Keeping Them Quiet
About the Guest
Are your kids too wiggly to join you in church? If so, listen to today’s broadcast when Dennis Rainey swaps parenting tips with Robbie Castleman, a mother of two and author of the book Parenting in the Pew.
Robbie CastlemanRobbie Castleman is Professor of Theology & Biblical Studies at John Brown University. She is known affectionately by her students as "Dr. C." Besides the books listed here, she has contributed chapters to several other works: Faith on the Edge, For All The Saints, Shaped by Faith, My Heart, Christ's Home Devotional, and my husband and I wrote the study guide for Howard Synder's Community of the King. I also have contributed to the Baker Handbook of the Bible and have written for several...more
Are your kids too wiggly to join you in church?
Keeping Them Quiet
Robbie: I can sympathize with wanting the adult members of your congregation to get as much out of a service or a teaching, but it's short-sighted, because the fundamental thing about worship isn't what we get out of it – not that that's not important, but that's not the ultimate thing. Worship really is for the Lord, and children can do that.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, January 25th. Our is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We're going to talk today about taking your children with you to church and teaching them to be worshipers.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the program. Did you ever have any problem when your kids were little, getting them to sit still in church, you know, and just be quiet and pay attention and not act up and …
Dennis: Yeah, but I had a problem with it, Bob, because I reflected on the days when I was a boy …
Bob: … yeah …
Dennis: … and I remember counting the fans in the ceiling, and the number of …
Bob: … are you talking about ceiling fans?
Dennis: Oh, bricks.
Bob: Oh, bricks and …
Dennis: I counted bricks or the patterns that were in the ceiling in our church in Ozark, Missouri. I just remember counting everything you could count, and squirming, and I was not a very good little boy in church. But I was there.
Bob: Yeah, that's good. Your own children, then, were a chip off the old block, huh?
Dennis: Well, actually, our children, past a certain age, would not go to our church together with us. And looking back on that, frankly, Barbara and I would talk about that on occasion. We wondered if they were missing some things of corporate worship because they didn't. Now, there were times throughout the year when our church would gather together with families, but we had more of a specialized approach to the young people, and they had their own children's church, and I still have my questions about that, wondering if they may have missed something there.
Bob: Well, we're going to talk, over the next couple of days, about kids and church and how you make that work for them and for you and for the church and …
Dennis: You know, church is really important if you're going to grow a spiritually strong family, and part of the purpose of us coming together corporately in church is worship. And I'm thrilled that we have a guest today on FamilyLife Today who has a heart for both worship and for families. Robbie Castleman joins us on our broadcast. Robbie, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Robbie: It's great to be here, thanks for having me.
Dennis: Robbie has two sons of her own. She lives in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.
Bob: It just sounds religious, doesn't it?
Robbie: It's a great place to come from.
Bob: It is.
Dennis: It is. She's from Florida. She just moved to Arkansas from Florida, and I made the mistake, before we came into the studio, of asking her if she was a 'Gator, and she spent the last 15 years of her life in Tallahassee …
Bob: Oh, you could hear the drumbeats there.
Dennis: And she's a Seminole, a big fan of Bobby Bowden's down there.
Bob: She flashed you a look when you said "'Gators."
Dennis: I’m telling you, I thought we had lost the broadcast today, Bob. It was really a serious issue.
Robbie: Go 'Noles.
Dennis: She is a professor of biblical studies at John Brown University and national director for the religious and theological studies fellowship with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship – now that's a mouthful. She and her husband, as I mentioned, live in Siloam Springs where he pastors a church. And she has written a book called "Parenting in the Pew." Having read this book, Robbie, you kind of sliced this book one way, you sliced it another way. You really have a heart for the subject of worship. Why is that?
Robbie: Because I think there's a big difference between going to worship and just going to church; that worship has everything to do with being encountered by and encountering our Father. A lot of people can go to church and never think about paying attention to the Father, about worship.
Dennis: And for parents, our assignment is not merely to take our children to church.
Robbie: Right. The book – I think the subtitle is "Training Your Children to Worship." That's what kids need to do in church.
Dennis: Entering into the worship of the Father and the experience of the Father. So you're taking them to church, yes, to get the teaching; yes, to get the spiritual and moral guidance, but you're wanting us, as parents, to catch the big picture – that our assignment, as parents, is to take our children to meet God and to worship Him.
Robbie: That's right.
