Category Archives: Children and Worship

Genesis 3 Parenting

Dear friend,

I have so enjoyed our conversations on parenting. I do think parenting is always more profitable done together. I am sharpened by your comments and I hope you find benefit in what I say. I do, however, want to follow up on a few thoughts, if I may.

The entire premise of parenting is based on a theological truth: we are all fallen. However you parse it out, we are fallen from feet to forebrain; belly-button to bones. Since this is the truth, we have a whole lot of work to do; not the kind of meritorious work, but the kind of work with grace-saturated breathing. What this theological reality means is that the way to raise healthy children is by having a clear picture of their unhealthy natures as sons and daughters of Adam. While we should have a robust picture of Psalm 127-128 and the role of positive redemptive parenting (more on this in another letter) we also need to have a robust picture of Genesis 3. The parental picture is incomplete without considering the effects of our first parent’s failures.

If our parenting forgets Genesis 3 due to a faulty starting point or naive optimism, we will certainly idolize our children overlooking their little deceits as acts of cuteness, treating their good grades as acts of godliness, and their disrespect as acts of self-confidence. Therefore, we need to be ever aware that their endeavors are filled with glimpses of the fall. They too will find alternative voices more appealing than Yahweh’s.

For this reason, we need to be in a constant exercise of remembrance with them: remember you are dust and to dust you shall return; remember you are sinful and you need a Savior; remember you are prone to wander and you need to be found in Christ.

I will have more to say on this later.

Yours truly,
Pastor Brito

Distinguishing between disobedience and accident in our children

One of the difficulties of parenting is the art of discernment. We need to distinguish between acts of disobedience and accident. Our failure to do so may crush our children’s spirit. Accidents are not reasons for discipline, they are opportunities for productive conversations. In most cases, it will require a simple word to train them to avoid such accidents. “Son, we are not mad that you broke that glass, but let daddy show you how to properly place it on the table.”

When a child spills his water before supper or breaks a glass rarely is it related to an act of willful disobedience. In fact, children and accidents are almost synonymous. We should expect them to happen and in turn, prepare to deal with them rightly. I confess this is no easy task, but one we should be aware and prepared. Confusing accidents with disobedience can crush their day-to-day experience and joy. Further, they can begin to hide accidents for fear that they may be interpreted as sinful actions. We all need grace to see practice this distinction and act biblically. Remember that this day.


A follow-up question from Sarah Joy Albrecht: Would you kindly take a moment to share your thoughts on habits of negligence/apathy/selfishness that lead to accidents? Any thoughts on ways to help children see the connection between this sort of attitude/behavior that leads to accidents?

Answer:  I don’t know if I have an exact science to this question. It can vary immensely. Perhaps other parents can chime in. We have one child that is prone to more accidents than the other four. His accidents frustrate him and we have noticed they have decreased over the last few months. Our temptation is always to scold the child for his carelessness, but in most cases, we try to establish an environment where accidents are treated as such and conversations about accidents are also quite natural. We generally ask questions to get to the heart: “Son, did this happen because you were in a hurry? because you wanted to finish first? because you were trying to be competitive? and the list goes on. I try to focus on these questions after the event when the environment is less stressful (usually before bed). Generally, I find, we, parents, establish the environment for stress in the children which naturally lead to more accidents: “Why did you do that?” “Hurry up to the table!” “I can’t believe you did that.” So, I’d ask two questions: Are parents establishing an environment for more frequent accidents and are we using such opportunities to minimize such accidents by asking honest and simple questions about their actions. At least I think that is a start to a better answer from someone else. Excellent questions, btw.

Children as Distraction

When I was a pastoral intern, I remember someone approaching me after a service and confessing that she simply couldn’t tolerate little children in worship because of their noises. “They were a distraction,” she said angrily. I often think this is the way many evangelicals view children: as distractions. They are distractions at home, so we find ways to entertain them rather than engage them. They are a distraction at church, so we do the same.

The disciples rebuked our Lord because they believed that the children were a distraction to Jesus’ “real” ministry (Mat. 19:13). But Jesus rebuked the disciples and said his ministry is to draw little children to him and to build a kingdom through the faith of those little disciples.

When we send our children to another gathering away from Jesus’ central gathering in worship, we are creating a separate class within Jesus’ earthly kingdom. Even though our intentions may be pure, we may be thinking as the disciples did and thereby missing the opportunity for Jesus to place his hands upon them and bless them with His love (Mat. 19:15).

