FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Keeping Them Involved

with Robbie Castleman | January 26, 2006
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When are children old enough to participate in church? On today's broadcast, Robbie Castleman, a mother of two and author of the book Parenting in the Pew, tells Dennis Rainey how parents can involve their children in the worship experience.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • When are children old enough to participate in church? On today's broadcast, Robbie Castleman, a mother of two and author of the book Parenting in the Pew, tells Dennis Rainey how parents can involve their children in the worship experience.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

When are children old enough to participate in church?

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Keeping Them Involved

With Robbie Castleman
January 26, 2006
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Kathy: Let' see, Natalie's got soccer this afternoon at 2, choir practice is at 5:30.  Hey, honey, could you stop by the grocery store on your way home from church and pick up some ice cream?  I promised Leslie that I – yes, we're driving separately today, remember?  I have to be there for sound check at 8.  Oh, that's in 10 minutes, I better get dressed.  Natalie, Jeremy, there's Pop Tarts in the pantry, please eat those.  I don't know, vanilla's fine.

Bob: That may be a familiar sound for some of our listeners, especially …

Dennis: Was that taped at our house?  Getting a family to church and then at church, staying in church, is a challenge today, but it is not optional.  As we talked about on yesterday's broadcast, the whole concept of imparting the experience and worship of God to our children is, I believe, a part of the command of Deuteronomy, chapter 6, where we are instructed by God to pass on the reality of Christ and our experience of Him to the next generation of young people. 

 And we have with us an expert who has done that – who did it perfectly.  In fact, raised two perfect children, they weren't selfish or sinful like our children, Bob, these were perfect kids.  Robbie Castleman joins us.

Robbie: Well, if anybody is listening that knew my children, you will wonder who they're talking about.

Dennis: She is the proud mother of two sons who didn't do it all perfectly – I was kidding.

Robbie: But who have turned out pretty well.

Dennis: Yeah, in spite of being Seminoles and growing up in Florida country.

Bob: You weren't going to bring that up today.

Dennis: I decided to go ahead …

Bob: There we go, the drumbeat back on the table.

Dennis: It's coming out of her, there it is again.  Robbie is a professor at John Brown University, works on the staff with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.  That's a great sister organization with Campus Crusade for Christ, a great pair church ministry, started all the way back in the late 1800s in Britain, I understand, is that right?

Robbie: And then went from Britain to Canada and from Canada down to the United States.

Dennis: It's a great organization.  She has written a book called "Parenting in the Pew, Guiding Your Children Into the Joy of Worship."  The premise behind this book is that you want us, as parents, first of all, to enjoy worship.  And then, secondly, train our children and pass on that experience of genuine, biblical, God-centered worship to them.  For most families, Robbie, they never have a chance to enjoy worship on Sunday morning because they lose the battle on Saturday night.  I mean, they don't take their baths, they don't get their clothes ready, and I know, for one, I could hold my hand as a witness, we lost the fight on more Sunday mornings trying to get six children ready.  We had six children in 10 years and getting ready for church on Sunday morning …

Bob: I think, Robbie, you said in your book that, statistically, more shoes are lost on Sunday morning than any other day of the week, isn't that right?

Robbie: Socks.

Bob: More socks?

Robbie: Socks, it's socks, yes.  But this will be the same family – not yours, Dennis, but another mythical family, the same kind of family who will not be 30 seconds late for a kickoff.  That very often what families do is they will take more time and care to plan a tailgate party to perfection in order to unpack, repack, and get in the stands for the kickoff before it happens and never miss a beat.

Dennis: Okay, I'm going to stop you there.  Why is that true?

Robbie: Well, because they plan for it, because they plan for and because it's important, and we're not going to be late.  Very often we don't take the same kind of care and planning to get the family to worship – and you notice I used the term "to worship" and not just "to church," on a Sunday morning.  I think there are two dynamics that are real on a Sunday morning that are not necessarily that real for a tailgate party.

