Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Learning to Listen

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

“And now, just before our speaker comes to open the Word for us, we’ll sing Hymn #328. During the singing of the final verse the children will leave for Sunday School.”

So, at the assigned moment the children and their teachers dutifully troop out of the main meeting gathering. Except the Marshlings; they stay in their seats, causing some helpful people to gesture to them, thinking we have forgotten about Sunday School. But, once the final song is sung we all reach for our Bibles and notebooks.

For some time we have kept our children in the worship service with us. From the earliest age they could manage (~ 2 1/2) they have been with us, sitting under the teaching of a variety for gifted men of God. We have tried to be very sensitive to the teachers and other parents who choose to have their children in Sunday School. We recognize that all parents are responsible for the training of their children and many choose to make use of the variety of resources that are available to them: including Sunday School classes. We’re also pleased with the strong desire teachers have to impart the Word of God to young people and the dedication they show in preparing lessons each week. However, we have decided as a family that our children can learn and grow best when they stay in the worship services.

The public gatherings of the church are intended for the glorification of God and the edification of all believers. In the case of the Marsh family, that includes all of the children who have made professions of faith. Put another way, we do not think it’s right for the people of God to be apart in the worship of God: the spiritual unity should be symbolised by physical unity as well. This gathering together is beneficial for the Church as a whole because it represents one of the few times and places in our culture that people from all demographics are united in a common cause and common purpose: a powerful testimony to the world around us.

We are also pleased to be gathered together with our children because it is an excellent forum in which the younger believers can learn from those who are older and wiser instead of being grouped together with people of a similar age and experience. If they have questions or comments about what is said or taught, it provides material for wonderful conversations on the ride home and around the table at lunch. We are able to feast upon God’s Word as we feast upon our Sunday meal. It binds us together not just as a family, but as fellow believers.

Of course, keeping the children in the service with us has shortfalls and potential dangers. They will possibly get nothing of spiritual value from the sermon. They may hear the words, but have no understanding. They may learn to ignore sermons while appearing attentive.

Keith Green lamented “Christian” bumper stickers and worried we were just inoculating the unsaved with little doses of Gospel that deadened them to the real thing. Are we doing the same to our children by keeping them in the sermons with us?

I’ll write next week about how we try to avoid that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Learning to Feed Ourselves

“Daddy, listen to what I learned about Jesus while reading this morning.”

“While I was praying this morning Daddy, I thought...”

As a father, those are the statements I long to hear from my children: it will demonstrate they are not only growing in knowledge and love for Jesus, but that they are seeking out more knowledge and a deeper relationship with Him.

My children receive a good amount of formal theological instruction. In addition to the theology books they study as part of their schooling (Studying God’s Word, Christian Liberty Press), we read a chapter of the Bible or go over catechism questions before meals and they hear two sermons on most Sundays. If that weren’t enough, this year (after years of Awana) we are participating in Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). So, I am generally satisfied with the amount of Bible and theological knowledge they receive.

As they age, my larger concern is that they learn to be self-feeding Christians. That is to say, I want them to be Christians who are able to study God’s word for themselves and glean truth from it. Even more importantly, they should be Christians who have a vibrant prayer life and a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ. This is a far greater challenge and one that has stymied us for some time. We have tried a number of different approaches with limited success. Of course, as they get older, the approach needs to change as well.

Our most recent effort is possible because of my modified schedule: we meet by the fireplace at 7:30 each morning. After a brief prayer, we silently read the passage I have selected for that morning. Anyone who is finished before the allotted time is encouraged to re-read the passage slowly and look for any words, phrases, or truths that stand out to them and to reflect upon them. We then briefly discuss the passage together and pray silently for five minutes about the concerns of the day, our friends and God’s glory.

It is a new approach for us and is only possible now that the children can read, but so far they seem to be enthusiastic about it and are getting more and more from it. In fact, we recently were planning a trip to Toronto that would see us leaving 7:30. So concerned was Emily about missing our prayer time that she began suggesting ways in which we could modify our schedule to accommodate it. Now that’s the kind of encouragement a father needs!