It is no easy task in our day and time to raise children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Not only is our culture becoming increasingly degenerate, many well-intentioned churches are abandoning serious discipleship in order to be more attractive to the lost. An emphasis on Lord’s Day worship and family piety has largely been replaced by programs designed to meet immediate felt-needs rather than mankind’s profound spiritual needs. This superficial approach to ministry is leaving Christian parents ill-equipped, spiritually malnourished, and grievously unchallenged. In addition, covenant children are growing up ignorant of God’s truth and promises. Having mostly been ushered off to the church’s version of Disney during their formative years, children are increasingly abandoning the church after they leave home.
A mega-church in my former hometown encourages parents to send their children to Kids Planet, the children’s program that occurs during the public worship service (kids under 14 are discouraged from attending the worship service with their parents). At Kids Planet, after a very brief devotion, children ages 8-13 are entertained with Wii, playground equipment, and snacks. Elsewhere, a family member who attends a mega-church with a similar model once shared with me that one of his children was complaining about going to church one Sunday. When asked why, the young child expressed that she didn’t need to go to church to play video games and eat Cheetos when she could stay home and do that. Sadly, this approach to “children’s ministry” has become all too common. Children are being entertained, not discipled. Ironically, many parents who are vigilant about providing their children with a classical homeschool education during the week are happy to drop those same children off at Kids Planet on Sunday where there will be almost no meaningful instruction. So what are we to do? Are we to surrender to the unbiblical, pragmatic, and worldly strategies of the church growth movement? Or will we reject these wayward trends and seek a new reformation? Beloved, let us return to the old paths of biblical discipleship.
As mentioned above, God commands us to bring up our children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Here we are taught that our children are to be nurtured in the Christian Faith, immersed in the truth, not merely entertained, shushed, or tolerated. As baptized members of the visible church, and thus recipients of God’s gospel promises (c.f. Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:38), our covenant children are distinctively set apart from this idolatrous world unto a life of biblical discipleship. Therefore, like adult members of the church, our children must be taught about law and gospel, repentance and faith, judgement and salvation, heaven and hell, and the difference between true and false religion. Like adult members, our little ones must be lovingly challenged to turn from sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness, imputed righteousness, and eternal life. Like adult members, our children must be taught the “whole counsel of God” and the myriad ways that the gospel is gloriously anticipated and announced in the Old and New Testaments. Like adult members, the church (and Christian parents) must invest spiritually in our children and seek to present them “mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28).
To be sure, the work of conversion is God’s sovereign and mysterious work (Jn. 3:8). We do not ultimately know if or when the Lord will regenerate our children by His sovereign grace and power. Nevertheless, we proceed with the joyful confidence of knowing that God ordinarily saves sinners in the context of the Christian family, that is, a family who is devoted to the means of grace in the local church and to family piety in the home.
This past week at Together for the Gospel, a large Reformed conference in Louisville, Kentucky, a friend informed me that a speaker asked all 7000+ people to stand so that he could ask them a question about their conversion experience. After having the large crowd stand, he asked all those who were chiefly influenced by a family member in relation to their Christian faith to sit down. About 95% of the crowd took their seats! Here’s the point: God is pleased to work powerfully through the God-centered Christian family who is committed to the ordinary ministry of the local church (c.f. Eph. 4:11-16; 5:22ff; 6:4).
In light of these principles, Christ Church is joyfully committed to our precious covenant children participating in Lord’s Day morning and evening worship. We believe that our children (even young children) profoundly benefit from taking part in the congregational praise, prayers, confessions, and the reading and preaching of God’s Word. We believe that our children benefit from viewing the administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, even if not yet coming to the Lord’s Table. We believe that children are powerfully impacted as they watch their parents pay close attention to the proclamation of God’s Word and hear them give praise to God throughout life’s trials and triumphs. In fact, it’s a real shame that in many contemporary worship services the congregational singing is almost completely drowned out by loud music and heavily miked singers. Many children are growing up hearing neither congregation or parents give praise to God, hearing only the performers on stage.
I have also seen over the years that it is a tremendous blessing for our covenant children to know and interact with elderly believers who have walked with God for many decades and are nearing the finish line. A highly age-segregated church does not allow for such interaction. A few years ago, in my former congregation, an elderly member lost his dear wife after over fifty years of marriage. After she died, he was heartbroken. She was an amazing woman, a testimony to God’s grace in Christ. One Sunday morning, during the greeting time, I watched my five-year old son walk up to this grieving saint and give him a big hug. A simple hug meant the world to this dear father in the faith, and it also meant the world to those of us who saw it. Moreover, these kind of exchanges multiplied over time make a profound impact on our children–– perhaps more than we’ll ever know. While nurseries are quite necessary for infants and toddlers, small children have much to learn and experience in the context of Lord’s Day worship.
In addition to our children actively participating in Lord’s Day worship (e.g. singing psalms and hymns, earnestly praying, attentively listening to the reading and preaching of the Word, reciting the creeds, taking sermon notes, etc.), we also disciple our children through regular times of family worship. This is a brief 10-20 minute time when the entire family gathers in the living room or at the kitchen table in order to worship God. In our home we normally gather for family worship after dinner. We typically open with a Psalm or hymn and then read a passage of Scripture. We are currently reading through the Gospel of Mark. After briefly discussing the passage and sometimes reviewing the Shorter Catechism, we spend a few minutes in prayer–– praying for our church family, our friends, our neighbors, ourselves, and various missionaries serving around the world. To end our time we sing either the Gloria Patri or the doxology.
God commands heads of households to teach the Word “diligently to [our] children” and to talk of His Word “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7). In other words, God’s Word is not meant to collect dust on the shelves of our homes. No, the Word of God is meant to be elevated to a prominent position in our homes, conversation, daily schedules, and hearts. Family worship helps to cultivate a God-centered, Word-saturated, Christ-exalting home. Moreover, family worship is a great way to train our children for morning and evening services on the Lord’s Day.
Beloved members of Christ Church, we’ve only scratched the service on these very important issues. Even so, let us take a little time this week to evaluate our lives as it concerns the spiritual nurture of our children, and let us renew our commitment to the old paths of biblical discipleship.
“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them,
for to such belongs the kingdom of God”
- Pastor Jon