Helping Children Understand the Trinity

From Russell MooreHow Do You Explain the Trinity to Children?

Some time ago a journalist friend emailed to ask a question I think many Christian parents have asked. How does one explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to children?

I think the reason this question resonates with so many parents is precisely because we adults can’t adequately explain the doctrine ourselves. We can teach children the inerrancy of Scripture by simply saying, “The Bible Is True.” We can explain something of the atonement by saying, “Jesus paid for our sins and is alive forever.” The Trinity, though, is another matter.

I think much of our fear and stumbling here comes with a misunderstanding of what the Christian gospel is all about. Yes, Christianity is reasonable and intelligible (Carl Henry stands affirmed). But Christianity is not merely about reason and intelligence. The gospel points to a different kind of wisdom, one that silences human mouths (Isa. 55:8; Jer. 8:9; 1 Cor. 1:19-20).

God is one God, and God is three persons in an everlasting relationship with one another, a relationship into which we are invited. That’s not contradictory. God is not one in the same way he is three, or vice-versa. But who can reduce this to some sort of formula or easy analogy?

Sometimes we seek a quick analogy for children because we want to put our kids out of their mystery. If the Trinity is an easy explanation (it’s like a shamrock; it’s like water, ice, and steam), we can “move on.” We’re afraid if we say that the Trinity is in some ways beyond comprehension that our kids won’t trust us to tell them with confidence about the truth of the gospel.

But Jesus tells us there’s something about a child’s way of believing that ought to be true of all of us. We must, he tells us, become like them if we’re going to enter the kingdom of God at all. In one sense, it’s true, children are often hyper-literal. I remember thinking as a child that a “soul” was a little version of myself located in one of the chambers of my heart (and wearing a soldier’s uniform, for some reason).

But, in the more important ways, children are open to mystery and paradox in ways adults often aren’t. Children explore the world around them with a wide-eyed sense of wonder. They don’t comprehend it all, and they know they don’t comprehend it all.That’s the kind of blessed ignorance I believe Jesus commends. In order to believe, you must trust everything God has said to you, but you must also see him, not your own comprehension, as Lord. To see at all we must know that we “see through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12).

With that the case, we ought to boldly say to our children, “God is One and God is three. I can’t fully explain all of that because that’s how big and mysterious God and his ways are. Isn’t that wonderful?” When your child says, “That boggles my mind,” don’t respond with a worried handwringing but with a twinkle in your eye. “I know!” you say. “Me too! Isn’t that wild, and great!” That doesn’t end the conversation, of course. It only begins it. But we’ve got several trillion years and beyond to explore the depths of the Trinitarian reality. A start is what we need.

And learning of God’s oneness and threeness in terms of wonder and awe is a good place, I think, to start vaccinating our children from the kind of sterile rationalism, Christian or atheist, that can lead to a boring, despairing, tragically normal sort of life.

How to Do Family Worship for the First Time

FamilyWorship

Perhaps the biggest barrier to regular family worship is getting started.  Many families, convinced that worshiping together in their home would strengthen the spiritual maturity of their family, don’t know how to take the initial plunge.

Hopefully this post will help!  Before we begin let me mention that, as is probably obvious, I am assuming that those reading are already convinced of the importance of doing family worship in their homes.  However, if that isn’t the case let me suggest taking a moment to read the following articles at Desiring God and Radical Experiment (PDF).  When you’re done come on back here and carry on with this post.

A few points before we get started: Please keep these in mind (repeat them to yourself quietly if necessary):

A. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.  We should assume that new ventures don’t always go as planned or desired initially.  That is okay.  Getting through your first time of family worship makes each subsequent gathering easier so this first run, even if bumpy, is well worth doing.  And even if you stumble a bit the first time (or the first several times) keep in mind, like batting practice, you are getting your reps in and will get steadily more comfortable having your family together for worship at home.

