The Family: Together in God’s Presence
February 6th, 2020
Article by John Piper and Noël Piper January 1st, 1995
God-centered worship is supremely important in the life of our church. We approach the Sunday morning worship hour with great seriousness and earnestness and expectancy. We try to banish all that is flippant or trivial or chatty.
Not all services are this way. Sunday morning is the Mount of Transfiguration — the awesome place of glory and speechlessness. Sunday or Wednesday evening is the Mount of Olives — the familiar spot for conversation with the Lord and each other.
In this article, we hope to do two things: 1) demonstrate that parents (or some responsible adult) should bring little children to the Sunday morning worship service rather than send them to a “children’s church,” and 2) give some practical advice about how to do it.
We don’t claim that our way of worshiping is the only valid way. Not all our ideas may fit with the way another church does it.
For example, we don’t have a children’s sermon as part of our Sunday morning service. It would be fun for the children, but in the long run would weaken the spiritual intensity of our worship. To everything there is a season. And we believe that, for at least one hour a week, we should sustain a maximum intensity of moving reverence.
There are several reasons why we urge parents to bring their children to worship. But these arguments will not carry much weight with parents who do not love to worship God.
The greatest stumbling block for children in worship is that their parents do not cherish the hour. Children can feel the difference between duty and delight. Therefore, the first and most important job of a parent is to fall in love with the worship of God. You can’t impart what you don’t possess.
Worshiping together counters the contemporary fragmentation of families. Hectic American life leaves little time for significant togetherness. It is hard to overestimate the good influence of families doing valuable things together week in and week out, year in and year out.
Worship is the most valuable thing a human can do. The cumulative effect of 650 worship services spent with Mom and Dad between the ages of 4 and 17 is incalculable.
Parents have the responsibility to teach their children by their own example the meaning and value of worship. Therefore, parents should want their children with them in worship so the children can catch the spirit and form of their parents’ worship.
“The greatest stumbling block for children in worship is that their parents do not cherish the hour.”
Children should see how Mom and Dad bow their heads in earnest prayer during the prelude and other non-directed times. They should see how Mom and Dad sing praise to God with joy in their faces, and how they listen hungrily to His word. They should catch the spirit of their parents meeting the living God.
Something seems wrong when parents want to take their children in the formative years and put them with other children and other adults to form their attitude and behavior in worship. Parents should be jealous to model for their children the tremendous value they put on reverence in the presence of Almighty God.
To sit still and be quiet for an hour or two on Sunday is not an excessive expectation for a healthy 6-year-old who has been taught to obey his parents. It requires a measure of discipline, but that is precisely what we want to encourage parents to impart to their children in the first five years.
Thus the desire to have children in the worship service is part of a broader concern that children be reared so that they are submissive and respectful (1 Timothy 3:4).
Children can be taught in the first five years of life to obey their father and mother when they say, “Sit still and be quiet.” Parents’ helplessness to control their children should not be solved by alternative services but by a renewal of discipline in the home.
Children absorb a tremendous amount that is of value. And this is true even if they say they are bored.
Music and words become familiar. The message of the music starts to sink in. The form of the service comes to feel natural. The choir makes a special impression with a kind of music the children may hear at no other time. Even if most of the sermon goes over their heads, experience shows that children hear and remember remarkable things.
The content of the prayers and songs and sermon gives parents unparalleled opportunities to teach their children the great truths of our faith. If parents would only learn to query their children after the service and then explain things, the children’s capacity to participate would soar.
“Children should catch the spirit of their parents meeting the living God.”
Not everything children experience has to be put on their level in order to do them good. Some things must be. But not everything.
For example, to learn a new language you can go step by step from alphabet to vocabulary to grammar to syntax. Or you can take a course where you dive in over your head, and all you hear is the language you don’t know. Most language teachers would agree that the latter is by far the most effective.
Sunday worship service is not useless to children just because much of it goes over their heads. They can and will grow into this new language faster than we think — if positive and happy attitudes are fostered by the parents.
There is a sense of solemnity and awe which children should experience in the presence of God. This is not likely to happen in children’s church. Is there such a thing as children’s thunder or children’s lightning or the crashing of the sea “for children”?
A deep sense of the unknown and the mysterious can rise in the soul of a sensitive child in solemn worship — if his parents are going hard after God themselves. A deep moving of the magnificence of God can come to the young, tender heart through certain moments of great hymns or “loud silence” or authoritative preaching. These are of immeasurable value in the cultivation of a heart that fears and loves God.
We do not believe that children who have been in children’s church for several years between the ages of six and twelve will be more inclined or better trained to enjoy worship than if they had spent those years at the side of their parents. In fact, the opposite is probably the case.
It will probably be harder to acclimate a 10- or 12-year-old to a new worship service than a 5- or 6-year-old. The cement is much less wet, and vast possibilities of shaping the impulses of the heart are gone.
When our four sons grew to be young men, we assumed that the worship-training chapter of our life had ended. But God has wonderful surprises. Our youngest son was twelve when we adopted our daughter, who was just a couple of months old. So our experience with young children in the pew started more than twenty years ago and will continue a while longer.