 One is that in terms of family rhythm, if God has blessed the entire family, it's one of the few mornings in the duration of a week where the entire family – like you alluded to, Dennis, goes to one place at the same time.  So there's a logistical logjam.  And I was a single parent on Sunday mornings, because my husband was the pastor.  You know, he belonged to the congregation on a Sunday morning.

Bob: So he was off at church before you got ready.

Robbie: Yeah, I needed to do this and even with just two and not six, it was still a lot of work.  But you have to plan; you have to think ahead.  If it's important to you, you plan, whether it's a tailgate party or everybody getting into the minivan for a Sunday morning.  The second big dynamic on a Sunday morning is that we have an enemy on Sunday morning, and he wants to heighten the hypocrisy quotient in our homes on a Sunday morning, more than any other morning of the week, because the evil one does not want our children to believe. 

The Evil One is against the next generation growing into faith in Jesus Christ, and, I'll be honest with you, as a parent, the single worst morning time hour, half-hour, minute, of my parenting life was on a Sunday morning, and it really alerted me to "I'm not like this.  Where did this come from?  And I realized that the Evil One was against me.  He didn't want my children to believe that my faith in Jesus and that my relationship with the Lord really made a difference and that going to worship and loving Jesus – I mean, the hypocrisy of a Sunday morning sometimes is astounding in our lives, and we know that.

Dennis: I wish, before we had started having children, that I would have heard that exhortation right there, because it took us the better part of 10 years to have hassle after hassle and battle after battle on Sunday morning before you realized you know what?  There really is something spiritual going on here, and Barbara and I need to be prepared for this.  We don't just need to march off into battle with a blindfold on.  We need to systematically be ready with our assignment.

 In fact, as I was reading your book, I was thinking, you know what would have been really good – if I had been the spiritual leader of my family, Bob, which I tried, and a lot of men do try, but it's like what should I have done differently?  I wish I would have seen what a battleground this was, because it was going to happen 52 times a year, maybe more with additional things going on at church, but have realized that Barbara desperately needed my help, and we needed to break down the responsibilities into two job descriptions, and it really did need to start on Saturday night.  I needed to be a part of the solution, I needed to be a part of helping her and clarifying expectation of who does what so we can get to church on time and not walk in like a herd of buffalo after the worship has already started and, you know, here comes the Rainey family again, you know, scooting and scurrying through the aisle trying to find a seat some three to five minutes late.

Bob: Let me see if I've got this picture right.  You're saying that on Sunday morning at your house for a while, at least, it was "I'll get myself ready for church," you, Dad, Dennis, "and, Barbara, you get yourself ready and get the kids ready, too."

Dennis: And I'll get in the car …

Bob: … and toot the horn?

Dennis: … I'll meet you there.  Now, I don't think it was really that bad, you know, but it probably was worse.

Bob: Pretty close?

Dennis: Yeah, but the bottom line is, I think that, as men, we need to realize that Sunday morning is not some kind of entitlement to a man.  Sunday morning needs to be a time when you think about leading and guiding and helping your family get ready for church on time and be in the car on time so that you can arrive ahead of time.

Bob: Did you have to stumble, as a mom, before you got to the place of – we've talked about how we messed up heading into Sunday morning, some of the things …

Robbie: No, I always did it perfectly, yeah.

Bob: Did you?  Well, thanks very much.

Dennis: She was a pastor's wife.

Robbie: Yes, and a good pastor's wife, too.  Of course, if anyone that knows me is listening – no, most good things that you learn, you learn the hard way, and I learned a lot of things the hard way.  A lot of things I did right, but there were things I'd have to go back and say – I remember one time we were quite late getting to, actually, the Sunday school hour at our church.

Dennis: Now, this is the pastor's wife arriving late?

Robbie: Yes – and with her two boys in tow, and it was because – I think this was early teenage years, and we'd had a row and a go around, and I was just absolutely not right with the Lord.  I had been sinful, I had sinned against my children, and we had to get straight, we had to get straight first, and we all got there late for the Sunday school hour that morning.  But before we did, we'd prayed together – so spiritual preparation, the preparation of our hearts has got to be a part of the logistics.