Matters of the Heart

It needs to be stressed that our goal is not well-behaved children, but godly children. Godliness produces biblical joy and spontaneous smiles through life. There is a certain kind of well-behaved child that displays every sign of life but lack genuine interest in life. They smile at the mechanics of day-to-day interactions but within express a disdain for relationships. Parents, don’t confuse both. Cultivate what the Puritans referred as “heart religion;” an intense digging into your child’s emotions and imaginations. Bring out in daily conversations the heart of the matter so that the matters of the heart can be discussed and engaged. It’s a worthy pursuit.

The Arguments Against Children in Worship

I want to appeal to evangelicals who do not accept the premise that children belong in worship with adults. Now, the majority of those who read me find the above concept strange. Many of us have seen the fruit of seeing our little ones grow up worshiping next to us and singing our songs and confessing sins. Yet for many, the idea of children in worship seems foreign.

These parents will make at least four arguments against bringing children to worship with them on Sunday. First, some will argue, “I can’t keep my children quiet during worship, therefore I don’t see the need to keep them with me.” I am especially aware of this argument with families that have lots of kids. Second, some will argue, “I am not going to get anything out of the service if I have to keep an eye on my kids.” Third, a few will argue that keeping kids in worship with parents is a waste of time since they will get nothing out of it. They are, after all, children and lack the capacity to grasp the language of a worship service. Finally, aware of evangelical parents who view Sunday morning as a day to relax from parental duties and catch up with church friends, so putting kids in children’s worship provides the needed rest for weary parents.

I am certain there are additional reasons, but these are a few that I hope to tackle in upcoming posts in the hope of beginning a conversation on why I and so many others have faithfully kept our children in worship Sunday after Sunday.

Eight Reasons Why Worship Must Be Hard Work

singingFrom Couch to Warfare

There is a great app called Couch to 5K. It’s designed for people who have become comfortable with the couch and have an allergy to the treadmill. It’s an incremental approach to working out. As the weeks go by we become more accustomed to the patterns established and we long to achieve the final level when we run an entire 5K. It’s hard work. My proposition is very simple: Worship is hard. We cannot remain comfortable in our pews. We need to start running the race. We may not be ready to run a 5K, but we need to be headed in that direction. And like running, worship requires habits and consistency. I am calling you to burn your calories in worship not because I am a controversialist or a tyrannical trainer but because I want you to be a healthy sacrifice to God. In fact, the formal synonym for worship is liturgy. Liturgy comes from two words: “Work” and “people.” Therefore, worship or liturgy can be accurately defined as the work of the people. 

Our Lord was so righteously angry by the easy business transactions (easy worship) of the Temple that he turned upside down the world when he overturned the tables of the money-changers (John 2:13-16). Such audacity should be imitated by God’s people, but cautiously exercised in light of our sinfulness. So here is my attempt to cautiously turn a few tables upside down with the hope that some will decide to keep it that way rather than try to put it back up or mend the broken pieces.

Worship has become perfunctory in our day. a The seeker-sensitive movement of the 90’s has morphed into a thousand strategic models for church growth. Some of these recommendations can be helpful, but the vast majority succumb to a moralistic therapeutic deismb that would be best spread in a meal for Baal than the God who made the heavens and earth.c Easy worship produces light Christians. Light Christians produce weak men and weak men produce feeble societies.

The Hard Work of Worship

These eight reasons are introductory in nature. Most certainly they can be edited or better stated, but in light of ecclesiastical trends and the high significance God puts in the worship of his name, these examples should be taken with great care.

First, worship must be hard work because God demands those who worship him to do so in “spirit and truth (John 4:24).” I take “Spirit” to mean in “Spirit-led” form. Worship must take a Spirit-shaped liturgy. It must be guided by the inspired words of the Spirit and a bathed dependence on the Trinity. Jesus demands that we take up the cross and follow him which is hard work lived out by the power of the Spirit.

Worshiping in truth also demands much from the worshiper. John the Baptist had borne witness to the truth (John 5:33) and that witness cost him his life. Thus, worshiping in truth is no easy task. Our gathered assembly must be prepared to fight hard to/in worship. If worship demands little or nothing from us, it fails the John 4:24 test.

Second, worship must be hard because God’s commandments require perseverance (Ephesians 6:18). Grace is not a synonym for a lackadaisical posture. Grace, rather, calls us to serve the Lord with our heart, mind, soul, and strength. The people of God are called to worship God by loving him and neighbor and both demand a high alertness to God’s principles for worship. Worship is a picture of our own spiritual walk. Passivity in worship may lead to passivity in our Christian walk.