We discovered that the very earliest “school” for worship is in the home — when we help a baby be quiet for just a moment while we ask God’s blessing on our meal; when a toddler is sitting still to listen to a Bible story book; when a child is learning to pay attention to God’s word and to pray during family devotional times.
At church, even while our children were still nursery-aged, I began to help them take steps toward eventual regular attendance in Sunday morning worship services. I used other gatherings as a training ground — baptisms, choir concerts, missionary videos, or other special events that would grab the attention of a 3-year-old. I’d “promote” these to the child as something exciting and grown-up. The occasional special attendance gradually developed into regular evening attendance, while at the same time we were beginning to attempt Sunday mornings more and more regularly.
“A deep sense of the unknown and the mysterious can rise in the soul of a sensitive child in solemn worship.”
I’ve chosen not to use the church’s child care as an escape route when the service becomes long or the child gets restless. I don’t want to communicate that you go to a service as long as it seems interesting, and then you can go play. And I wanted to avoid a pattern that might reinforce the idea that all of the service is good, up until the preaching of God’s word — then you can leave.
Of course, there are times when a child gets restless or noisy, despite a parent’s best efforts. I pray for the understanding of the people around me, and try to deal with the problem unobtrusively. But if the child won’t be quiet or still, I take him or her out — for the sake of quick discipline and for the sake of the other worshipers. Then I have to decide whether we’ll slip back into service or stay in the area reserved for parents with young children. It depends on how responsive the child seems and whether there’s an appropriate moment in the flow of the service. If we stay in the “family area” outside the sanctuary, I help my child sit quietly as if we were still in the sanctuary.
By the time they are four years old, our children assume that they’ll be at all the regular weekly services with us.
Your anticipation and conversation before and after service and during the week will be important in helping your child learn to love worship and to behave well in service.
Help your children become acquainted with your pastor. Let them shake hands with him at the door and be greeted by him. Talk about who the worship leaders are; call them by name. Suggest that your child’s Sunday School teacher invite the pastor to spend a few minutes with the children if your church’s Sunday morning schedule allows for that.
If you know what the Scripture passage will be for the coming Sunday, read it together several times during the week. A little one’s face really lights up when he hears familiar words from the pulpit.
Talk about what is “special” this week: a trumpet solo, a friend singing, a missionary speaker from a country you have been praying for.
Sometimes you can take the regular elements of the service and make them part of the anticipation. “We’ve been reading about Joseph. What do you think the pastor will say about him?” “What might the choir be singing this morning?” “Maybe we can sit next to our handicapped friend and help him with his hymnbook so he can worship better too.”
There are two additional and important pre-service preparations for us: a pen and notepad for “Sunday notes” and a trip to the rest room (leaving the service is highly discouraged).
First, I let a child who wants a worship folder have one — it helps a child feel like a participant in the service. And quietly, before service begins, I may point to the different parts of the service listed in the folder.
During service, we all sit or stand along with rest of the congregation. I share my Bible or hymnal or worship folder with my little one, because use of these is an important part of the service.
“We discovered that the very earliest ‘school’ for worship is in the home.”
The beginning of the sermon is the signal for “notetaking” to begin. (I want a child’s activities to be related to the service. So we don’t bring library books to read. I do let a very young child look at pictures in his Bible, if he can do it quietly.) Notetaking doesn’t mean just scribbling, but “taking notes” on a special pad used just for service.
“Taking notes” grows up as the child does. At first he draws pictures of what he hears in the sermon. Individual words or names trigger individual pictures. You might pick out a word that will be used frequently in the sermon; have the child listen carefully and make a check mark in his “notes” each time he hears the word.
Later he may want to copy letters or words from the Scripture passage for the morning. When spelling comes easier, he will write words and then phrases he hears in the sermon. Before you might expect it, he will probably be outlining the sermon and noting whole concepts.
My training for worship has three main goals:
- That children learn early and as well as they can to worship God heartily.
- That parents be able to worship.
- That families cause no distraction to the people around them.
So there are certain expectations that I teach the young ones and expect of the older ones:
- Sit or stand or close eyes when the service calls for it.
- Sit up straight and still — not lounging or fidgeting or crawling around, but respectful toward God and the worshipers around you.
- Keep bulletin papers and Bible and hymnal pages as quiet as possible.
- Stay awake. Taking notes helps. (I did allow the smallest ones to sleep, but they usually didn’t need to!)
- Look toward the worship leaders in the front. No people-gazing or clock-watching.
- If you can read fast enough, sing along with the printed words. At least keep your eyes on the words and try to think them. If you can’t read yet, listen very hard.
For my part, I try to create an environment in our pew that makes worship easier. In past years, I would sit between whichever two were having the most trouble with each other that day. We choose seats where we can see the front better (while seated, not kneeling on the pew; kneeling leads to squirming and blocks the view of others).
Each child has a Bible, offering money, and worship folder at hand, so he doesn’t have to scramble and dig during the worship time. During the prelude, if I notice in the bulletin something unusual for which we need to be prepared (a responsive reading or congregational prayers, for example), I quietly point it out to a child who is old enough to participate.