Dennis: Let's talk about when a mom and a dad need to be thinking about taking a youngster into corporate worship.

Bob: You said yesterday you started when your kids were four.

Robbie: Four, mm-hm.

Bob: Do you think that's an appropriate age?

Robbie: For most children, I think so.  Children are different, parents do know their kids.  I think any inordinate delay past four years of age is probably something else going on there.  But around four years of age children can begin to stay in the entire worship service.

Bob: Now, some of our listeners are saying, "Well, we don't do that at our church.  The kids don't come into the worship service until junior high or high school or maybe even college age kids."

Robbie: Congregations can have different habits than the parents within them.  You know, we've inherited churches that had children's churches and that had a children's program of some sort of another, and …

Dennis: And what did you do?

Robbie: My children just didn't participate.

Bob: Didn't your kids want to go to children's church?  The other kids were coming out …

Robbie: No, they grew into it, and they pretty much knew that we don't do that.  That was a non-negotiable, we worship together, it's important that we're together before the Lord and the congregation, and that's how it was.

Dennis: Okay, you start them out at fours years of age, they're beginning to learn how to sing.  Of course, they're not old enough to read yet …

Robbie: Right.

Dennis: But you shared yesterday how, during a time of responsive reading, you would actually point to the hymnal and to the words to show your children what was taking place there.

Robbie: The benefit of it, there's benefit beyond just helping them pay attention and learn to worship, but children learn to read left to right as you move your finger down the line.  I was really struck when my children were in high school, and they had invited friends to come to church, and they did, and they sat with us, and the boys knew that the rules were the rules; that when they had friends in church they would help their friends know what to do.  And I was astounded about how many of the boys' friends did not know how music was written.  You know how the stanzas are written – well, these kids had never seen a hymnbook.  These were unchurched friends, and the boys had to teach them, "Now you go down to this stanza, then we go back to the top, and you do verse 1, verse 2," you know, things we take for granted that I never realized that other children simply had never learned.

 So it was interesting.  But you begin – you begin to train them how to read left to right – one handy thing, because there's a lot of great churches out there that don't use printed words anymore.  It's all on PowerPoint, it's all on overheads, and usually when I go into a church situation and do worship consultation for children in different congregations, and this is the habit of the congregation, I ask the worship committee to talk to the PowerPoint people or the pastor or the worship committee, whoever is in charge of it, to print out the words. 

It's very difficult, just in a developmental way, for children, up until about eight or nine years old, to track left to right on an overhead screen.  It's difficult for them, even as they're learning to read, that a printed page, even just with the words that are on the PowerPoint or the words that are on the overhead pray, song, whatever, it's much easier for the parent to have just a little bundle of what we're going to sing this morning or what we're going to say this morning or what we're going to read this morning in a children's packet and to have that printed out for the kids, and then the parents use that instead of the overhead, just for a developmental thing that we need to recognize with children.

Bob: You would have your boys stand up on the pew and – if you were standing to sing something, that way they were at the same eye level as you and could read off the hymnal.  I remember, I would often sit with my boys rather than having them stand in the pew, I'd actually sit down, but the importance of the eye level and tracing it with the finger does help them engage and say "I'm participating here, I'm not just supposed to be quiet and watch adults sing."

Robbie: Yeah, and, Bob, that brings up a good visual reminder that there you are, the only parent sitting while the entire congregation is standing during this reading or this song – that's okay.  What's important is, Bob, you and your boys were before the Lord, and that's what people have to remember, and I do think it's good to respect the traditions of a congregation.  We've never had a church fancy enough where you couldn't stand on the pew, but if you did go to a nice church like you went to, Bob, that you just don't stand on the pews, then, for you to sit down, but to maintain that eye level is completely appropriate and very helpful for your children.

Bob: But what do you do when you get to the sermon with the four-year-old?  I mean, the man up there – and I know, in this case, it's your husband, but he's using words that you don't understand, he's talking about –

Robbie: Oh, yeah, you should have been there during eunuch, mm-hm.