B. Keep it simple. We’ll talk in just a moment about the elements to include in family worship.  However, you don’t have to go whole-hog the first time.  Pick the most essential and easily available elements and add in others as you go along.  Really.  That’s fine.

C. Family Worship Supplements Corporate Worship.  As I’ve alluded to above, there are a number of benefits to practicing family worship in your home.  However, as beneficial as family worship is, it is no substitute for regularly gathering with your local church for corporate worship on the Lord’s Day.  Build your family’s worship around what you do when gathered with the body – sing the songs you sing with your church, read and discuss passages from the book your pastor is preaching from, etc.

D. Ideally, Dads will Lead.  If They Can’t, See Point A Above. Dads have the primary privilege and responsibility to lead their family in worship of the Lord.  However, for various reasons, dad-led family worship can’t always happen.  In those cases please remember that it is beneficial for mom, grandpa, grandma, uncles, foster parents, etc. to lead those in their care – even if visiting for the weekend – in worship.  Don’t delay beginning family worship just because you think there is someone more qualified to initiate.  Invite them in but don’t let their lack of initiative or involvement stop you.

Furthermore, don’t consider family worship limited to nuclear or extended families with children.  Christian roomates?  Empty nest married couples?  These things apply to you as well.

E. The Younger the Children the Lower the Expectation. People who know me will realize how odd it is for me to write that.  I’m certainly not for dumbing down our worship.  What I mean is this: younger kids, particularly those not used to gathering for family worship, will have shorter attention spans.  Plan for this – and plan too for helping them grow in their ability to participate for longer stretches.  Also, younger kids are more fidgety.  Don’t worry if it is hard to keep their attention and certainly don’t worry if they want to move around.  This freedom of movement is one of the unique opportunities of family worship and shouldn’t be seen as a negative.  Knowing this up front and taking a gradual approach to helping them grow in their ability to simply stay and listen pushes back against discouragement about how your worship times go.

What Should You Do?

I suggest Acts 2:42-47 as a guide to what Christian worship looks like.  Yes, it more directly speaks to corporate worship in the local church.  Nonetheless, it addresses elements of Christian worship and is thus useful for our purposes here.  If you want to discuss that point we can do so but for now let’s look at what the text identifies as consistent with Christian worship and then what can be done in our homes.

The Apostles’ Teaching

Fellowship

The Breaking of Bread

Prayer

There is some debate about what fellowship entailed but, considering it is distinct from the breaking of bread, it appears we’re supposed to understand fellowship as some Christian communion and breaking of bread as taking the Lord’s Supper.

As a Baptist, I understand the Lord’s Supper to be a local church ordinance, meaning that it should be taken within the context of a gathered local body.  As a result I cannot recommend taking the Lord’s Supper at home.  With that one off the table (no pun intended) lets take a look at the other elements.

I. The Apostles’ Teaching

The early church had the unique and very desirable opportunity to hear the Apostles preach and teach.  As much as we would like to have that experience ourselves we must remember that we are at no disadvantage compared to the early church because we have the complete text of Scripture.  This is the teaching of the Apostles as much as their verbal declaration and, more importantly, is the perfect Word of God.  Thus availing ourselves of hearing and taking the Word into our minds and hearts should be a primary goal of our spiritual lives and family worship.

This can be done during family worship in a number of ways.

Read the Bible Aloud – This simple act brings us under the authority of the Word and creates space useful to the Spirit’s work.  One note for those with younger kids – sticking to stories is a good idea and can be your main reading diet while the children are particularly young.

Give the Meaning of the Text – If there is someone available who can do so, have that person give some insight into the text.  Here too, with younger kids, keep it simple and short.  If no one there feels confident about explaining the text this time then make your Bible reading something connected to your pastor’s last sermon and use his points.  Even if you’ve heard it before it is always a good idea to be reminded and refreshed.

Memorize Scripture – As your family’s abilities grow, add in Bible memorization to your time of hearing Scripture.  Don’t, however, turn this into a laborious chore.  Aim to help everyone enjoy taking God’s Word into their minds rather than checking off verses on a list.

