November Question of the MOnth

date Nov 5, 2009
author Voddie Baucham topics & issues Catechism, Children, Discipleship, Education, Family

The response to our new monthly feature has been tremendous.  We’ve received questions on subjects spanning the spectrum.  Some of the questions have already been answered in past blogs, others were a bit off topic (especially those asking for responses to myths, lies and half truths from attack sites), and others were a bit too personal/specific (Note:  I cannot use this blog to do pastoral counseling, and I only offer such counseling to members of my own church). 


Question Of the Month:


What are practical ways to involve and teach your preschoolers during your family devotional times (ie: morning pray/read/sing)


A Word of Warning


    First, let me say that I do not believe in ‘dumbing down’ family worship (or the worship of the church for that matter) for small children.  We aim our family worship at Mom, Dad, and our older children (nineteen and sixteen), while recognizing the need to bring the younger children (five, two, one, and newborn) along.  Our philosophy is simple; our younger children do not need to be entertained, they need to be taught.  They need to see a picture of family worship that calls them upward. 


    This is a bit of a departure from the current child-centered philosophy dominating the burgeoning family worship movement.  In that sense, there’s some good news, and some bad news.  The good news is people are waking up to this crucial practice.  The bad news is people are viewing this practice through the lens of the current watered-down worship environment of modern evangelicalism, and worse, the media-driven, high-energy, world-mimicking, “KidZone” experience of the modern Children’s Church.  As a result, parents are trying to compete with the entertainment culture and capture the attention of their preschoolers on a daily basis.  STOP!  This is insane.  You can’t compete with Barney and Sesame Street (or KidZone); nor should you try.


    Worship is not about entertainment.  Worship is a solemn encounter.  Sure, there are times when we have powerful, emotional encounters with God.  However, those are not the norm.  And when we try to make that the norm, we miss a very important truth.  Spiritual Disciplines are just that... Disciplines!  We don’t pray because it’s fun; we do it because it’s necessary (1 Ths. 5:17; Lk 18:1).  We don’t read Scripture because it’s enthralling (though it can be at times); we read Scripture because our souls need to feed on something more than bread (Matthew 4:4).  We don’t believe every meal needs to be a grand feast, do we?  Unfortunately, somebody told us that worship should be ‘exciting’ and ‘fun’ and we believed them.  The fact is, sometimes worship is boring, and that’s alright.  Dinner is boring sometimes too, but we still need to eat (by the way, catering all our meals to preschoolers’ likes and dislikes would be quite unhealthy as well).


    We have created a generation of children who think everything is supposed to be ‘fun’ and the results are tragic.  Don’t fall into that same trap with family worship.  If our children think reading, singing, and praying is boring, the problem is not with those practices; the problem is with the appetites we’ve created in our children.  Are they watching too much TV?  Are they being over-stimulated by electronics and video games?  Are they spending time during a typical day learning the discipline of sitting quietly for a while?  Are they spending Sunday morning in something resembling a television studio shooting an episode of the latest kid’s show? 


    We will never have meaningful family worship if we don’t unplug.  Christianity is in many ways a quiet, contemplative, meditative, religion.  Listening to God’s word requires concentration and discipline.  Singing biblical, theologically driven songs requires paying attention.  Prevailing in prayer requires perseverance.  How do we expect this from children whose entire religious foundation is built upon entertainment?  Ironically, one of the most important things small children learn in family worship is the discipline of ‘sitting through’ something that is not necessarily entertaining.


    Now that that’s out of the way... here are some helpful hints for those who, like me, have young children in the home and want family worship to be meaningful for them.



A Few Helpful Hints


1. Keep It Simple


    Remember, family worship is not an attempt to reproduce at home what we get in church each week.  In other words, Dad doesn’t need to prepare a “sermon” each morning, and you don’t have to sing five or six songs.  Our goal is simply to honor God and transmit a faith-filled .  As such, we simply need to read together, sing together, and pray together (some add catechism, however, other families do catechism as part of their ‘education’ each day).  Remember, we’re not replacing what happens in church; we’re supplementing, and strengthening it.  As Richard Baxter has aptly said:


We must have a special eye upon families, to see that they are well ordered, and the duties of each relation performed. The life of religion, and the welfare and glory of both the Church and the State, depend much on family government and duty. If we suffer the neglect of this, we shall undo all. What are we like to do ourselves to the reforming of a congregation, if all the work be cast on us alone; and masters of families neglect that necessary duty of their own, by which they are bound to help us? If any good be begun by the ministry in any soul, a careless, prayer-less, worldly family is likely to stifle it, or very much hinder it; whereas, if you could but get the rulers of families to do their duty, to take up the work where you left it, and help it on, what abundance of good might be done! I beseech you, therefore, if you desire the reformation and welfare of your people, do all you can to promote family religion. (Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor)