Third, worship demands most work on the Lord’s appointed day. Many say that they can worship anywhere as a way to avoid worshiping in the consecrated time of worship on the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10). It is true that worship can take place anywhere, but the particular worship God commands is the worship of his gathered assembly (Heb. 10:25). Worship is hard because there are competing temptations that draw us away from the gathered assembly. Everything done in the name of God can be worship, but if it is used to substitute a clear call to worship him, it becomes less than worship and a violation of the principle of worship. God places a higher priority on gathered worship than on earthly tasks which are why we ought to apply ourselves with a greater fervency to Sunday worship than to other worshipful activities.

Fourth, worship demands postures. The Bible offers many postures for the Christian in worshipd) Worship has bodily demands for those who are able. It is hard work and requires a proactive response from the Christian. Passivity is not in the vocabulary of worship.

Fifth, worship teaches us patterns. The beauty of patterns is that it requires repetition. The angels in heaven maintain a glory pattern of worship day and night (Rev. 7:15). They are not discontent with the patterns or repetitions. They worship again and again. Similarly, earthly saints must repeat without fear, but with hunger to see such repetition become fervent and acceptable in God’s sight. Every stage of human life demand patterns whether kisses, hugs, sex, greetings, discipline in the home, waking, sleeping, eating, etc. Repetition is part of life. The thirst for the new and change in worship reflects a concern for human desires rather than God’s demands.

Sixth, hard work in worship stresses the mighty nature of God. It’s been many years since Christian Smith coined the phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism.” The phrase expressed a Freudian ecclesiology where the parishioner only sits and allows the clergy to do their thing. I once attended a church where one of the deacons faithfully recorded the member’s tithes and offerings during the service. He used the passivity of that worship service to “catch up” with work rather than working hard to participate and engage in the work of worship.

Seventh, hard work in worship teaches consistency in life. Someone who attended a congregation where hard work was expected from the people asked sarcastically: “Why do you all have to make things so complicated?” The question was addressed to a congregation that took worship seriously and demanded participation from its people. Ironically this individual cherished a hard work ethic and decried the lack of real men in our culture. “Work hard in school. Work hard to save money. Work hard to change a liberal culture,” he’d say. But be prepared to do little work when you come into worship was the implication. This inconsistency is consistent with the easy worship practices of many churches in our day. Let the experts do their thing, and our role is to simply sit and watch while we let others do the work for us. In economic terms, this is ecclesiastical socialism.

Finally, I offer four ways pastors and parishioners can train themselves to work hard on Sunday morning at the great assembly:

a) Disciple your children in worship. Fathers and mothers must be committed to keeping their children in worship with them. We don’t train children outside of worship so they can one day come into worship. Children are not distractions to be put aside during worship, they are disciples to be trained during worship. They have a fundamental role when we gather together (Psalm 8).e Children will generally become like their parents in worship. They will either work hard and sit passively while others do the hard work of worship.

b) Use hymnals instead of other means if possible. Hymnals demand musical knowledge.f You may not read music. You may not be musical. But using hymnals will require you to get out of your comfort zone and learn intricate and theologically rich melodies. I recently told my congregation that an Advent hymn we had just sung covered about ten essential theological doctrines in its seven verses. Hymns–and the Psalms–are sung religious education.

c) We are made to respond. Therefore, responsorial elements in worship are necessary (I Chronicles 16). Even in the easiest and relaxed worship environments, there are responses. If a pastor or a leader says, “Good morning,” the people will naturally respond similarly; the same with “Merry Christmas.” Theological greetings and responses should be an engaging part of the service (Ruth 2:4) that calls people to be attentive and prepared to answer with loud shouts of praise (Ps. 98:4). Worship is hard work and responses from the people serve to keep the people always aware and attentive.

d) Lastlyg, every service should have a bulletin; an order of worship. Worship becomes easy and flippant when the leader and the people go from one thing to the other without purpose or meaning or flow. I recall attending an evangelical church many years ago where the music leader chose our next song the moment he was called by the pastor. Quickly he flipped the pages and found a familiar tune to sing. Worship demands preparation. It’s hard work. And hard work leads to fruitful, engaging, and life-changing worship.

