worship. While individuals may worship God through a variety of means in their everyday lives according to their own conscience, when we gather as the people of God, we are in a unique situation where the whole congregation is compelled to worship God in the ways the pastors lead them. Therefore Reformed Christians believe that the elements of corporate worship must be explicitly prescribed or modeled in the Bible. Scripture regulates how we may worship God as his people corporately.

This principle differs from the approach that we may worship God corporately in any way we choose so long as it is not forbidden by Scripture (sometimes called the “normative” principle). By limiting our corporate worship to that which is prescribed or modeled, Reformed Christians avoid forcing all people in the congregation to worship God according to man’s invented traditions. So Reformed Christians worship corporately through songs, Bible reading, preaching, sacraments, prayer, monetary collections, and taking vows, and they refuse to incorporate things such as drama, dance, visual depictions of Christ, and any other element not laid down in Scripture.

Understanding

Because Christians know God through his word and grow as they taste the goodness of the Lord, Reformed Christians place a high priority on making sure corporate worship services foster understanding. Corporate worship, Bible translations, prayers, and songs should all be carried out in the language of the people worshipping, and every effort should be made to make the message of the gospel and the teachings of Scripture (through every element of worship) as clear as possible. Reformed Christians do not believe that anyone is served merely by being present in corporate worship or by carrying out certain actions apart from faith or understanding.

Simplicity

Closely related to the principle of understanding, Reformed Christians worship in ways that are simple so as to avoid distracting the congregation from the content of God's word. Instrumentation, architecture, attire, atmosphere, and written material should all serve to focus the congregation in heart and mind upon God’s word and the beauty of the gospel. Corporate worship should not be a huge production that intends to impress, emotionally overwhelm, or stir up excitement. It should be simple and focused on the worship of God through the word.

Participation

Because the church is the covenant community of God indwelt by the Spirit, Reformed Christians emphasize the participation of all the saints in worship. Corporate worship should not be a performance by some for others. The voices of the people should rise up together in prayers, confessions, and songs. Even the preaching of the word should be done among the people rather than above and beyond them. Likewise, the celebration of the Lord’s Table should be a true act of communion with God and one another.

Gospel-Centered

Since the word should saturate and shape corporate worship, Reformed Christians believe that the very movement or liturgy of the service should present the gospel in its form. In other words, it is not only the content of the service explicitly taught that communicates and teaches but the flow of a service as well. Even though there are differences, Reformed Christians have a common order of service that follows a general pattern of a call to worship, adoration, confession, assurance of pardon, thanksgiving, collection, instruction, communion, celebration, benediction, and sending. This pattern presents the good news of the gospel in content and form.

Blog Series Conclusion

When we at Trinity Church say that we are a Reformed Church, we mean to say that we are Christians who belong to a robust and comprehensive understanding of Christianity. Many people think of the Five Points of Calvinism or TULIP when they hear the word Reformed. We don’t mean less than that, but we mean much more than that. To be Reformed means that we have a particular understanding from Scripture on how salvation was secured and is applied by the Spirit, on God’s holiness and sovereignty over creation, on the Christ-centered covenantal unity of Scripture, on vocation and culture, on the Law of God, and on the church’s nature, governance, ministry, and worship. Certainly, a lot more could be said in this blog series, and there is no doubt that many people object to the beliefs we have laid out here or even this characterization of Reformed Christianity. But this is broadly what we mean when we say we are a Reformed church.

Sermon Discussion: Luke 14:25-35 - The Cost of Discipleship

Here are some questions to discuss together in our home groups:

  1. What questions did you have during and after the sermon? Did you have any insights that weren’t mentioned?
  2. How was the sermon outlined?
  3. In our culture, what does it mean to be a “follower”? How can those ideas end up shaping what we think it means to be a follower of Jesus?
  4. What does Jesus say it will cost us to be his disciple? How does he challenge both traditional, family-oriented and modern, individualistic cultures? Is there a cost to following Jesus that you needed to be particularly reminded of?
  5. What do Jesus’ two illustrations communicate? Why is this message so important for both non-believers and believers to hear?
  6. What’s the difference between the “forgiveness-only gospel” and the biblical gospel? How does the biblical gospel help us understand how our discipleship is completely a gift of grace and yet costly for us to pursue? Take some time to consider together how the message of the cross frees us to joyfully pay the cost of discipleship.
  7. What is the main point of Jesus’ parable in verses 34-35? How does it push us to personal repentance?
  8. As we seek to be a church family of salty disciples, why is it important for us to guard to content of our message? Why is it just as important for us to guard the form, flavor, and character of our community life?
  9. How do the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Table) shape both our message and the form of our community? How do they help us count the cost of discipleship together?

The Rotating Pulpit

One of the interesting features of life in Trinity Church is that you really never know who will be preaching on a given Sunday. The responsibility of proclaiming the word of God to the people of God is shared among the elders, so the pastors of Trinity Church take turns preaching the Scriptures. Most of the time, one pastor will preach for three or four weeks at a time, and then another pastor will take over for a season. This may make answering the question, “Who’s the preacher?” a bit more difficult when members are asked by those curious about the church, but the elders have deliberately adopted this practice for a variety of reasons as we seek to shepherd the flock faithfully.

