March 6, 2007

Children and Preaching (3)

What is your view of preaching? I don’t mean, ‘What is your view of a particular preacher?’ But, ‘How do you view preaching?’

I am convinced that our own perception of preaching will colour and drive the way that we view our own children hearing preaching. If preaching is no more than the Sunday equivalent of a university lecture – simply the packaging and passing of information from a podium into the ether, then of course, we will have little confidence in its power to meet and change our boys and girls.

If our own benefit from preaching is small, then it is unlikely that our enthusiasm to impose it on our own flesh and blood will be much different. Doubtless Jim Packer is correct:

“I suspect that the widespread perplexity today as to the relevance of the New Testament gospel should be seen as God’s judgement on two generations of inadequate preaching by inadequate preachers” .

J I Packer: The Preacher and Preaching: Reviving the Art in the 20th Century p17 (P&R)

Surely one of the greatest sins of all must be taking God’s enthralling word and making it boring. Unfortunately, we preachers are too often very adept at that. I confess that I have contributed far too often to the stack of tedious sermons that will be burned to a crisp on the Last Day.

However, we have to believe that God is bigger than the preacher. After all, whether he is eloquent or stuttering, the possibility of preaching is the possibility of the ‘demonstration of the Spirit and of power’ (1 Corinthians 2: 4).

Preaching is more than the man; preaching is God entering the arena of our souls – however old we are.

Preaching is a means of conveying God’s grace to the heart, and is a vehicle of his sovereignty – he awakens whom he wills, when he wills, and using whatever subject matter he wills!

If you have ever heard Al Martin or Art Azurdia applying the Word of God to children in their congregational messages, you will know just how powerful and influential such Spirit-filled application can be. The persuasiveness and power of an applied text within the context of a sermon driven by the Holy Spirit can be quite awesome. It is not the presence of a man that is perceived at those times, but as Carl F. Henry puts it, it is, ‘the invasion of God’.

Allowing our children to be present to see the urgency of preaching, the relentlessness of the Holy Spirit dealing with hearts, and to experience something of the hush of a congregation dealing with God is a particular privilege.

Al Martin, in his sermon ‘Dealing with our Spiritually Awakened Children (Part 1)’ puts a lovely emphasis upon how we ought to encourage our children to think of our expositional time:

“… then they come under the preaching of the Word! By the time they are 3 years old, they are no longer allowed in the nursery, and we begin to have them sit with you in the special presence of God and his gathered people…”.

“The special presence of God and his gathered people!” What a wonderful phrase! It conjures up something anticipatory and wonderful rather than a necessary chore to be faced.

In the grace of preaching, we confront our children with one who is not merely a man from our midst (although that, of course, is true), but to one acting as herald of heaven. 2 Timothy 4: 2 uses the word kerysso, meaning ‘proclamation by royal decree’. That function of communicating God's Word is seen within the act of preaching in a way that it is rarely experienced elsewhere – it is good to expose our boys and girls to that biblical authority.

Our Necessary Confidence in the Preached Word

The idea that it is necessary to remove our children from corporate worship and hearing preaching is something alien to the principles and practice of the Scriptures, to Church History, and to our declared belief in the sufficiency of Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit.

I am not writing a prescription that every child ought to always be present in preaching, I am not arguing for a demolition of Sunday schools that run simultaneously with the sermon, nor am I devaluing or demeaning what is a wonderful ministry performed with great diligence, skill and sacrifice in our midst. We benefit immeasurably from such a ministry.

I am suggesting that God can and will deal with children under ‘normal’ preaching. We should expect God to deal with even our youngest children through preaching. Believing otherwise flies in the face of all that we ought to believe from God’s word, all that church history tells us, and all that Bible-centred Christianity stands for. Either we have confidence in God to do what he has promised in his Word, or we don’t! Either God the Holy Spirit blows where he will, or he doesn’t! What of the sovereignty and saving grace of God?

I know there is much to be said here regarding the undeniable value of age specific instruction and the shift in our culture from long monologue to snappy dialogue. Surely no-one who observes our post-modern culture and shifting educational system/media soundbyte generation will deny that. I am simply stating what the New Testament proclaims – that God awakens souls of every age during preaching.