Bob: Dennis talked about his experience of counting the bricks in the ceiling in church, and you shared the same kind of thing in your book. In fact, I love the way you expressed it. You said, "I went to church as a youngster usually in shiny shoes and an itchy petticoat. I was fairly good and reasonably quiet, at least my body was. Mentally and emotionally I romped outside, counted bricks, made up wild stories about the people in front of me. Eventually, though, I grew tired of counting bricks and doodling in the bulletin, and I graduated to the teen balcony to pass notes and gossip about the people down below.
Dennis: This is when I knew she didn't go to church with me. We didn't have a balcony in our church. We did have the bricks but not the balcony.
Bob: Did you have a teen section?
Dennis: Oh, yeah, it was the back pew, the very farthest pew from the pulpit.
Bob: You couldn't get a balcony so the back pew had to suffice for that.
Dennis: That's exactly right.
Bob: If that was your experience growing up, do you think that's the experience of most kids in churches today – the same kind of thing – counting bricks and passing notes and doodling?
Robbie: I've gone a lot of different places around the country, and when I do worship consultations or worship seminars in churches, I often ask the parents that have come for the seminar, or the church that's gathered, how many red panes are there in the front window or how many bricks there are between such-and-such and such-and-such, and not only does everyone over 8 in the church know that, but most of the adults do and when I remind them or ask them, "So how many red panes are there?" There's always people that know exactly how many red panes, so it's not just the kids.
Dennis: Even the adults – one of the things that I've heard you say is that there is a difference between worship B.C. and worship A.D.
Robbie: That's right – worship before children or worship after diapers – that's what it means.
Dennis: I'm telling you, it's the truth, it really is the truth. There is a big difference.
Robbie: I've talked with so many young parents through the years, and it's – I remember it, I understand it – that their sense of before they had the kids and especially if they're new to the Lord or they're loving Jesus, and they're going to a church that's really helped bring them spiritually alive. Before they have kids, they get so much out of it, and then after the kids come along, they're just distracted, and they'll go through seasons of not getting anything out of it, and then we'll talk about, "Well, where does worship fit in all of that? How can the Lord be honored both B.C. and A.D.?
Bob: Well, and that's one reason why a lot of churches, A.D., take the kids and separate them somewhere, as Dennis talked about – you take them off for 12 years so they won't be a distraction to their parents, they won't be a distraction to others around them in the church. Is there something fundamentally wrong with that, do you think?
Robbie: Well, I can sympathize with the feeling or the sense of wanting the adult members of your congregation to get as much out of a service or a teaching, but it's short-sighted because very often what happens, and, in fact, I think it's the majority of time, those 12-year-olds are forced to come back, and that's exactly how they look at it – they're forced to come back. And there is just this huge disconnect, because that's all they're doing. They have to go to church now, and it's generally because they've never learned to go to worship. That is so counter to what we see especially in Jesus, in the Gospel. His invitation for the reality of children to remind the people present, even in His small entourages, the presence of the kingdom. And children can do that – that worship really is for the Lord, and that the fundamental thing about worship isn't what we get out of it – not that that's not important – but that's not the ultimate thing. Worship asks the question, what does God get out of it? Is He honored? Is He loved? Is He paid attention to? And children, when they're with us in worship, bring an immediacy to God's presence that, very often, adults grow lazy with the real presence of the kingdom and the King in our midst.
Dennis: One of the things you say in your book is that a family can learn to sit very still but be unmoved by the Holy Presence of God. You say it's all about learning and experiencing God. And then you went on to tell a story about a little boy by the name of Jeremy who – and, Bob, this really is a great story that reminds us that the kingdom of God is for the children, because they see it in the most simplest terms and sometimes can remind us of what we are overlooking in our complex adult world.
Robbie: Yeah, Jeremy was – his mom was sick, and we were very, very dear friends, and she asked could Jeremy come to worship and sit with me in addition to my two boys, and I said, "Sure." And so Jeremy was sitting next to me, and he was a little bit younger than my two at the time, but I did parenting in the pew, and because he was the toddler age – I think he was 4 or 5 at the time – I had him during – in our church we have a responsive reading, and it was just out of the back of the old red hymnbook, and the pastor would read one section, and then the congregation would read the next section, and I would involve the children in that to the extent that they could be.
So I had Jeremy, my arm around him, he was standing on the pew, and I was just going left to right with my finger as we read through the responsive reading. Well, the responsive reading that morning was Psalm 139, you know, how vast are your thoughts, how precious are your thoughts toward me, O Lord I can't count them. You are with me when I rise up and lie down, and you know how gorgeous David's Psalm 139 is.
