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 9 of 10 - The Church and Government

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

We believe that the local church is God’s New Covenant community ruled over by a plurality of elders, given to the church as gifts from the Spirit, who shepherd the church as those accountable to other organically connected churches.

Reformed Christians believe that the church, as the covenant community of God, does not have the authority or the wisdom to devise its own structure and governance. The church is given sacraments that mark off the community from the world, and the church is given leaders by the Holy Spirit to rule over the church under the authority of God’s word.

Plural Elder Leadership

Reformed Christians believe the Bible teaches that local churches are to be governed by a plurality of qualified elders. Elders are to be dedicated to prayer and the ministry of the word and sacrament. In other words, the elders lead the church by preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments and discipline of the church. While the ministry of prayer, word, and sacrament belong to each member and the church community as a whole, it is led, overseen, and carried out by a select group variously called elders, pastors, and overseers in the New Testament.

Deacons hold a second office in the church, but it is not an authoritative office. In the early church, deacons collected offerings, prepared and served the tables, and cared for the poor. So while elders oversee and carry out the ministry of teaching the word, deacons ensure that the logistics of community life are consistent with what is being taught by the elders from the word as they apply it to their local church context.

Qualifications for Elders

The New Testament gives two lists that outline the broad requirements for elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Taken together, there are five basic requirements that must be met for a person to be qualified to be an elder in a local church. First, the person must demonstrate basic Christian character without any obvious character flaws that would draw skepticism upon the gospel and the church. Second, the person must be able to communicate, teach, and defend sound Christian doctrine consistent with the gospel. Third, the person must be a male since God created men and women to fulfill different roles in the home and the church. Fourth, the person must not be a relatively new convert compared to the rest of the congregation so that he is not tempted to conceit and the arrogance that often accompanies those who are new to anything. Fifth, the person must not have a poor reputation with those outside the church due to scandal or immorality such that the credibility of the church and its message would be undercut.

Elder Authority

While church members elect their officers, elders hold authority in the local church. However, this authority is not absolute. Rather, the authority of elders is rooted in God’s authority made known in his word. Elders cannot command obedience to their will (called "magisterial authority"). They can only proclaim God’s will as it is taught in the word and demand obedience to God (called "ministerial authority"). The consciences of men must not ever be bound by the opinions or wisdom of men since God alone is Lord of the conscience. Only he can command obedience, and so elders have authority only insofar as they communicate faithfully the message of Scripture. However, when covenant community members disobey the word of God and harden themselves in sin, elders have the authority to declare a person to be living disobediently, to warn them, rebuke them, and ultimately to withdraw the church’s affirmation of their confession.

Organic Connectionalism

As a covenant community, a local church is not a voluntary association of individuals. The church is the body of Christ, organically connected to one another through the bond created by the Holy Spirit. So also are local churches connected to one another. This organic connection is such that the livelihood of each church is mutually dependent upon the health of the other churches. This organic unity suggests a connectionalism between churches that goes beyond mere monetary partnership in joint efforts to advance the gospel or to perform acts of mercy. Therefore, Reformed Christians believe that local churches must be accountable to and in partnership with other local churches. Therefore, Reformed churches are ruled by elders who have been examined by the elders of other churches and who remain accountable to other church elders both in doctrine and conduct. One aspect of this accountability is the creation of courts that can adjudicate conflicts within or between local churches, whether the conflict is between elders and church members or the elders themselves. Finally, churches partner together to advance the gospel in new regions by pooling their resources and members for church planting efforts.

Reformed Christians believe that God rules his church through his word. He commands, comforts, promises, and sanctifies his people through the preaching and teaching of his word by elders who are given to local churches as groups of men submitted to God with tested character who avoid both dominating others and shrinking back in fear of others. 

[Editor's Note: Read part 10 of this series.]

What do we mean when we say we are a "Reformed" Church? Part 8 of 10 - The Church and Sacraments

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

We believe that the Church is God’s New Covenant community marked by the preaching of the gospel, the right administration of the sacraments, and the discipline entailed therein!

The church is a community created by the will of the Father through the work of the Son on the cross, where people believe in him in the power of the Holy Spirit. Wherever God works to create a people for himself, a particular communal life is formed that we can recognize as a church. Reformed Christians believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ produces a distinct covenant people who belong to God and whose life takes a particular shape.

Therefore, the marks of a true church are three: 1) the gospel is rightly preached from Scripture and believed by a community, 2) the sacraments are rightly administered, and 3) church discipline is rightly practiced. A true church exists wherever these marks are present. Each of these marks is wrapped up in the proper practice of the others, and Reformed Christians believe that no church exists wherever these marks are lacking.

The Right Preaching and Hearing of the Gospel

As discussed in a previous post, the church is a covenant community. For all who believe it, the promise of the gospel—forgiveness of sins and new creation through the atoning work of Jesus Christ—ratifies the New Covenant. In other words, when people hear God so as to believe in his promise in Jesus Christ, they become, along with their children, part of God’s covenant people. Those people not only join his church through faith in the gospel, but they are continually given life as the gospel word is proclaimed regularly on the Lord’s Day and throughout the week as Christians share their lives together.

If a community adopts false doctrines and practices that destroy the sound teaching of the gospel such that people are drawn away from faith in Christ, that community can no longer be considered a church of God.

The Right Administration of the Sacraments

Because the church is a covenant community, it is marked out by God given signs and seals of the covenant. In the same way a marriage covenant is signified by the giving and receiving of rings and sealed by the act of sexual intercourse, baptism and the Lord’s Table are signs and seals of the New Covenant community. As signs, they represent to us the work of Christ and his benefits. As seals, they testify to God's faithfulness, assuring us that God will surely do all he has promised. Baptism is the initiatory rite, and the Lord’s Table is an ongoing rite of Christian fellowship.

While Christians debate the exact details of how these sacraments are to be administered (like timing, mode, frequency, etc.) the main issue regarding the right practice of the sacraments involves their meaning. If communities teach and practice that the sacraments confer or infuse grace as though salvation comes through them rather than through faith alone, then the sacraments have been perverted into a system of works and oppose the gospel of grace. So while some Christians baptize infants and others only believers able to give a public profession of faith, while some sprinkle and others immerse, while some celebrate the table weekly and others quarterly, while some use wafers and others a single loaf, these differences do not amount to errors that threaten the right administration of the sacraments. But those who turn the sacraments against the gospel of grace cannot be considered a church. 

Church Discipline

Because the church is a distinct covenant community marked off from the world through the sacraments, discipline is required to faithfully identify who credibly belongs to the church and who does not. Church discipline involves excluding from table fellowship non-Christians and those whose confession of Christ must be questioned. In other words, because the Lord’s Table is an ongoing identification of who is believing in Jesus Christ, it cannot be served to non-Christians or to those claiming to be Christians but living in unrepentant sin. Neither can baptism be applied to those who have no place in the covenant community of Christ. Churches that refuse to apply the marks of the sacraments faithfully cannot meaningfully claim to be true a church.

Jesus did not die merely to forgive the sins of many individuals. He died and rose again to bring a kingdom, and that kingdom is represented and pointed to by the church. Christians are not just saved from their sins but to a new way of life with God’s people. The church cannot be reduced to a location where a pastor preaches and people sing some songs. The church is a community indwelt by the Holy Spirit and thus set apart from the world in the preaching of the gospel, its celebration of the gospel in the sacraments, and its loyalty to the gospel in church discipline.

[Editor's Note: Read part 9 and part 10 of this series.]