Bob: There are some concepts you have to explain after church, aren't there?

Robbie: Oh, there are some concepts the pastor has to explain.

Dennis: To his wife.

Robbie: Well, at least to the boys.

Bob: Here we're talking – I have to confess to you, and I want to know if you think this was okay – when our kids were in the worship service, early on, I remember with David and with John, I put together a little list – here are the do's and don't's during the worship service – you are not to do this, you are not to …

Dennis: Such as, come on, get specific.

Bob: You are not to ask Mommy and Daddy a question.  If you have a question, write it down and ask after the service.

Dennis: Not during the service.

Bob: Not while the pastor is preaching, because the questions are usually like …

Dennis: "Can we go out to eat?"

Bob: "Can I have a friend over on Tuesday?"  You know, it's that kind of – it's not what does he mean by propitiation?  You know, that wasn't what we were getting.

Robbie: Those were my children.

Bob: Yeah, that's right.  So we had that, and you're not to ask about where we're going to eat after church until the service is over, then you may ask.

Dennis: What about the restroom?

Bob: You are to go to the restroom before the worship service starts.  You are not excused to go to the restroom during the worship service.

Dennis: Actually, what Robbie did on that, she would actually have a pit stop between Sunday school and the church service.

Bob: You've got to do it, and the kids will say, "I don't need to," "Well, I don't care if you need to, we're going in there.  You're going to stand there and pretend like you need to for a while, okay, because you may find that you need to if you stop.  I don't want you needing to 15 minutes from now."  So I had all of those rules written down, but here is what I did.  I said, "If you do this, then you can have a Coke at lunch after church."  So I used a bribe.  I've just got to be honest about it, I used a bribe.  Every Sunday, church was over, as soon as the pastor said "Amen," David turned to me and said, "Did I earn a Coke today?"  And I said, "Yes, David you got a Coke today."  Is it okay to bribe our kids like that?

Robbie: Well, I think there are seasons where that can be appropriate.  God has never begrudged us for motive very, very seldom.  In terms of training, you're going to go through seasons – you know, if you do this, we'll do this.  This is important if this helps you do this.  I have a – in the book I write about the time I had a junior high choir – the Atomic Praise Choir at our church, and most of these kids, when I inherited them, had not been parented in the pew, and so I was bringing my parenting rules to an entire choir of junior high kids.  I used bribes.

 And I would test them on the sermon and in choir practice that afternoon, if you got all three right, you know, they'd write it down and do the pencil – I was always a teacher, I suspect, and when they got them all right, well, then, they got this, that, or the other thing.  The thing that got to be funny was then during the worship service, during Sundays, my choir, you know, as they were scattered throughout the congregation, every once in a while, every junior high head in the church would turn to look at me to wonder if that was going to be on the test that afternoon.  But at least they were listening.

Bob: Well, back to my four-year-old, though, in the sermon time.  My goal was quietness.  It's hard to expect a four-year-old to track with an adult teaching adult stuff.

Robbie: Well, and it depends on the sermon and the sermoner.

Dennis: And the length of the worship service. 

Robbie: That's right.  Every service is different, every child is different, parents are different, temperaments are different, what your child needs is different, so you're going to treat a four-year-old different than a 14-year-old.  A four-year-old, if they nod off during the service, and they just sort of lay their little sweet heads in your lap, you're going to let that happen.  That's a perfectly appropriate thing for a little four-year-old to do.  As they grow, as they're five and six and seven years old, I began to draw the boys' attention to illustrations.  When you encourage your pastor to use illustrations in a sermon, and once you've gone to a church long enough, you learn your pastor's rhythm.  When there's a pause, and he says, "Now to illustrate this important teaching of Jesus, I want to tell you about" – you know an illustration is coming.  So you sort of prod your little bit of wandering in your six-year-old, say, and you say, "Hey, now, listen to this, because pastor is going to tell a story."