1. We share preaching responsibilities to avoid inadvertently creating a culture of celebrity.

In everyday life, celebrity is everywhere. The general strategy at work in the world to gather a following is to platform charismatic, attractive, dynamic, relational spokespeople who are able to attract the masses with their unique skills for communication and leadership. But the church is a counter-cultural community created by God’s grace in Jesus Christ. The mission of the church is not to form a cult of personality around any individual but to gather repentant sinners in worship of the Lord Jesus. This means that the word of the gospel, and not any specific leader, is to be central in the witness and ministry of the church.

Many churches agree with this assessment and adopt a plurality of elders (leadership by multiple pastors) to guard against the dangerous dynamics of power, pride, and pastor-worship that can develop when one person stands above all the others. Yet, even where a plurality of elders exists, if there is a singular public figure who delivers the word every week, a culture of celebrity can slip in the back door. One pastor becomes the face of the church, the voice of the congregation, the minister. The temptation for members is to associate the ministry of the word with this individual’s ministry of the word and to identify following Christ with following this shepherd as he preaches Christ. If that particular person were to leave or die or disqualify himself from ministry, the church would lose the figure around whom they’ve organized the life of their community.

Because people naturally want a charismatic leader to claim as the leader of their movement, and because pastors naturally desire to be that man, we elected to guard against that temptation by alternating which shepherd is before the congregation giving the word. There is only one man whose ministry is essential to the life of the church, the true Shepherd of the sheep, the risen Christ.

2. We share preaching responsibilities to give the church a variety of voices and perspectives.

Every Christian has certain parts of Scripture that are especially meaningful, certain emphases that they constantly return to for comfort, joy, and motivation. And in much the same way every pastor has characteristic ways of exploring, framing, explaining, illustrating, and applying the Scriptures and the Christian life. Even though each pastor is seeking to hear and receive the whole counsel of God and grow in the ways we understand the word and minister in balanced and well-rounded ways, we inevitably have weak points and blind spots. If any one of us were to exclusively preach each week, the congregation would likely grow to share in our emphases and our blindnesses.

One of the advantages of having multiple preachers is that the church has a chorus of voices and perspectives to teach the word and speak to the heart. Two pastors may preach very similar truths from very similar texts and yet express the doctrines, commands, and prayers of Scripture in remarkably different ways. Each shepherd has different life experiences he is bringing to the table, different manners of speaking and methods of communicating, and different ways of illustrating the text and processing God’s word in his own heart. When diversity in preaching helps the church develop a fuller understanding of God’s Law and gospel, then this diversity can be a blessing that equips Christ’s bride for greater faithfulness.

3. We share preaching responsibilities to allow shepherds to be fed in corporate worship.

Many pastors find that publicly proclaiming the glories of God in the gospel to his people is one of the great joys they experience. But these same pastors need to receive the word as well. When there is only one designated preacher, everyone in the church may be nourished by the word, challenged in their assumptions, called to repentance in unexpected ways, comforted in their affliction, and exhorted to new forms of Christ-exalting faithfulness—everyone, that is, except him. Of course, part of developing a sermon is taking the time to sit in God’s word and let the Spirit expose sin and minister the gospel to us, but there is a distinct benefit to being among God’s people and receiving the preached word from someone else who has soaked in Scripture and is ministering it to the church.

By sharing in the task of preaching, the elders have the opportunity to be a blessing to one another and to receive blessing from another. Each of us has seasons when we can hear the preached word in a way that grants insight, offers new perspectives, lays bare sins of which we weren’t aware, and offers comfort in the cross and motivation for holiness and witness in our own lives.

4. We share preaching responsibilities to avoid the typical forms of exhaustion that plague pastoral ministry.

“Burnout” is a buzzword in pastoral and leadership circles. The term refers to the exhaustion and frustration that result when a pastor works and ministers with no relief or rest. It’s easy to see how this could be a real danger for those who are alone in preaching on a weekly basis. Sermon preparation by itself can take twenty hours or more of study, prayer, and writing. Combine that with administration concerns, home groups, pastoral care, hospitality, meeting with members, and the everyday obligations of life in a family and community and you’ve got a full schedule indeed. It’s hard to see how one person could navigate all of these responsibilities on an ongoing basis without permitting one dimension to suffer or be neglected altogether.

Because we alternate preaching, no single pastor finds himself solely responsible for everything. When one preaches, another often takes the lead in other shepherding roles to free him up for study and preparation, and when one isn’t preaching, he can afford to earnestly give himself to all the duties besides sermon writing that are essential to shepherding the flock. The twenty hours that would have been devoted to preparing to preach can be devoted to sharing life with believers, focusing on the home group, being available for members, coordinating various aspects of church life, and ministering in other faithful ways. A shepherd must be more than a preacher, and sharing preaching responsibilities ensures that each pastor is able to fulfill the role of shepherd without consistently neglecting other aspects of the role. And the breaks from preaching provide times for reinvigoration so that when the time comes to publicly proclaim the word again, there is a renewed excitement and energy for the task.

These are but four of the reasons we have adopted a “rotating pulpit” at Trinity Church. Our prayer is that God would guard his people from temptation and equip them for ministry and faithfulness as different pastors feed the sheep with the word of Christ.