I’m planning to post articles related to issues of faith and parenting each month. In order to keep some semblance of order in the upcoming stream of posts, I will cover a theme that will span multiple months. Each month, I’ll cover a different angle within the theme. First up: family worship. I am convinced that the way parents worship makes the largest determination on whether or not their children will adopt their faith as their own.
Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. – James Baldwin
We know deep down that the way we live our lives will influence our children in the greatest ways. We also know how easily it is to put on the clothes of the hypocrite. It only takes a few moments to drudge up memories from the times in our own childhood when we first realized that our parents didn’t always do as they preached. Those moments when they uttered their version of, “It doesn’t matter what I do. I’m the adult; YOU my child must do as I SAY,” may still ring fresh in our minds all these years later.
We know this, and it scares us. We know that our parents have passed the baton to us, and as hard as we try to do otherwise, we run the same race as them. We quickly become the hypocrites that we wished our parents weren’t. How then, can we raise our children into mature, God-loving, Jesus-following adults when we fail most readily in the areas that are of the most importance to their development (i.e. modeling a godly life worthy of imitation)? The answer, I think, lies in what and how we worship.
I’m not talking about what we do on Sunday morning, although that is definitely a part of it. I’m talking about how we worship in our daily routine and what we worship, which is revealed by the order of things on our priority lists. Worship as defined by the 1828 version of Webster’s dictionary is to “honor with extravagant love and extreme submission.” I think that definition does a great job of explaining exactly what worship is. When I ask you what or whom do you honor with extravagant love and extreme submission, what is your response?
When we’re asked a question like that, we all immediately want to say, “JESUS!” We say, “undoubtedly it’s God,” with fervency, but if we spend a few minutes alone with our hearts, I think most of us will have to humbly admit another reality. We really do want our answer to be Jesus, but we know that our hearts give honor, extravagant love and extreme submission to things and people other than God at an embarrassingly high rate!
Our children can forgive us for many wrongs, and we can even say that forgiving the inevitable inadequacies and failures of parents is one of the milestones on a child’s journey towards adulthood. But if we fail to realize our worship hypocrisies, our children will be left with a foundational tear in the fabric of their spiritual lives, one that will be difficult for them to overcome.
What exactly IS worship?
Going beyond the definition that we read from Webster, we can see that Scripture lays out a thorough example of what worship is. When we look at passages like John 4:21-24, Romans 12:1-2, and 1 Samuel 15:22 we see that worship is much more than something we do at a specific time. God makes it clear that worship is a matter of the heart that affects every detail of how we live. What or whom we worship will set our priorities and will shape our convictions. Our children will know what we worship by our actions. It’s not something that we can hide. If what we say we worship does not match up with how we have deposited our time, we are left shamefully exposed as hypocrites to our children.
Over the next few months, I’m going to focus on a few specific ways that we as American Christians tend to fall inadvertently into worship hypocrisy. Let’s begin by taking a look at media entertainment this month.
Do I Worship Media Entertainment?
One of the ways that we spend time is in consuming media entertainment. We come home from a long day of work and can’t wait to pop on our favorite show or check the highlights from the day’s sporting events. This in and of its self is not inherently good or bad. It just is what it is. The problem comes when we over-indulge in this and spend many of our unrecyclable hours consuming something that will make no long-lasting positive impact in our lives and do nothing to advance God’s kingdom.
A recent Neilson poll indicated that the average American between the ages of 30 and 45 watches 33 hours of television on average each week (including TV, DVR, next day websites like HULU). As you think back on the last few weeks of your life, do you fit into this category? Maybe you haven’t watched any TV in the last month, but from the beginning of September to the 2nd week in January you are glued to the screen every Sunday to watch hour after hour of a particular sport. When you average out your consumption for the year, where do the numbers fall for you?
It’s important for us to consider our media consumption trends, because they will reveal where our hearts are in terms of some key worship principles. God calls his people to spend ourselves in the pursuit of loving God with every part of our being and to consistently place the needs of others in priority over our own. If we are extending extravagant love to God, it’s reasonable to expect that our media-watching habits will be drastically different.
Think about how our children will be affected when they read a passage like Matthew 16:24 and then see you leave corporate worship early on Sunday in order to get home in time to watch the game. Think about what they will learn from you when they hear Philippians 2:3-4 preached and then watch you curse the soccer coach because practice went over again and you won’t get home in time to watch your show. Think about what your children will learn from you when they study Matthew 6:22 in Sunday school and go home and see you pull up a DVR’d episode of a show that glorifies deceit, casual sex, or vengeance.
Making a Family Plan for Media Consumption
Intentional living prevents regretful living. Having a family media consumption plan will draw a line in the sand that says, “Our family loves God in all things and above all things.” It will act as a guide for you so that the often strong seduction of media won’t have power over your family. It will signal to others that you understand that God has given entertainment to humanity as a gift to be enjoyed within the broader purposes of his kingdom work. Having a family media consumption plan will help you to avoid many of the would of’s, should of’s and could of’s that come with regretful hindsight.
Will you consider making a family media consumption plan? Will you do this to make a statement to yourself, your family, and to others that your family enjoys entertainment but does worship it? Think about how setting this plan could help your son or daughter to grow in character and think about the self-discipline they will inherit as they imitate what you model for them.
Feel free to use the following as a guide to start your plan!
- Plan to take a couple of hours on an afternoon and make it fun! Do it somewhere that you like. If it were my family, we would go to a park by one of the lakes in town. We would bring Frisbees and food and lay out.
- Prepare a list of Scripture that speaks to making Jesus the top priority in your life. Have your family read these passages together and let scripture form the backbone of your family’s media consumption guide.
- As you make your guidelines, determine together how much media is appropriate for your family, and how much is too much. Think about what you may do with those hours that you deem excessive. Will you spend time together as a family? Will you volunteer somewhere? Will you invite your neighbors for a cook out? The fun part is deciding how your family can use the gifts and talents that God has given each of you to love him and love others!
- Spend time listing the kinds of media that you all need to avoid in order to stay away from sin. Figure out how you will help each other to not stumble and remain accountable. Be open about your struggles, Mom and Dad!
- Post a visible reminder that this is an ongoing process. If one or all of you fail, it is not the end! Think of a way to remind your family of the amazing grace that God has given you and let that reinvigorate you to continue with the plan.
- Post the plan somewhere visible in your house. My first choices are always the refrigerator and the mirror in the bathroom. Not only will this serve as a daily reminder for your family to pursue God, it will also speak volumes about your priorities to guests!
My prayers are with you as you think through what loving God with all of your heart, mind, and soul means for your family in regards to media consumption!
Following Jesus with you,