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The Case for Family Integrated Worship
Naming the Problem
Have you ever considered that family integrated worship in church was the norm for centuries? It has only been in the last hundred years or so that this has changed. A couple of questions naturally come to mind. Was this change necessary? Have the outcomes been good? I believe the results speak for themselves.
Many people know something is wrong. They see that the majority of children grow up to flee the church and disown their faith. What they don't know is this is the result of a cancer that took root long ago.
Age segregated learning is a modern approach that has provided dismal results. The Sunday school movement and its age segregated approach to equipping the saints in the church came on the heels of and modeled itself after the public education system developed by Horace Mann in the late nineteenth century. What began as the church's attempt to minister to children who were not being given proper education at home, turned into a top down restructuring of how all children were instructed in biblical things from that time forward.
What began as a real attempt by most at thorough biblical instruction and catechizing the youth has devolved into many churches babysitting the children while their parents listen to a sermon in peace and fellowship with their friends. There is much more to the decline in church attendance and the general population disowning any religious affiliation than just age segregation in the modern church, but this method of bible education has proven it did not do its job effectively.
What I am not saying...
Since we know all too well that those things written online are so easily misconstrued, allow me to take a moment to clarify what I am not saying in this article.
I am not saying that all Sunday school teachers are bad. I have known teachers who were well-studied and took their task seriously. I am also not saying that no good ever came from Sunday School. Some children had no Christian parenting at home and their only exposure to the Gospel happened in these classrooms by dedicated teachers. That is admirable.
To say that a method has been proven dangerous at most and generally unhelpful at best, is not the same as denying the existence of truly godly Sunday school teachers out there and children who were saved and discipled under their attentive teaching. God can always create beauty from ashes, but that should not encourage us to keep destroying or avoiding good things with the expectation that God is going to clean up our mess. If God has given us in His Word what is best, why would we settle for just good enough?
I am also not advocating that a child should never have time alone with peers, nor am I saying that a child should never be taught by someone other than his parents. This unhelpful assumption would be to miss the forest for the trees.
I am advocating for a paradigm shift back to what was accepted as the norm for discipleship throughout Christendom until about a hundred years ago. A correlation does not necessarily equal causation, but in this case the proof is in the pudding.
It Takes A Village
You might have heard the popular idiom, "it takes a village." This expression became common during the late twentieth century following the publishing of the former First Lady Hillary Clinton's book titled as such. The idea being pushed in this phrase may sound innocent on its face. Raising children is complex and it is nice to have a supportive community around you to share wisdom and lend a helping hand, especially when things get tough. However, the objective of the published work and the way in which this phrase and its motive have been wielded politically has only served to endanger the welfare of our nation's children rather than help them. The ripple effects of this larger cultural shift in how the nation relates to its most vulnerable citizens have infiltrated the church.
This is for a larger discussion, but suffice it to say, that the Western Church was derelict in its duties when it allowed the State to come in and co-opt those commands given to the Church alone. Duties including performing or defining marriage, taking care of the poor, the elderly, and the orphaned through welfare, etc. Now that the State owns the village, the State is defining what that village is, who is operating the village, and how that village is indoctrinating its newest residents. If the child tells his public school counselor that he wants to transition to be a girl, and the parents disagree, the state pushes for the authority to remove the child from his parents and entrust him to the village. The all-powerful village. Parents may feel like they need a village to support them, but they definitely don't need the State-sponsored village. Whether they realize it or not, their priorities are not aligned. The State-sponsored village ultimately sees the parents as expendable and the children as a tool to be molded into their likeness.
This shift in mindset from it takes a family to raise a child to it takes a village is just part and parcel of a culture that puts the individual's desires above everything and everyone else. Family requires love, loyalty, commitment, selflessness. Our culture has no time for this level of discipline. The same village that was supposed to support the raising of children is instead perpetuating and incentivizing the likes of abortion, poverty, fatherlessness, divorce rates, same sex marriages, gender fluidity, and transgenderism. The children don't need that village, instead they ought to be protected from it.
We would be remiss if we thought this massive shift in our culture missed the Church. It didn’t, and Christians need to think long and hard about just how far this infiltration has reached, the damage it has caused, and how to reverse it.
It wasn’t until the latter half of the twentieth century that Christian parents began wholly relegating the discipleship of their children to the Church. Instead of equipping parents for their God-given duties, the Church, just like the State, co-opted a role that was not given to them by God. And in like fashion, parents became accustomed to others caring for their child’s souls and forgot their God-given purpose.
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Whose Job Is It Anyway to Train Children in Spirituality?
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." Deuteronomy 6:4-10
We can gather from Scripture, that parents are primarily tasked with caring for and training up their own children. Humans are not compartmental beings. A person is a whole person consisting of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual parts of himself. Therefore a parent is to care for and train up the whole child. Parents are best suited and best equipped for this duty, because God has given this role and mandate to them.
Joel Beeke in his book Parenting By God's Promises: How to Raise Children in the Covenant of Grace says, “The Christian home is the foundation of parenting, making the family the basic social unit of society. The essential lessons and skills for life in church and society at large are learned in the home. The church, as the family of God and the household of Christ, is comprised of many families casting in their lot together. As for the Christian school, any teacher will tell you that children from well-ordered, nurturing homes are the most likely to excel in their studies. In the home, Christian parents give their children a foundation on which to build the rest of their lives. That means our work is of the highest significance, not just for our families, but for our churches, our communities, our nations, and our world.”
The task given to us as parents is the highest of callings, to raise another human being, made in the likeness of God Himself, to honor his Creator in his thoughts, words, and actions. The Church’s role in the life of the family is to equip parents for this high calling to raise the next generation of disciples.
