Parenting in the Pew (Book Review)

parenting-in-the-pewSadly, the artful skill of raising children with loving and present discipline in the context of worship services is on the wane. As more and more churches opt for “children’s church” during the regular worship service, more and more families are missing out on the joy and privilege of worshiping with their children. Children are missing out on observing and participating in worshiping God with the entire assembly of believers. Age segregation is rampant in schools, extra-curricular activities, and sometimes even the workplace.  While not necessarily a bad thing in certain situations,  how sad that the church has adopted this practice, for in Christ there is neither child or adult, for we are all one in Christ Jesus (the Bible doesn’t explicitly say this, but I believe it is a necessary consequence of other explicit sayings; cf. Gal 3:28). But some congregations choose to say “no” to our culture’s expectation for an adults-only worship experience. They have chosen an older, traditional path that keeps families together for worship that children might learn from their parents (and other adults), and that adults might learn anew from the children. For Christians who find themselves in churches like these, Robbie Castleman has written Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship (now in its third edition). And for parents that have the option of dropping the kids off for the children’s program, Castleman sets forth the case for keeping your kids with you to worship. No one claims that keeping kids with parents in the worship serviced is easy, but the fruit can be abundant.

In ten short (and very readable) chapters, the author describes why parents ought to worship God with their children present. (Note: she believes it may be appropriate for babies and toddlers to be in a nursery program, but that children as young as three are capable of worship training with their parents.) By illustrating her case with stories from her own experience raising two sons in the pew while daddy was doing his job (she is a pastor’s wife), the reader in drawn into her struggles and successes.

Chapter 1 describes how parents should understand one purpose of worshiping with their children—introducing them to the Heavenly Father. Castleman believes that when parents pay attention to their children in worship, it pays off. And that children are able to pay attention despite typical child-like attention spans, and are able to worship. Chapter 2 discusses the difference between the adult experience of worship “B.C.” (before children) and “A.D” (after diapers). It will never be the same! But that is not the same as saying worship will never be joyful, meaningful, or good again. Chapter 3 makes the case from the Bible and the author’s personal experience that children believe, respond, belong, and can help. Chapter 4 begins the section on practical tips on how parents can prepare children for worship by showing that preparation begins Saturday night. If parents want to increase the likelihood of having a pleasant, attentive, and joyful experience of worshiping God corporately with the church on Sunday morning, then a little prep work the night before is advised. Chapters 5-10 address the individual aspects of the typical worship service, helping parents to understand why we do the things we do in the worship of God, and how to make these elements of worship meaningful for our children, inviting them to participate with us.

We just finished a Sunday School discussion forum with parents at our church working through the ideas in Parenting in the Pew. Some parents were brand new to worshiping in the same service with their children and needed help and encouragement. Other parents have been in the trenches for a few years now. Still others were seasoned parents with kids mostly grown up or now adults. The discussions each week were stimulating as we sought to encourage one another in the difficult but rewarding task of raising our children alongside us in all of life—even when we come as the church to worship.

While some parents will need a reminder that Castleman is working in the realm of “proverbs” and not “natural law” (in other words, her advice for how to raise children to love God and worship him is generally true and is not guaranteed to work with every child—remember that God is the one who changes the hearts of little sinners), the principles contained in this book are sure to help Christian parents in their task of raising children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4).

Click here for a Google Preview of the book.

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