2. More is Caught Than Taught


    Small children usually learn to love what Mom and Dad love.  Show me a ten year-old who loves the Texas Longhorns, and I’ll show you a parent who had him in front of the TV (or on the fifty yard line in Austin) when he was smaller.  Moreover, show me a parent who views daily family worship as drudgery and I’ll show you a kid who probably thinks the same.  This is not to say we have to be fake, or that we have to make our family worship artificially “exciting” in order to appease our kids.  It is, however, to say that we must buy in to this.  We need to have a passion for the God of the gospel and a desire to honor him in our homes.  As Arthur Pink has written:


If we would enjoy the blessing of God upon our family, then let its members gather together daily for praise and prayer. 'Them that honour Me I will honour" is His promise. (Arthur Pink, “Family Worship”)

This goes far beyond emotion.  Nor is this unique to family worship.  We see this in the worship of the church as well.  There is a difference between a family that is committed to the worship of almighty God and one that will let any and everything get in the way of gathering with God’s people on the Lord’s Day. 


    Thus, the place to start with family worship is our own motives.  We must be motivated by a love for God, and a desire to express that love daily in our homes, and see our children do the same.  Go before God in prayer and ask him to bend your heart toward his.  Beg him for a passion for the gospel and a yearning to proclaim and celebrate it.  Without this, we will have little hope of creating a winsome environment for our children.


3. Small Children Need Repetition


    If you have small children, you know one of their favorite phrases is, “Do it again!”  Children thrive on repetition.  Family worship is no different.  Our little boys love to do the same things over and over each day.  It helps them feel like they are a real part of what’s going on.  When we sing the Doxology EVERY MORNING, it helps my two year-old look forward to doing something he knows long before he can pronounce, let alone understand the words.  When we keep our same “order of worship” (read a passage, make observations, make applications, sing a song, pray, sing the Doxology), it helps our young children jump in and participate.  In fact, it creates a sense of uniformity for them.  They say things like, “Dad


    We also incorporate a few strategic things that help our smaller children.  For example, we keep the format the same each day.  Also, we sing one song for an entire month (and no, it is not a “children’s song;” we sing meaty hymns).  Doing so helps our smaller children learn the words.


4. Don’t Neglect Discipline


    Our children are sinners.  As such, they are going to display their sin nature regardless of the setting.  Engaging in family worship will not eliminate this reality.  As such, we must discipline our children consistently, even during family worship.  Some parents believe that correction is somehow incompatible with worship.  They reason, “I don’t want to force my child to worship God,” or similarly, “I don’t want them to remember family worship as a time when they were spanked, since it may cause them to have a warped view of God.” 


    I understand where this is coming from.  However, it is misguided.  Our children need to know that all discipline is about God.  They need to know that we correct them because God says so.  They need to know that the worship of God is no less serious than their school time, or their meal time, or any other time.  Do we avoid discipline at the dinner table, or the schoolroom because we don’t want our children to have bad experiences there?  In fact, what place is there for correction if we take this position?  Is there some place where you do want your children to have this supposed traumatic experience?  It makes no sense.  Much of the difficulty involved with doing family worship with preschoolers comes down to this very simple issue.  Undisciplined children don’t do very well in situations that require discipline. 


    In short, we must treat family worship like an essential, normal, non-negotiable part of our lives.  We cannot have the attitude that it is something we will do as long as the children “like it.”  We must view it in the same way we view breakfast, or dinner.  Dinner is not always easy with preschoolers.  Nevertheless, we persevere because we know they cannot survive without it.   The same is true of spiritual food.  Have an unwavering attitude; not one that goes along grudgingly, but one that views nothing more highly than the God of the gospel.  Have an attitude that pursues God relentlessly because you know nothing else will satisfy.  Have an attitude that keeps the gospel before your children because you know it is their greatest need. 


    This attitude will eventually bear fruit both in your life and in theirs.  Early on that fruit may be nothing more than seeing your children walk through the motions and learn things by rote.  Moreover, there may be days when they are less than enthusiastic.  Eventually, though, they will get the hang of it and their participation will improve.  Then one day, out of the blue, you’ll look at them and realize they own it.  Will it become their passion?  Perhaps.  However, that’s not your department.  Your job is merely to give them the necessary tools and the disciplines, and model what you hope they will embrace.


    By the way, if you have a problem with what I just described, answer one question... what would your attitude be if the previous paragraph was attached to a blog about teaching your child to read?




For more tips on family worship, see my section on the subject in Family Driven Faith:  Doing What it Takes to Raise Sons and Daughters who Walk with God.