Of course our children won’t concentrate for the whole of a sermon, but many adults in our churches are no better. Some of us as adult church members, to our shame, even find it difficult to actually stay awake…

Of course there will be times in the development of our children when their comprehension and retention is small, Depending on the excessive warmth of the room, the state of our hearts, and the engagement or otherwise of the preacher, that is all too often true of adults as well – but we will, at times, be humbled by both the spiritual insight and observations of our boys and girls. It is my frequent joy to be shown diligently copied sermon notes of varying legibility and inventiveness from our boys and girls!

Some Helps to Parents

I think our time would be usefully employed if we were to encourage God’s people to individually prepare our children for the Lord’s Day (by a relatively early Saturday night and early breakfast on Sunday morning allowing for arrival at church in plenty of time for the start of the service), reviewing our worship services as families over the meal table or washing-up, and committing it in prayer to our individual applications.

I wonder how many of our homes pray before leaving the house that God would meet with them as they gather with God’s people? I wonder how many return car journeys talk about the service together (revisiting the truths preached, rather than dissecting the preacher, I hasten to add)?

Certainly we could help our young boys and girls if we include them in the act of worship that is hearing preaching. We could aid their concentration by not giving them books or toys during the service – distractions through which we teach children that it is acceptable for them to switch off when people come to meet with God.

We could aid them and others by encouraging them to sit still instead of exploring the aisles or rows around – at the same time, hopefully we refrain from issuing gags and straitjackets, and seek to bear with our boys and girls with a little patience and tolerance. If the gathering of the people of God is for all ages, we must work hard not to see lively children as a nuisance - they are a blessing from God! Little lambs occasionally bleat while they feed, and as long as parents too are sensitive, that should raise our hallelujahs rather than our hackles.

It is important that our children learn the joyful seriousness that coming under the authority of preaching entails. We could perhaps sit with our children if we know that they struggle to stay focused. We could read the notes our children take, if indeed they choose to do that, and talk them over.

Training our boys and girls to be good listeners is a marathon rather than a sprint. Like every foot race it has its potholes to be negotiated.

Nevertheless, in placing our children under the grace of preaching, we are teaching them to be physically still yet mentally and spiritually engaged with God. What could be better than that? We are teaching them submission, expectation, doctrinal and textual clarity, and a love for the gathered assembly of God’s people. Boys and girls of all ages can begin to grasp something of that.

Perhaps we ought to give the last word to Bishop Ryle, speaking of our duty as Christian parents toward our children. The full article make be found offsite if you prefer.

“Tell them of 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, and that those who absent themselves must expect, like the Apostle Thomas, to miss a blessing. Tell them of the importance of hearing the Word preached, and that it is God’s ordinance for converting, sanctifying, and building up the souls of men.

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…

See to it too, if it can be so arranged, that your children go with you to church, and sit near you when they are there… The minds of young people are easily drawn aside, and their attention lost, and every possible means should be used to counteract this… What I like to see is a whole family sitting together, old and young, side by side, — men, women, and children, serving God according to their households.

But there are some who say that it is useless to urge children to attend means of grace, because they cannot understand them.

I would not have you listen to such reasoning. I find no such doctrine in the Old Testament. When Moses goes before Pharaoh (Ex. 10:9), I observe he says, "We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters: for we must hold a feast unto the Lord." When Joshua read the law (Josh. 8:35), I observe, "There was not a word which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them." "Thrice in the year," says Ex. 34:23, "shall all your men-children appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel." And when I turn to the New Testament, I find children mentioned there as partaking in public acts of religion as well as in the Old. When Paul was leaving the disciples at Tyre for the last time, I find it said (Acts 21:5)," They all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed."

Parents, comfort your minds with these examples. 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”. .

I'm sure these three posts are a starting point for our thinking, and not a conclusion. I am equally sure that we have to place such thinking within the context of a full-orbed ministry to boys and girls. Nevertheless, I hope they give you food for thought and discussion.

Posted by Danny at March 6, 2007 12:02 PM | TrackBack
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