“Joy is the last word many parents would choose to describe what it’s like to sit in the pew with their children. Resentment and frustration are not uncommon feelings for people who “before we had kids” experienced an hour of peace and calm in the pew. Parenting in the pew can be a hassle. Or it can be holy. It depends on who we are and how we see ourselves. Do we sit with our children “in church” or “in worship”?
Too many adults who learned how to be quiet in church are still doing just that. And many of them are passing this along to their children. A family can learn to sit still very well, but be unmoved by the holy presence of God.”
If I had to sum up the purpose of Robbie Castleman’s book Parenting in the Pew everything I said would flow from these couple sentences found in chapter two. Mrs. Castleman urges parents to make sure that they are purposeful in how they interact with their children at church–to view the time they have in the pew as a continuation of their parental responsibility to lead their children to the throne of Christ, not a respite of that responsibility.
In a very loving and friendly way, Castleman brings you along as she journeys through various personal accounts of how she set out to parent her own children in the pew. As the wife of a pastor, Castleman carried the brunt of instructing her children during worship services as her husband was often busy leading and teaching. In a very real sense, she operated as a single parent on Sunday mornings as most pastor’s wives do. As she set about intentionally training her children during worship to engage in the various aspects of the service, other families followed her lead and were able to encourage one another in their pursuit of parenting in the pew.
Perhaps one of the greatest assets Castleman brings to her writing is the firsthand, personal experience of raising two godly men. The stories of difficulty and perseverance are backed up by the joy and honor of having children who have literally risen up and called her blessed–children who have become her “friends before the throne of grace.” Toward the end of the book Castleman explains that “in the presence of our Father, my sons have become my brothers. There is no greater joy for any parent in the pew.”
If you are looking for magical tricks or tips to help your children be quiet and still during church, this book will sadly disappoint. Rather, Castleman stresses the importance of encouraging your children to develop a genuine desire to worship the Lord alongside their parents. She discourages bringing toys, or coloring books, or snacks into service as the purpose of doing these things is often to “occupy” your children, rather than bringing them alongside you in your passion to worship the Lord.
I appreciated her emphasis on our motive and heart as parents bringing our children to church. Are we bringing them to church to sit and behave well, or are we bringing them to church so that they can experience the life changing power of God? Often our actions (how we practically manage our children) betray our desires (what we hope to accomplish by bringing our children with us). Castleman gives many practical tips on how to encourage your children to actively take part in the worship service during both the early toddler years and the later teen years. Throughout this book it is evident that she is interested teaching you to reach the hearts of your children rather than being content with raising children who are really good at sitting still.
It is good to be aware that Castleman writes from a Presbyterian perspective. While this fact obviously influences her book, she is careful to give practical advice and alternative views when dealing with topics that may be impacted by different denominational practices (such as infant vs. believer’s baptism). One particularly odd moment in the book was one such occasion when Castleman addressed those churches of a charismatic nature. She speaks of those teenagers within the charismatic community who may “begin to embrace expressions of faith that are evident in their parents and congregations, like speaking in tongues and the laying on of hands.” As one who views many of these “expressions of faith” as misinterpreted within the charismatic community, I found this small section a little unsettling. This would not keep me, however, from recommending this book to those who, like myself and the author, are not a part of the charismatic church. One other, smaller critique would be to suggest that the book be updated as some of the subjects and language are obviously dated being that this book was originally written in 1992. Within the twenty years that this book was first published (!!!) much has changed in terms of technology and contemporary music artists. Updating these things would do a great deal in the way of keeping the ever relevant information within the book… relevant to today’s parents.
Parenting in the Pew will be an encouragement to any parent who desires to better engage their children during church in an effort to bring glory to God and bring their children to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I highly recommend this little book as a helpful resource to Christian parents.