Ted Tripp says this in his TableTalk article The Function of the Household, “Balance is found when the family understands and embraces their need for the church to fulfill their calling. Such a family believes that they are responsible for the spiritual nurture of their children. They also know that they need the church to equip them by providing the needed insight, understanding, encouragement, and vitality to undertake this work. They understand that they need fellowship with other believers and accountability to godly elders who watch over their souls.”
Imbalance comes when parents entrust the Church with all of their child’s spiritual development. Churches will often invest the majority of their resources and energy into programming that primarily distracts, occupies, and entertains the children, only throwing in a short devotional and trite spiritual insight toward the end to include God in their games. This all occurs while the parents are busy doing the “real learning.” This practice inherently teaches children that real church is only for grown-ups. Then parents are surprised when their children find church boring when they are forced to transition environments.
The Case for Family Integrated Worship
Where all sorts of pearl clutching and contorted disgust is on display at the mention of doing away with the children's or youth ministries at church, there are a few who still remember a time in the not so distant past when worshiping together as a family was commonplace. In fact, this is a richly rooted tradition and discipline that has been passed down from generation to generation in Christian families worldwide. Adults did not see the inclusion of children in a church service as an unnecessary burden, embarrassment, or distraction because it was a duty. It is only because we have been offered an alternative solution in our modern age that we now feel entitled to our solitude to listen to God's Word preached in peace.
Now hearing the Word preached is a worthy endeavor. That is a large part of why we go to church, so why all the negativity toward programming that would allow Christian parents to do those things unhindered? Why are we so concerned that children actually be physically in the service, sitting by their parents, possibly bored, and potentially a distraction to those around them?
The primary answer is that God’s Word gives us a very clear principle of how He means for his people to congregate before Him.
“Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’” Luke 18-15-16
“Call a holy assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants.” Joel 2:15-16
“And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the Lord your God has blessed you. … And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male servants and your female servants, and the Levite that is within your towns, since he has no portion or inheritance with you.” Deuteronomy 12:7,12
“Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” Deuteronomy 31:12-13
In Ephesians 6:1-3 and in Colossians 3:20 Paul writes directly to the children of the congregation, presuming that they are present with their family in worship.
Joel Beeke encourages parents in his book Parenting by God’s Promises, “Given this scriptural evidence, churches should not separate children, teenagers, and adults into different worship assemblies. It is more biblical to bring them all together as members of one family and encourage them to sit together as families so that parents can make good use of the time to train their children in godliness.”
Training Children to Worship with the Family
Many families are making the choice to worship together instead of sending their children away to learn alongside their peers. This family integrated style of worship was practiced for all of Christian history up until about a century ago. With so many children growing up to leave the faith in recent decades, many concerned families are attempting a shift back to more historically proven models of discipling children.
Because many children have not been taught to sit still and listen from an early age, parents who are new to family integrated style worship may want some advice on how to help their children, whether young or old, to learn how to worship at church together with the family. No parent should be made to feel guilty if their children do not immediately fall in line. In fact, I would encourage other church members to be very understanding, patient, and encouraging while parents and children work through this period. Other church congregants ought to offer to help if the parents are open. The church is a family and therefore should joyfully walk alongside each other in the commitment to have families together in the worship service.
Remember, your goal is not to make your child perfect. You are not perfect when you sit in that pew. Your mission while worshiping beside your child is to train them in the joy of singing to the Lord, the grace that is listening to His Word, the mercy that is praying to our Father, and the utter gift that is fellowshipping with the people of God.
Our children are born sinners in need of a Savior and our role as parents is to share the Gospel with them. Without the Holy Spirit working in our children, our children are unregenerate. We cannot expect the unsaved to act saved. We want to be very careful in this area to not exasperate our children to the point where they despise both us and church because of legalism, yet we want to train both their bodies and hearts to be fertile for the Word of God to fall upon. It is such a fine line, and it is why we must rely on the Holy Spirit fully. You cannot train your children up in the Lord unless you are saturated in the Word of the Lord and prayer yourself. Seek the Lord for wisdom and trust Him for his goodness and faithfulness to His covenant people.
Get a FREE printable copy of 8 Tips for Teaching Children How to Worship at Church with the Family.
8 Tips for Teaching Children How to Worship at Church with the Family
Are you a family transitioning to family-integrated worship at church? Here are a few tips from a large family who have "been there and done that" when it comes to helping kids learn to worship alongside the family during a church service. FREE Printable Guide included!
Podcast Episode 6: The Case for Family Integrated Worship:
For those who see how many kids grow up in the church and then flee the first chance they get in adulthood - that is a complicated issue with layers of answers - but one of the primary concerns should be the modern church's absolute neglect in equipping parents to disciple their own children.
It wasn’t until the latter half of the twentieth century that Christian parents began wholly relegating the discipleship of their children to the Church. This shift in church practice coincides (not so coincidentally) with a huge shift in mandated government education and welfare. Instead of equipping parents for their God-given duties, the Church, just like the State, co-opted a role that was not given to them by God. And in like fashion, parents became accustomed to others caring for their child’s souls and forgot their God-given purpose.
This is a hard conversation, but it is an important conversation. We hope you will join us, and let us know about your experience! The Bible is our authority for all faith and practice. We need to get back to what the Bible has to say concerning role of the Church and the role of parents. We should never settle for what is culturally acceptable or convenient.
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Lindsey Stomberg is wife to Caleb Stomberg and co-author here at Reformed Faith and Family. She is a work-from-home, homeschooling mom of seven children. Lindsey has enjoyed blogging for over a decade. Lindsey is the former owner of The Road to 31 Blog and author of The ABC’s for Godly Children Bible Curriculum. She enjoys reading, writing, and graphic design. Her favorite pass times are family read-aloud time, snuggling with her babies, and going on walks with her family.