G. Mark Sumpter
Wise parents search continually for help and encouragement, for counsel and guidance, and maybe we've been overlooking a glorious gift from God that is right under our nose each Lord's Day. Fathers and mothers are sitting on the proverbial gold mine with lessons for nurture and training from public worship.
Just as the force of gravity provides energypulling objects toward the ground, whether we've planned it that way or notso worship provides energy for parental nurture. By faith, this energy can be harnessed for godliness, for world-and-life-view training for our children and youth.
Perhaps you've heard of the dialogical principle of worship. Parents, you might explain it to your children as the friendship principle of worship. God speaks to his people, and then we respond. Like two friends, God and his people take turns speaking and listening through the parts or elements of public worship. He welcomes us and tells us who he is and what he has done, and we return thanksgiving and adoration to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Isaiah 6:1-13 outlines the taking of turns between God (with his heavenly angels) and Isaiah the prophet. Our Directory of Worship puts it this way:
As a service of public worship is in its essence a meeting of God and his people, the parts of the service are of two kinds: those which are performed on behalf of God, and those which are performed by the congregation. In the former the worshippers are receptive, in the latter they are active. It is reasonable that these two elements be made to alternate as far as possible. (3.1)
This worship practice has worked its way into our family worship. At home, we have dialog with a few of the elements of worshipprayer and singing, with the words of Scripture, and reading aloud in unison the Westminster Confession of Faith. Such participatory worship with family reinforces what is done on the Lord's Day.
Our Lord Jesus opened heaven to us, and he's the One who serves on our behalf at the Father's right hand (Heb. 8:1-2). Public worship, we're told in Hebrews 10:24-25, uniquely localizes the venue for giving consideration to one another, that is, providing the vital role for growth that we have with one another. Significantly, we exhort one another in worship for the express purpose of promoting love and good works. That is, Lord's Day worship aims at training; it aims at practical help for encouragement.
In our day, there's an emphasis on private, one-on-one discipleship training (the outer circle in the diagram below). As another form of equipping, we might meet at the local coffee shop to discuss parenting issues or gather in small groups for Bible studies (circle 2 or 3 in the diagram). Such gatherings are important, but the Lord specially visits his people in worship for receiving and acting on his words (Heb. 12:25). To neglect worship is to neglect needful discipleship (Heb. 10:25). We're on solid ground to say that worship is the gold mine; it provides the model that is to influence other gatherings. The book of Proverbs, the widely accepted manual on parenting and covenant nurture, says: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Covenant nurture starts by fearing God in worship.
But how does worship and the dialog between God and his people provide discipleship for our children? It's the world-and-life view stemming from the parts of the worship service. Lord's Day training falls on Sunday; therefore, our work and service, including our parenting, take shape for Monday through Saturday.
The parts of worship are: the reading and preaching of the Word, prayer, singing songs that praise God and tell of his works, the collection of the offering, and the administration of the sacraments (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 16:1-2). These parts may vary from congregation to congregation as to how they are practiced. But they are like windows on the world of faith and life for every area of training for parents and children.
Without giving attention to the order of the elements as they might appear in public worship, consider their influence on discipleship training:
1. Respect for Authority: It is the Word of God, the Bible as God's covenant document, that ought to give shape to the church and her ministry. That authority comes to us by those who lead us in worship. They represent the love, care, and discipline of our Savior. Where are we instructed and reminded week after week about the importance of lawful, Christ-supplied, and Spirit-nurturing authority? Our children are first to learn to honor all lawful authorities, by the honor we're all to give to God and his Word, and to faithful church officers. From worship we learn that God alone is Lord. The heart is to seek him; other gods must be put away.
2. Stewardship: As we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt. 6:33), then all other important creaturely matters get their needful attention. In what way can we train our young people about finances, stewardship, and generosity? In what way might there be role modeling for diaconal ministry and care? We find that in the pattern and priorities of giving unto God in the week-to-week offering and the special offering for the deacons.
3. Marriage and Family: Faithfully assessing God's design for men and women and their suitable stations for service is key nowadays. Such callings are properly advanced by the model of Lord's Day worship. Here young men learn thoughtful, unselfish ways of serving ladies, and women learn respect for men. Husbands and wives learn loyalty. We all learn care and compassion for the disabled, singles, widows, and the aged. Worship is to be pacesetting. Are you helping your twenty-three-year-old to root and expand his vision of marriage commitment, vow taking, and promise keeping, by keeping the covenant between God and his people in the foreground? Here's a curriculum to be harnessed.
4. Communication and Understanding: The first priority for worship is declaring that God's name has been glorified in the work of his Son, Jesus Christ, and that eternal life comes through faith in Christ. In the message of Christ, parents and children want assurance in the home that their words can be understood and used. Where do we learn God's content and manner of speech? Parents, where can we learn to better train and instruct? Where can effective, captivating storytelling from the Bible take its cue? From the pulpit. All words, all winsome, persuasive points for life training and discipleship stem from the reading and preaching of the Word.
5. Gifts, Callings, and Occupations: The work of the church, with order, roles, and functions, sets the pace for roles and callings in everyday life. The gathered people of God display the society of God's citycalling in Christ and calling in his service serve as vehicles for youths. Apprenticeships, vocational interests, and affirmations of all lawful callings get their start from worship.
6. Peacemaking and Unity: Where are mothers and fathers to see a faithful model of spiritual mothering and fathering? How do we best demonstrate that disputes between covenant members are to be settled by faithful church discipline, in order to promote unity? Part of the purpose of our assembling for the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper is to give focus to our love for one another and being set apart as God's people. The preached Word and our member-to-member care for each other provides discipline. Worship supplies the handbook for training.
7. Beauty and Aesthetics: Our God is to be worshiped with mind, heart, and hands. There is to be awe-inspiring faith and biblically informed knowledge in praise and petition, and in songs of thanksgiving and edification. With responsive readings, declarations of praise, and the congregational amenwith or without musicGod is praised by his appointed means of beauty (Ps. 33:1-3). In the worship of God, our children and young people should see order, hear harmony, and take part with all of God's people, using texts and tunes acceptable to our God. Truth, goodness, and beauty are found in, and take cues from, worship.
We've had the tendency in recent years to move from worldview training to worship, and it's time that we work in the reverse. Parents, let's take our Lord's Day work of worship home! Worship is God's means for covenant nurture. He provides us with a handbook for discipleship training.
The author is pastor of Faith OPC in Grants Pass, Oregon. Reprinted from New Horizons, February 2010.