Worship is Child’s Pray: a book review

As a frazzled father of three, I know how hard church can be.  While life at home is often pandemonium in church I feel like I have to reign those kids in.  At the very least keep them from kicking  the pew in front of them. Author Robbie Castleman  challenges us parents to enlarge our vision of what our kids can experience in church. Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worshipnow in its third edition, brings together Castleman’s skill as a theologian, and her experience raising her sons in church.  This is a thoughtful book which challenges readers to invest in teaching kids to worship God (not just behave themselves) and leading them to a fresh encounter with God. Along the way Castleman shares insights, personal anecdotes and stories of how other parents have been able to  ‘parent in the pew.’

Parenting in the Pew: Guiding You Children into the Joy of Worship by Robbie Castleman

Castleman’s book  begins with a plea for parents to ‘pay attention’ to their children, how they learn and how they can participate in worship. She argues that participation in worship is formative for children (and the rest of us). But she knows the  challenge.   In one witty chapter, she discusses ‘Worship BC and AD,’ that is, ‘before children’ and ‘after diapers.’  When we seek to enter into God’s presence our children may be a distraction.  If we are not careful we will end up teaching our kids to be ‘quiet in church’ without really teaching them the meaning of worship and failing to participate in worship ourselves. Worship is about giving God his due glory, not about our own experience. God is not the least bit bothered by our kids participating (just ask Jesus).

From there Castleman explores the elements of worship and how to prepare your kids to participate. For  those who worship on Sunday morning, this preparation often begins the night before (making sure kids get enough rest, are awake and ready for church, the tone you set for the day, etc.).  Castleman  provides various strategies for maximizing attentiveness to the sermon, getting kids to sing, pray and participate in the liturgy.

This edition updates the examples for a new generation (the original edition was published twenty years ago). Earlier editions talked about Castleman’s experience of  training her own sons in worship. Those stories are still here, but  now her sons are grown and are parenting  their own children’ in the pew.’  Additionally there are examples from other parents she’s encountered at ‘parenting in the pew’ seminars and workshops.

What Castleman says here is really valuable. As Christians we were made to worship God and I believe our participation in corporate worship is formational.  The vision she has for including kids in worship, preparing them for Sundays and cultivating attentiveness to the Word is commendable and I think right on target.  She also communicates her vision of  intergenerational ministry with wit and grace. I  appreciate that while she has some clear directives (don’t bring a coloring book to distract your kids but seek instead to get them to participate) she also honors the differences in children’s personalities. If worship is about paying attention to God, teaching worship to our kids begins with paying attention to them.

Putting this book into practice may be challenging for parents if  their church doesn’t have a vision for intergenerational ministry and the participation of kids in worship. My family and I are lucky enough to be a part of a church community which really values getting the kids involved in the worship service. Other churches in town do not have the same value. For parents seeking to carry out Castleman’s suggestions, they may find that they are kicking against the goads.  There is enough in this book which challenges leaders to make the worship a more hospitable place for children but Castleman  addresses the leadership challenge more directly in Story Shaped Worship (forthcoming IVP May 2013).  Another challenge for parents is that some of Castleman’s suggestions work better for different developmental stages. Still parents of toddlers to teens can all benefit from this book. 

I think this is a great book and would recommend it  to both  parents and ministry leaders. There are a lot of kids who grow up ‘quiet’ in church who later quietly leave out the backdoor. I  think getting parents to invest in teaching their kids to worship and leading them to an encounter with God is necessary if we want our children to grow up in the faith. Pastoral leaders  also need to properly care for children and families in their midst and encourage their spiritual growth. Castleman’s focus on worship is particularly refreshing.  I give this book ★★★★.

Thank you to InterVarsity Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

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