Well, all of a sudden, in the middle of this responsive reading, Jeremy says – and all the children in this church called me "aunt" – "Aunt Robbie, Aunt Robbie," and I said, "What is it, Jeremy?" Of course, the congregation is continuing to read, and he says, in a quiet little voice, he was trying to stage whisper, "Aunt Robbie, Aunt Robbie, Jesus knows my dog." And I said, "Pardon me? Jesus knows your dog?" And he says, "Jesus knows my dog." And, all of a sudden, I realized what we had just read – "How precious are your thoughts toward me, O God." And Jeremy's little mongrel dog was named Precious.
Well, as I reflected on this interaction with Jeremy, I realized he got it. He understood what David was saying about Psalm 139 – if you have a dog, Jesus knows its name. And isn't that the point? And every time I read Psalm 139 now I go, "Yes, Jesus knows my rising up, my lying down, my going forth, my coming back. Should I go to the extent of the morning, Thou are there." You know, all the high-sounding words, but in the back of that there is "Aunt Robbie, Jesus knows my dog."
Bob: His hermeneutic may have been a little off, but his understanding of the text was solid, wasn't it?
Robbie: He got it, that's exactly right.
Dennis: And I think that's what Jesus was talking about when He said, "Don't hinder the children." Because the children sometimes remind the adults, as they come to Christ, they remind him about the simplicity of the Gospel, that it is about very simple faith. It's not about being complex, but it's about a simple faith and love and devotion.
I'll never forget an illusionist who works for Campus Crusade for Christ, Andre Kohl, told me one time …
Robbie: Oh, yeah.
Dennis: The hardest people in all the world to fool with your tricks that you perform as an illusionist, he said, are children.
Robbie: Mm-hm, that's right.
Dennis: Because children don't get as complex as adults in trying to figure something out. They just look, see it for what it is, and many times they figure out an illusion because of that.
Robbie: Oh, that's right. I have a – this happened after the publication of the book, so this is a freebie, it's not in the book. During the Gulf War, one of the members of our church, a young boy named Tommy was off to the Gulf War. He'd been in the National Guard Reserve, and we knew that this was his last Sunday in church before being shipped out, and so the worship service was quite sober. People were quite aware, and we didn't know if it was going to be over in 10 days or whatever, and so we were quite concerned about Tommy going off to the Gulf War, and so we had a special prayer time for Tommy that morning. And several of the adults prayed fairly elaborately, you know, adult prayers like, "Lord, O Sovereign God of the Universe, we just trust You with Tommy and ask that he not be harmed," you know, just, all adult prayers for Tommy.
And then as things began to wind down, there was a small child in the congregation – I think he was about 8. And I can't remember his name right now, but all of a sudden, there was this pause, and this 8-year-old said, "Dear Jesus, Just don't let Tommy get killed, okay? That's all, okay, amen."
Well, there was dead silence. I mean, there was dead silence in the sanctuary, because that's what we were all praying but it was encrusted with adult euphemisms. But the child, just like Dennis said, cut right through it. There was no illusion about what we were praying about, and Tommy came home.
Bob: Here is what we're saying, we're saying kids can do this.
Robbie: Well, and this child prayed because her parents parented in the pew, and she had been trained to pay attention, to listen, and to feel that she was a part of the worship service therefore she could pray out loud, too. This grew because she wasn’t sitting there connecting dots or coloring in a color book.
Bob: So they can do it, they should do it, in fact, the Gospels are full of Jesus calling children to be a part of the worship community, and whatever the experience at your church is; whether the kids are in a Sunday school class while the parents are in church, whatever it is, we have a responsibility, as moms and dads, to help our kids understand what worship and community – how those two fit together and how we make that a reality in their lives, and it's not something that you wait until they get to a certain age and then try to involve them in that process. You've got to start right at the beginning.
Robbie: Right, James Dobson says the most teachable ages for children are between toddler and 7 years old – go for it.
Dennis: And you say in our book that the time you found – well, to be the best time to take your children into worship was around the age of 4.
Robbie: Four years old – big birthday. When you're four years old you get to stay the whole time, and that was delightful for us.
Bob: And, I guess, with the first child, there was some sense of anticipation – there must be something really good because Mommy had made it sound really good, right?
