In the world of children’s ministry, it is easy to get wrapped up in the whirlwind of coloring pages, puppet shows, and sticky fingers. After all, meeting the needs of a group of children of a variety of ages can be a challenge. Yes, sometimes we need to spend time fellowshipping and having fun with the kids, but the ultimate goal is to guide them to a saving knowledge of Jesus and teach them how to own their faith. The kids that I work with will not always be in children’s church. Children’s ministry needs to be about more than entertainment; it needs to be about equipping kids with the tools that they need to grow in their own faith and to truly worship. This is the key argument of Robbie Castleman’s book Parenting in the Pew.
If you have been keeping up with the world of children’s ministry blogging, it is hard to have missed Parenting in the Pew. Though it was originally published in 1993, Castleman’s work is still generating quite a bit of discussion. After seeing it pop up so often, I decided it was time that I found myself a copy to see what she had to say. I wasn’t disappointed. I think that what Castleman had to say is important for any Christian parent or children’s ministry worker, but was particularly meaningful to me given the thoughts I have had recently about busy bags and “moving up” ceremonies (when kids “graduate” from children’s ministry programs to youth group).
Castleman confesses early on in the book that she was a “Sunday-morning dropout” by the time she hit her late teens, a trend that we can see reflected throughout the country. While others might attribute their drop in attendance to boredom or just being too busy, Castleman reaches down deep to the heart of the issue: “I had never been trained to worship. I had only been told to be quiet in church.” Now there’s something to chew on. We as adults so quickly forget that we had to be trained to worship through participation, practice, and a great deal of patience on the part of our parents. Children do not automatically understand how to worship. They need to be taught. If we only tell them to be quiet and occupy them during “the long parts” with toys or games, are we teaching them to worship or are we cultivating something completely different?
Now, while I agree with Castleman’s overall point, I don’t necessarily agree with everything that she has written. She stands pretty firmly against children’s church, coming from the perspective that children need to be taught how to listen to the sermon like the rest of the adults and glean what they can. If children’s church is nothing more than babysitting during the sermon, then I would tend to agree with her, but in my opinion, children’s church, if designed to be a developmentally appropriate version of the sermon, can be an enhancement of rather than a detraction from a child’s spiritual development.
That being said, Castleman does have some great insights on topics like teaching kids about baptism and communion. She also has a fantastic chapter on starting preparation for Sunday morning on Saturday night to avoid the frustration and pull-your-hair-out moments that always seem to pop up on Sunday mornings. As Castleman writes, “Does your hypocrisy quotient increase as the tension of getting out of the house gives way to a warm ‘Hello!” for the church people you don’t live with?” Ouch! I think even those of us without children can relate to that one. From tithing to singing to prayer habits and more, Castleman’s book is certainly a worthwhile read, even if you don’t agree with everything she has to say.
I’ll close this post with my favorite snippet from Parenting in the Pew. “Teaching your children to worship, parenting in the pew, is entering the house of your heavenly Father and saying, ‘Daddy, I would like you to meet my children.’ Worship is seeing your Father’s smile.” It is my prayer that this will be my attitude week in and week out as I continue to work with the kids here in Fillmore.