How much do we love our children?
There is a problem in the assemblies of our congregations in the United States. The problem is seen through our children while they are in the assembly; but the root problem is not to be found in the children, it is located in the parents and grandparents of those children, and it has to be stopped. You see, children in this country are allowed to treat going to the services of God like they are going to the movies. They have snacks, drinks, toys, books, games, and even video games and portable dvd players. They come into the worship assembly without the slightest intent of worshiping God, but instead are focused on having fun and not being bored for the next hour. Americans have completely lost sight of the purpose for our children being in the assembly. Consider some things our children need when they come before God.
Children in the assembly need expectations. Over the years, my wife has probably grown tired of hearing me make the statement, “people live down to our expectations,” but it is true nonetheless. Nowhere is the truth of this statement more evident than with our children. Our children will seek to fulfill our expectations, but will rarely deliberately go beyond them. Unfortunately, in many cases, American Christians have already determined that our children will be unruly, inattentive, objectionable, and overall menaces to those who have come to worship. Some congregations have lowered these expectations even further by creating classes and entertainment for their children to “enjoy” during the assembly. One man once told me, “The parents will have to take them out anyway, why not just start with them there?” Therefore, instead of instilling expectations of honor, respect, attention, and participation; parents bring in food, toys, and games to distract them, or create divisions of the assembly, until the boring proceedings of the day are accomplished. Such actions are a shame and turn the worship services of the church into a travesty.
God gives us a sense of the expectations he has for children in the assembly when he presented us with the pattern of Israel’s assemblies before God. In Nehemiah 8, when the word of the Law was read, all of the people stood during the reading to show respect and be attentive (Vs. 5, 7). In 2 Chronicles 20, when the children of Israel were gathered to petition God for help, it is stated that “all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children” (Vs. 13). Though I am not advocating the necessity of changing our services so that people have to stand the whole time, it is necessary to emphasize that when the people came before the Lord ALL of the people were expected to participate and pay attention; not just the adults. It is high time we started expecting our kids to behave with the honor and respect both God and man knows they can: to sit still, pay attention, and show respect for what is taking place.
Children in the assembly need training. Contrary to the apparent popular opinion of parents, our children do not train themselves. Parents become upset because they have coddled their children in the assembly their entire lives without ever instilling in them respect for the purpose or process of worship, and then wonder why, as the child becomes a teenager, he or she has no interest in spiritual matters. By the time they are teenagers, our children have been entertained their entire lives while their parents worshiped God. Why should we then expect to flip the proverbial switch and have that attitude change?
Just as children must learn respect for others, they must learn respect for God as well. Respect is defined as, “to feel or show admiration and deference toward somebody or something; to show consideration or thoughtfulness in relation to somebody or something.” Respect goes far beyond saying please and thank-you. It is an attitude that presents itself in all that is said and done. Unfortunately, our children are not being taught to respect God in the assembly.
Parents have the responsibility to train their children (Pro. 22:6), and part of that training is to instill in their children the proper respect for God and participation in the assembly. From a very young age children are able to participate in prayer and singing in the assembly. They are also able to see, hear, and understand things from God’s word if they are trained to do so. Our children have an amazing ability to comprehend what is happening around them and to learn from what is being said, if it is expected of them.
Under the Old Law, God expected the Israelites to proclaim his Word to their children everywhere and in every way: that included the assembly (Deut. 6:3-25). When God commanded children to obey their parents and honor them, he also commanded fathers to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:1-4). As parents, our responsibility is to prepare our children to serve God. That begins with a willingness to put forth the time and effort to train our children to respect him, his assembly, and participate in his worship.
Friends, the time has come to change our assemblies. It is time to rescind our contentment with allowing our children to dictate their actions and participation in the services. It is time for parents to take seriously the responsibility of training their children to serve God and, instead of lowering our standards to meet an ungodly society, raise them up to meet the expectations of our holy God. It is time to stop crippling our children’s future by coddling them and instead give them the means to stand on their own two feet by preparing them.
Again I ask the question: how much do we love our children? Do we love them enough to follow the examples God has presented? Do we love them enough to make sure they know and understand what God wants them to do, how it is to be done, and why it is important? Our actions will answer these questions.