Robbie: Well, and it was even bigger with the second child. Robert Dayton always got to do things first, because when he was born, and then 17 months later here comes Scott Breckenridge, and so with the first one I sort of stumbled into that age. My instinct was he goes to school in a year, let's lengthen his attention span, he needs to learn to sit and listen. So I think I just – you know, I think the Lord led me in some regards, but I just sort of stumbled into the four-year-old thing.
But it did, it worked. He was still teachable, he trusted me, had enough discipline, things like that, and so I began to keep him with me the whole service instead of having him go to the children's place after the children's sermon in our service, which was about a third of the way through.
Bob: So he may have been looking forward to that and excited that he was getting to do something grownup …
Robbie: And, especially, big brother is there, too. But he had to wait until he was four years old, and he always wanted to skip birthdays and be as old as his brother, so we really helped build that anticipation that after we do Happy Birthday Four Years Old, and you blow out four candles, that very next Sunday you get to be – so it was a very positive thing.
Bob: Yeah, but, once he'd been there for a few weeks or a few months, didn't he kind of come to you and say, "Hey, Mom, I thought this was going to be a lot cooler than it is. I don't understand everything that's going on in there, and the words are over my head, and these things that we sing in the hymnal, I don't understand a lot of" – obviously, he's not going to talk that way at four, but some of the anticipation, once he'd unwrapped the gift and played with it for a while, didn't he go, "This isn't as cool as I thought it would be?"
Robbie: Well, kids are kids, absolutely. And they usually crank it up again when they're about 12 and then again when they're about 16.
Dennis: I think today we have a generation of brand-new parents who are just embarking on this journey with their children, and it's unchartered territory for them, and that's why they need someone like you to guide them along the way. I just want to hit the two main points we've talked about today.
First of all, worship begins with you, as a parent. If you don't seen the value, if you're not worshiping, experiencing, loving God, giving Him honor, and realizing it's not about you and what you get out of it but more about Him and what you offer to Him, then you're not going to be able to impart something to your children.
But the second thing is, we are commanded by Scripture to pass on a generational torch, and it's not just a torch of truth, education, of dogma and doctrine. It is to be a torch of the experience of the Almighty God, and corporate worship, singing, giving, psalm reading, psalm singing, preaching of the text – those are all pieces of what comprises worship. And we are instruction our children, even though they may be little, in the discipline of spiritual worship.
And, Bob, again, I just want to implore upon our singles who are listening, our marrieds who have tuned in, families who are just starting out, or maybe are on down the road and wonder if they can make up lost ground – the answer is yes. This is a responsibility of every believer – worship is not optional, it's essential, and it's essential not only for yourself but also to pass on the experience of God to the next generation.
Bob: I know, as I worked my way through Robbie's book, there were a lot of things that I looked at, and I said, "Yeah, that resonates, we've done that, that's the way it's worked for our family, I agree with that." Then there were some other things where I said, "I wish I could do that over again," because we didn't do it exactly right there, and there are some things I'd do differently, and that's why I think, for parents who are starting out, this is a great book to help you think through what it's going to be like for you and your kids as you go through church together.
Dennis: Well, you're not alone in wishing she had had it at an earlier point in her own family. Ruth Bell Graham, Billy Graham's wife, said this, "I wish I'd had this book when our children were small. Still, reading it as a great-grandmother has done me good." And I think the principles of worship for our own lives are important, but to see the generational connection that corporate worship, church, is, again, it's not an option for the Christian family. We've got to step into it, and we have to find a way to make it a winning alternative for our families.
Bob: And I've talked to some families who have made the decision for a period of time. Just to experiment a little bit, they've said to the children, "We're going to take a couple of months, maybe in the summertime or maybe around a vacation time," and they've said, "Instead of you going to Sunday school class, we want you to sit with us," and they brought them into the worship service so that they can begin to experience what grownup worship is like," and you can do it on maybe a once-a-month basis or maybe do it for a month once a year. But I would think, before you do it, it would be good to get a copy of Robbie Castleman's book and read it together as a couple, and begin to think about how you want to use that time together in "big church" or in adult church or whatever you wind up calling it, in the regular church service, how you would use that as a way to help your children grow and become worshipers themselves.
We've got copies of Robbie's book in our FamilyLife Resource Center. If you are interested in getting a copy, you can go online at FamilyLife.com. You'll find information available there when you click "Today's Broadcast," or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY for more information. Again, the online address is FamilyLife.com or call 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can let you know how you can get a copy of the book sent out to you.
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Well, tomorrow we are going to continue our conversation with Robbie Castleman about taking our kids to church and having them learn what it means to be a true worshiper. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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