 So you begin to draw their attention just to that part of the sermon, and then it gets longer and longer and longer.  Now, they hit to be 14 years old, and they're still nodding and going to na-na land during the sermon, that's just a very quiet rebellion or spiritual lethargy.  And so when my boys, who seldom ever did that as 14-year-olds, so, yeah, I would lean over and I'd say, "You know, if you're too tired to pay attention, you're sure too tired to go play ball this afternoon," and they knew I meant it.

Bob: They just perked right back up, didn't they?

Robbie: They knew I meant it, and not every Sunday is going to be joyful experience of parenting, but the goal is not that morning, the goal is that God is honored, number one; number two, that your children come out the other end of this valuing the community of God's people and having a real – not religious – but a real relationship with Jesus Christ; and I have to say very honestly, a disclaimer at this point, that some parents can do everything right by the book and have rebellious children, and nobody can explain it.  And some parents can be very lazy and hardly do anything for their kids, and their kids are grabbed by God along the way, and they end up serving Him forever.

Dennis: One of the things I appreciate about you, Robbie, you've not only clearly spelled out the goal, you also explain how we can get there.  I realize she's married to the pastor of her church, but she shares in her book just around this whole concept, Bob, of illustrations, that if the pastor isn't doing a good job using illustrations, to go to him on behalf of the children and say you know what?  These illustrations are the window into children's lives.  It gives them an opportunity to peak and to peer into spiritual truths and realities around things they understand and they know.  And that, to me, was very impressive, Robbie, because it showed the ownership you were taking on behalf of your children that you would offend your husband by going to him and change his preaching style – I'm kidding, of course, but you're exhortation is that parents really need to take this seriously and to go on behalf of the children, and that's really what you just exhorted us to do – we are to be passing on the real thing to our children.  It's not religion, it's not dogma, it's not just truth and doctrine, although it's all of those things.  At the bottom line, it must be a joy-filled experience of the King of kings and Lord of lords, who has risen from the dead, who wants to be our Master and Lord, and we're trying to pass that reality on to our children.  I really like this book, Bob, it's a great book.

Bob: And I know one of the reasons you like it is because it's very practical.

Dennis: It really is.

Bob: It has a lot of help for parents who want to raise children to understand what's going on in church; that we are there to corporately gather together to worship God.  Kids don't get that, teenagers don't get it unless we teach it to them, unless we model it for them, unless we instruct them, and Robbie's book helps us do that.

 We have it in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  It's called "Parenting in the Pew," and you can request a copy when you go online at  You can click on "Today's Broadcast," and there's information about Robbie's book right there, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and talk with someone on our team who can let you know how you can have a copy of this book sent to you.  Again, the toll-free number is 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  Or you can go online at and order online, if you'd like.  Again, the title of the book is "Parenting in the Pew."

 You know, Dennis, in each of the communities where FamilyLife Today is heard, there are a handful of folks who believe in this program to the point that they have stepped forward and said, "We want to be faithful in helping to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today."  They have become what we call Legacy Partners, and a Legacy Partner is somebody who, on a monthly basis, provides a part of the financial support we need for the ministry – maybe $25 or $35 or $50 or $100 a month, but their donation helps keep FamilyLife Today on the air in communities all across the country including this community.  And each month we stay in touch with our Legacy Partners and try to provide them with updates about what's going on at the ministry, and we have resources we make available to Legacy Partners to help them continue to grow in their walk and in their relationship with Christ and with each other. 

 This month we are hoping to recruit some new Legacy Partners from each of the cities where FamilyLife Today is heard, and we'd like you to consider being one of those FamilyLife Today Legacy Partners.  We think it will help you as well as helping us, and if you'd like more information about how you can join the team of Legacy Partners go to the website,, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and say, "I want to know more about being a Legacy Partner," and someone on the team can get you the information you need.  Again, it's 1-800-FLTODAY or online at

 Well, tomorrow we're going to continue our conversation with Robbie Castleman as we talk about what we can do as we take our children to church to help them grow to become authentic worshipers.  That's tomorrow on our program; I hope you can be back with us.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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