Let’s allow the wisdom J.C. Ryle continue to help us understand and embrace our duty as Christian parents! In this–the seventh–section of his paper (which you can download HERE), he challenges parents: Train them to habits of diligence and regularity about public means of grace.
What does he mean by “public means of grace?” He is referring to the weekly gathering of God’s people in order to be taught from the Word, pray together, and encourage one another. From the very beginning of the Church, God’s people have met together with other believers week to week (if not more often!). Yet if you were to walk into the average American worship service on a given Sunday morning in 2011, you would see few children present–even among those in the teenage and college years.
Yet contrary to what we often assume, this is not a new problem. Ryle was writing in the 1800’s, yet in his writings, we can hear responses to the very same questions and problems that we often face today: Should I make my kids come to worship? What if they’re too young to understand? Isn’t it really just for adults? Why’s it such a big deal anyways? Why are there so few children in church?
Were he able to somehow travel through time and speak with us today, Ryle wouldn’t be shocked by our struggles or questions….But he would strongly challenge us to help our children see the importance of regular, sincere involvement in the worship services of our local church. His words are worth quoting at length in this section. He writes:
Tell (your children) the duty and privilege of going to the house of God, and joining in the prayers of the congregation…Tell them that wherever the Lord’s people are gathered together, there the Lord Jesus is present in an especial manner…Tell them of the importance of hearing the Word preached…
I call it a sad sight in a church when nobody comes up to the Lord’s table but the elderly people, and the young men and the young women all turn away. But I call it a sadder sight still when no children are to be seen in a church, excepting those who come to the Sunday School, and are obliged to attend. Let none of this guilt lie at your doors….
Do not allow them to grow up with a habit of making vain excuses for not coming. Give them plainly to understand, that so long as they are under your roof it is the rule of your house for every one in health to honour the Lord’s house upon the Lord’s day…
There are certain battles not worth having with our children, but this is not one of them. We must teach them that public worship with our congregation is necessary, beautiful, and vital for our growth in the gospel. Our children, even at young ages, are learning what to prioritize in their lives. Their schedules, at least in part, will start to orient around certain activities (whether school, athletic, meal, or even television schedules). Let’s be sure that they are hearing from us about the value of public worship with our church family. And let’s be sure that our words are being reinforced by our expectations of them.
Ryle shares some concerns that we would not necessarily offer in as strong of terminology (e.g. implying that young people sitting together in church is an all-around bad idea, and that parents should always make sure their children are sitting with them). But he does offer a beautiful picture that we long to see more of at CCC: “a whole family sitting together, old and young, side by side, — men, women, and children, serving God according to their households.”
Some of us might respectfully object to this idea, arguing that our children can’t understand what is happening in worship services. Why should they come with us? With words like propitiation, atonement, and sanctification, they might get lost–and won’t benefit from the experience.
Ryle anticipates this objection and responds to it with biblical clarity and conviction. Citing passages such as Exodus 10:9, Joshua 8:35, and Acts 21:5, he points out that God’s people have typically worshiped, learned, and prayed together–young and old alike. Even when Samuel was a young child, he ministered before the Lord without understanding all the “whys” and “hows.” And the apostles themselves were not able to understand Jesus’ teaching oftentimes, but the Holy Spirit brought Christ’s teaching to their minds at a later date and gave them understanding then. He could do the same with our children. They need not understand every word and every detail of our public worship services to benefit from taking part. The value will be in the long-term cumulative effect rather than the minor week-to-week details.
Your children very well might struggle to pay attention, to fully grasp what all is taking place, to keep their iPod off, or to see the value/importance of participating in our public worship services, but as Ryle concludes, “be not cast down because your children see not the full value of the means of grace now. Only train them up to a habit of regular attendance. Set it before their minds as a high, holy, and solemn duty, and believe me, the day will very likely come when they will bless you for your deed.”
Certainly, at CCC, we believe there is a time and place for “age-graded” teaching. We offer classes and opportunities for your children to be instructed in those settings, because there is great value in those times. But even more valuable than those classroom experiences will be the times your children get to see the full body in action, worshiping, praying, preaching, singing, giving, taking communion, seeing baptisms, hearing the gospel faithfully taught, and seeing it affect the entire congregation (even the ones with white hair)….As early as possible, we would love to see the children of CCC join us in public worship!
If you’d like some practical advice about how to interact with your children after worship services (which will go a long way to helping them learn to engage), check out this entry from a few months ago: “What Does Your Family Talk About at Lunch Sunday?”