Offering Him Our Reasonable Sacrifice

These actions can be quickly taken by pastors and can be implemented without causing much consternation or division. Worship is discipleship training. We do the work again and again so we may become competent and equipped for it. Contrary to popular opinion, hard work in worship is not the invention of cranky Presbyterians who wish to take away our joy. In fact, the joy of the Lord is our strength. And the Lord takes joy when we are strengthened by worshiping Him. Working hard in worship has nothing to do with earning God’s favor; working hard in worship means God is deserving of our praise. We don’t come and offer Him the least we can give, we offer Him our spiritual sacrifice. Indeed we offer Him our entire self.

Worship is warfare. Warfare is hard. Worship prepares us for the race ahead. By the end of the hour, we should feel the exhaustion of having worshiped a great God who demands and is worthy of praise, confession, singing, adoration, kneeling, standing, and lifting holy hands. No one should come from such worship feeling lethargic. The liturgy–the work of the people–trains us for the hard work of perseverance through life. Let’s work hard with God’s people until our final rest when our work will be perfected by the God who calls us into His presence.

  1. This example serves only as an illustration of the kinds of things that are permissible in our day and highly encouraged.  (back)
  2. Language coined by Christian Smith  (back)
  3. See Terry Johnson’s Worshiping with Calvin for multiple examples of this:  (back)
  4. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! (Psalm 95:6); Lift up your hands to the holy place And bless the LORD! (Psalm 134:2); Give praise, O servants of the LORD, Who stand in the house of the LORD. (Psalm 135:2  (back)
  5. I understand there is need for cry rooms and perhaps age-appropriate Sunday School, but these do not hinder the centrality for young and old to be together for worship (Joel 2:16).  (back)
  6. Here is a great piece advocating the use of hymnals:  (back)
  7. and this is only introductory; more could be added  (back)

Where is my coffee?

It was another day at the office. My Bose Headphones keep me relatively unaware of the noise just outside my door. My children all join in their usual chorus of hymns and war chants. Whether it’s a castle or a cave, the living room is all that and more. It’s around 9:30 in the morning and my daughter loves to make me coffee. We use the fancified version of a coffee maker that brings your favorite coffee shop home. She usually makes it every day. It’s one of the sweetest treats throughout my day. She asked me early on if I wanted some and I replied in the affirmative.

The coffee didn’t show up at the usual time and I uttered to myself, “Where is my coffee?”

I had learned to expect things that were gifts. I had not earned the coffee nor does my daughter have some inherent duty to bring me coffee everyday.

She arrived as usual, but a little later. She was profusely apologetic for her tardiness. But why was she apologetic? Did she begin to believe that unless she showers daddy with gifts she will lose his favor? Have I learned to expect things that are meant to be gifts? Am I conveying an attitude that projects a certain parental entittlement?

Similarly I think sometimes we treat God in this manner. We expect from Him constant gifts when in reality His presence is the gift. Of course it delights my heart to see my children wishing to honor me, but have I stopped to consider that their presence is a gift far exceeding what they may do for me?

I sat with her later and told her that her presence in my life is a gift to me and that my commands are not meant to be burdensome.

The next day I didn’t expect the usual coffee, or at least my expectations had changed a bit. Then she walks in with a cup of coffee as aromatic as ever. I looked at her and said, “I don’t remember asking you for coffee.” She replied, ” I wanted to make it a surprise.” I want many more such surprises, but I want her heart to accompany those surprises.

Why Edmund does not believe Lucy

My daughter and I have been listening to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe together. Lucy enters into the wardrobe and then ventures into a new world called Narnia. Mr. Tumnus meets Lucy and offers her comfort and food. Later he is full of grief. He is repentant for embracing evil without knowing good. He makes a deal with the witch, but after having met the good and the innocent–represented by Lucy–he turns away and devotes himself to the good.

When Lucy returns from her trip to Narnia and shares her experience with the others she is immediately confronted by Edmund’s disbelief. “It’s a magic wardrobe,” she says. Edmund’s persistence in disbelieving Lucy’s report sounds very familiar to biblical ears. The disciples at times could not understand Jesus’ words. They could not understand the new world he was speaking about throughout his ministry. He was met with wild resistance by his own people.

It is easier to disbelieve than to believe. Lucy is eventually vindicated, but Edmund’s disbelief is sign of a greater despair in his own life. It’s not just disbelieving Lucy that characterizes him, it’s disbelieving the supernatural.