When the service has ended, my first words are praise to the child who has behaved well. In addition to the praise, I might also mention one or two things that we both hope will be better next time.
But what if there has been disregard of our established expectations and little attempt to behave? The first thing that happens following the service is a silent and immediate trip to the most private place we can find. Then the deserved words are spoken and consequences administered or promised.
On the rare occasions when my pastor-husband can sit with the rest of us, the youngest one climbs right into his lap — and is more attentive and still than usual. What a wonderful thing for a young mind to closely associate the closeness and warmth of a parent’s lap with special God-times.
A child gets almost the same feeling from being next to his parent or from an arm around the shoulder or an affectionate hand on the knee.
The setting of the tight family circle focusing toward God will be a nonverbal picture growing richer and richer in the child’s mind and heart as he matures in appreciation for his family and in awe at the greatness of God.
This article was taken with permissions from desiringGod.org.
John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For more than thirty years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He is author of more than fifty books, and his sermons, articles, books, and more are available free of charge at desiringGod.org.
By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Source: desiringGod.org
Christ’s Exaltation: The Ground of Our Hope
February 6th, 2020
“The twentieth century, it is safe to say, has made us all into deep historical pessimists.” So observed Francis Fukuyama in his seminal 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man. What happened? The nineteenth century’s humanistic faith in inevitable moral progress was destroyed on the battlefields of two cataclysmic world wars and in the unprecedented murderous cruelty of Hitler’s gas chambers, Stalin’s gulags, and Pol Pot’s Cambodian killing fields. History seemed to point, not to a golden age of moral progress and enlightenment, but toward an age of unspeakable cruelty backed by technological developments that would stagger the moral imagination.
Fukuyama demonstrated the failure of historical “faiths” such as Marxism, with its confidence in the ultimate victory of the proletariat through class struggle and revolution. His analysis of modern historical pessimism was correct, at least in this respect, for secular myths did not fare well in the twentieth century, and most contemporary Americans look to the future with a mixed sense of unease and uncertainty.
The Christian worldview stands in stark contrast both to the humanistic idea of progress and to modern secular pessimism. At the center of the Christian worldview stands a hope centered in the rule and reign of Christ—a reign that will one day be revealed to the entire cosmos.
The historic Protestant understanding of the two states of Christ’s work provides a framework for a Christian understanding of history and the future. Christ’s state of humiliation grounds history in Christ’s redemptive work even as His exalted state establishes our confidence in the future.
For the Christian, the future is secured by the sure and certain fulfillment of God’s promises and the comprehensive realization of Christ’s reign over all powers in heaven and on the earth. According to the historic evangelical faith, the exaltation of Christ includes His resurrection, His ascension, His session with the Father, and His glorious return. Each of these realities represents an essential aspect of Christ’s reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.
Having fulfilled His redemptive work, Christ was raised from the dead by the will of the Father. The cross and resurrection stand together as the central events of human history, and Christ’s resurrection demonstrated both the Father’s power and His good pleasure in the perfect obedience of the Son—an obedience even unto death.
In a similar manner, the ascension announced that Christ’s work was finished—fully accomplished—and thus the Son was returned to the Father. Even as Christ remains spiritually present among His people, He is not bodily among us, having ascended to the Father. As Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:32-33).
The third aspect, Christ’s session with the Father, points to the present reality of His reign and His intercession for the saints. This is a truly revolutionary doctrine, for even as the world appears to secular eyes to be an arena of chaos and uncertainty, Christians know that Christ is ruling over creation even now—but through a hidden reign.
Our confidence is established by the fact that Jesus Christ is even now reigning over the created order and, most importantly, over all humanity. Of course, this is a kingly rule that is hidden from the view of sinners, even as it is celebrated among believers by faith. Christians can endure hardship, face suffering, and bear the reproach of the world, all the while knowing that we are serving the King whose eternal reign will one day be revealed to every single person on the planet.
Even now, Christ is preparing a place for His people (John 14:2-3) and preparing the creation for His appearing—a return in glory, power, and might. This return will be very different from His humble birth in Bethlehem. Though His arrival in Bethlehem was known only to a few, His return will be known to all—and announced to all creation. This fourth aspect of Christ’s exaltation, His return, reminds us that history is indeed headed toward a defined goal. Thus, Christ’s coming assures us that history will have a definite end with a comprehensive display of God’s righteousness, justice, and redeeming love.
Francis Fukuyama looked to the tumultuous and tortuous years of the twentieth century and saw the end of history. The Christian is driven by a very different understanding. Past, present, and future find their meaning in the Christian worldview in light of Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the grave—and in His exalted state that will be fully realized in his victorious return in kingly glory.
The doctrine of Christ’s exaltation is not merely a matter of interest to academic theologians—it is the ground of our hope. In a very real sense, the exaltation of Christ explains why Christians can face both life and death with full confidence. This alone is the kind of faith that would lead the apostle Paul to declare: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Dare we believe less?