Forming Young Hearts Through Worship

Guest post by the Rev. Christopher Klukas

I think that every Christian parent desires to see their children grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord so that they become committed Christian adults. Unfortunately, many of the parents I meet have no idea of what they are supposed to do to help this happen. While there is no magic bullet or formula you can follow that will guarantee that your children will remain committed to the Lord as they grow, there are things you can do to provide fertile soil to nurture their seedling faith. In the end, you can plant seeds of faith and water them, but it is God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6). Because of this, the first and most important thing you can do is pray for your children and ask God to give you wisdom in how to raise them.

Most Christian parents would agree that it is important for their family to attend worship together on Sundays and for children to be a part of the Sunday school program if there is one. These are wonderful and healthy practices, but by themselves they are not enough. Our faith is not supposed to be something that is only practiced on Sunday mornings, and yet, that is how many of us live. We are called to give our whole lives to Christ, as the Anglican priest and poet George Herbert wrote, “Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise thee” (King of Glory King of Peace).

So how do we put family faith into practice on a daily basis? One good example of a biblical pattern for passing down the faith is found in the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:4–7, ESV). Beyond this all-encompassing love that is commanded of us, we are told that we must teach these commandments diligently to our children. This command is important enough that it is to be passed down from one generation to the next. We are not just to love God with all of our own hearts, we must influence the hearts of our children to love God as well. (See also Exodus 20:5-6, Joel 1:3, Psalm 78:4, Acts 2:38, and many others).

In addition to the what, these verses also teach us how. We are to talk about these commandments all the time: sitting in our houses, traveling from place to place, going to bed, and getting up in the morning. This is an important part of bringing your faith into the other six days of the week. Tell your children why you love Jesus. Share with them about how you make decisions based on your faith. Tell them what you learned as you were reading the bible this morning. Pray with them as needs arise throughout the day. Take advantage of every teachable moment that you have with your children.

Beyond these spontaneous moments of discipleship, you can begin to build a practice of daily family devotions. I would encourage you to think about four main elements as you shape this practice for your family.

  • Read Scripture – Scripture is God’s word to us and it contains all things necessary to salvation. The reading of scripture is an essential daily practice for Christian.
  • Study the Catechism – I am so thankful to the team who put together To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism. If you don’t already have a copy of this, I urge you to buy one as soon as possible or download a free copy from the ACNA website. The catechism will help you to teach the basics of the faith to your children. I encourage you to readand study it daily.
  • Sing – Sing hymns from the hymnal, sing praise songs, sing scripture memory songs. I find it is helpful to repeat the same song daily for about a week so that my young children can begin to memorize the song through repetition. When we sing, it helps us to learn the faith in a way that sinks deep into our souls. Music is a powerful tool for formation.
  • Pray – Adore God, confess your sins, thank God for the ways he has blessed you, bring your needs before God. What better way to teach your children to pray than to pray with them. Ask them if they have any prayer requests and lift them up to God together. Ask them to pray for you.

As Anglicans we have a wonderful resource in the daily offices of Morning and Evening prayer. Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury responsible for the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, took the monastic practice of daily prayer and simplified it so that it could be used by every Christian. I like to think of these offices as a balanced diet of prayer. They help us to pray in all of the different ways that we should as Christians. In my own family, we start our daily devotions by reading a question and answer from the Catechism then we use the office of Compline as a frame work for the other three elements: Scripture reading, singing, and praying. You don’t have to do exactly what we do. I would encourage you to begin by doing something small and sustainable and then building on that foundation over time.

As you begin to build daily and weekly spiritual rhythms into your family life, make sure you don’t form just the head. James K A Smith, an author and professor at Calvin College wrote: “Being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your head in order to guarantee proper behavior; rather, it’s a matter of being the kind of person who loves rightly— who loves God and neighbor and is oriented to the world by the primacy of that love. We are made to be such people by our immersion in the material practices of Christian worship—through affective impact, over time, of sights and smell in water and wine” (Desiring the Kingdom, p. 32).

As we go to church, week after week, we are learning to participate in the Christian story in a deep and formative way that goes beyond what we know to what we love. It is specifically this sensory, bodily repetition that allows this formation to happen.

Consider the Pharisees: they were good at external obedience, but not so good at grasping the law in their hearts. Hence Jesus’ criticism of them that they “…are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27–28).

We must be careful lest we become “whitewashed tombs” as well. There is a real danger for Christians to become like the Pharisees, a tendency I see in myself far too often. We can teach our children to behave and believe correctly, but this is a shallow well that will easily run dry. We must drill the well deeply until we tap into the springs of living water which Jesus promised: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37b–38). Thus we must train our hearts, and the hearts of our children, to desire the One that they were created for, the one true God. When the desires of our hearts are rightly ordered, everything else will flow from this.

Please view this short video to see an example of daily devotions with my family. As you watch, remember that this is an edited video and that we are far from perfect. What you don’t see is all of the wiggling and interruptions that are a normal part of our family devotions!

The Rev. Christopher Klukas is Director of Communications and Whitchurch Publishing at Trinity School for Ministry where he develops catechetical curricula and other resources for use in churches. He is a priest in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh where he has served since his ordination in 2006. A father to four small children (with another to arrive in April!), Christopher is keenly interested in nurturing faith in the home and teaching other parents how to live out their faith with their children. 

Fr. Klukas graduated from Nashotah House Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity in 2006. He is currently working on a Doctor of Ministry degree at Trinity School for Ministry with a focus on liturgy and catechesis. He has been married to the Rev. Carrie Klukas for ten wonderful years and counts her as a significant source of inspiration.