Give them stories

It was Russell Kirk who once said, “If you don’t give young people good stories, they will seek out bad ones.” I have told my children many times about my days growing up in Brazil. I told them about the poverty that was so prevalent; the slums that provided an unforgettable scent to our little part of the city. I also told them about the soccer games we had near the slumsa and how the smell never bothered us when we were communing around the sacrament of a soccer ball. My children look at me with wonder in their eyes. They can hardly believe that their father had such a history. It’s my story and I tell them as often as possible.

My hope is that as they grow I may be able to tell them grown-up stories about my older years as a teenager and the lessons I learned. I want to put it all in the context of daddy’s commitment to Jesus and how Jesus delivered their father from a multitude of sins. These are good stories. I want them to see redemption in each one of them. I want them to have good stories in a world shaped and orchestrated by God. I want them to hear of good stories where faithful saints undergo pain and persecution, but yet find hope in God through it all.

I pray that my children will not seek out bad stories due to the lack of good ones.

Phillip Pullman stated that “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” I want my children to see stories in relationship and never isolated from our provision. I want them to hear them and through them see that we are providing them a form of food that will sustain them in their own stories.

There are many stories in this world. Some of them are true, good, and beautiful. Some of them are false and are meant to take away your appetite from the true story-teller of this world; the Creator of all stories. When my children come across these types of stories may they see it for what they are: pseudo versions of God’s narrative; anti-story.

  1. known as favelas  (back)

Child Protection Policy Approved by the PCA

Here is the powerful declaration made by the 42nd General Assembly of the PCA that ought to be considered by each denomination as they deal with the Church’s silence on this important subject:

OVERTURE 6 – “Child Protection in the PCA”

Whereas our Lord Jesus demonstrated his righteous anger at his own disciples, rebuking those who would do anything to prevent children from coming unto him, saying “to such belongs the Kingdom of God,” (Mark 10:14) and condemning those who would harm children, saying “it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6); and

Whereas an epidemic of child sexual abuse exists in our culture, with the vast majority of such children being harmed by someone they know and trust, wounding children physically,
emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually with lifelong ripple effects; and

Whereas the silence of the church – when we fail to appropriately address “rape, incest,
sodomy and all unnatural lusts” (WLC 139) by not reporting disclosures of child sexual abuse, or not caring for those who disclose child sexual abuse, or not proactively taking steps to prevent child sexual abuse – is a fundamental failure of servant leadership, rendering the church complicit and culpable before the Lord, driving people away from the safety, healing and hope of Jesus Christ; and

Whereas Scripture warns leaders against the “careless exposing, or leaving [those in their care] to wrong, temptation, and danger” (WLC 130), and every jurisdiction acknowledges that child sexual abuse is a serious felony and has its own mandated reporting laws;

Therefore, be it resolved that we exhort all church leaders to become informed and to take an active stance toward preventing child sexual abuse in the church by screening staff and
volunteers, training them in child protection, and actively maintaining child protection policies pertaining to our obligations to love our children and protect their rightful interests as God’s image-bearers from the devastating actions of abusers (Matthew 18:5-6; WLC 129-130); and

Be it further resolved that we remind all churches that the heinous crime of child sexual abuse must be reported to duly appointed proper representatives of the God-ordained civil
authorities, in accordance with local laws, and that we must cooperate with those authorities as they “bear the sword” to punish those who do evil “in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered . . . to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever” (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14; WCF 23.3); and

Be it further resolved that we urge all church leaders to use their influence for the protection of children, by any and all godly means, including preaching and teaching against the heinous sin of child sexual abuse, warning anyone with knowledge of these sins to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11), and by supporting victims who often suffer in silence and shame without the vocal and compassionate support of the church; and

Be it further resolved that we direct the Permanent Committees and Agencies of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to review their policies, procedures and practices in the area of child protection, including their response to child sexual abuse disclosures, their faithfulness in reporting child sexual abuse to duly appointed proper representatives of the God-ordained civil authorities, in accordance with local laws, their care for survivors of child sexual abuse, and their future plans to help educate the PCA on child sexual abuse, and all other areas of response consistent with Scripture and the Constitution of the PCA, and report to the 43rd General Assembly through the Administrative Committee, after it has referred the matter to and received a report from the Cooperative Ministries Committee; and

Be it finally resolved that the 42nd General Assembly urge all members of the PCA to renew our allegiance to our Lord Jesus by loving our children as he loves our children, “for to such belongs the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14)