Practice Catechesis – Memorizing what Scripture teaches is an important supplement to memorizing what Scripture says and catechesis is a proven method of discipling believers.  This too can be added in as you grow in your practice of family worhsip.  For adults I recommend Hercules Collins’ Orthodox Catechism, a Baptist version of the beloved Heidleberg Catechism and for children I recommend A Catechism for Boys and Girls by Tom Nettles.

Work on one question and answer at a time.  When that section is memorized move on to the next and keep the memorized sections fresh with review.

Also, feel free to start very young; my 2 year old has done well with questions 1 and 2; he’ll pick up more as he goes along and, more helpfully, as he hears his older siblings answering later questions.

II. Fellowship

It is here that I recommend some singing.  I’m not, in doing so, arguing that what the early believers did that Acts describes as fellowship is reduced to singing but I do believe it was an important aspect of their gatherings and one that can – nay, should – be replicated in our homes.

Consider how important good singing is to Christians.  It has been said that we sing the truth of God’s Word into our hearts through singing together.  Consider two texts:

Ephesians 5:18-21 – And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Colossians 3:16 – Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

We serve one another when we sing together.  Serve each other well!  I suggest picking simple and well-known songs to sing together – songs like Holy, Holy, Holy and Amazing Grace because their familiarity and simplicity help overcome fear of singing together in a new setting and, as a bonus, young children can memorize them comparatively quickly.

If there is no musician in the family be thankful you live in the era of Youtube, where versions of most every spiritual song your family knows can be found with both music and lyrics (see the links above).  Use the computer you are reading this on and let those versions lead you.  Of course, the versions I linked to might not suit you – or be easy to sing with – so make do if this is your first time and spend some time later finding preferable versions.

One note for those with small children – one song, sung [relatively] together is a good goal.  As mentioned previously, plan to grow in that ability but one time through Holy, Holy, Holy together is spiritually profitable.  Don’t be dissatisfied if that is what your group can do.

III. Prayer

Prayer, too, is an important act of Christian worship.  The person leading family worship can pray on behalf of the group or, if each participant is able, you can take turns.  One warning for those with young children – this is a tempting moment for children to become particularly silly.  Give some forethought to how you will have them participate – ask them for requests, help them think of who and what to pray for, or simply ask them to slow and quiet themselves while the leader prays.

Now Get Started!

There you have it – a simple three-part guide to family worship.  Pretty painless, no?  I’ve even provided links to your first song.

So what are you waiting for?  Pick a time, gather everyone, and give it a shot.  I’m confident you will be glad you did.

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Additional Resources

I appreciate the work of Seeds Family Worship in their efforts to provide churches and families with resources to encourage and grow in the practice of family worship.  I also receive via email D6 Family’s Splink which provides very practical and specific guides to leading your family in worship.

8 Considerations for Christian Parents

Tim Challies regularly takes readers of his  blog through classic writings.  In reading The Mystery of Providence by the Puritan John Flavel he came across a section aimed at exhorting Christian parents.  Below you’ll find Flavel’s points from this section with a few explanatory sentences from Challies himself.  We commend it to your consideration:

[Flavel] offers these 8 considerations, asking that you would ponder each one and allow them to motivate you to call your children to respond to the gospel.

  1. Consider the intimacy of the relationship between you and your children, and, therefore, how much their happiness or misery is your concern. Our children mean so much us. You gain joy by them, you place high value on them, you express hopes and longings for them, you sympathize with them in their troubles, and you grieve from the depths of your soul if they precede you into death. Why would you long to have children, and assign such value to them, and find so much joy in them, if, in the meantime, you give little thought to their eternal souls?
  2. Consider that God has charged you to tend not only to their bodies, but also to their souls. You can know this by the clear commands God has given parents (see Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Ephesians 6:4), and also by the commands he has given children since these commands imply the duty of the parents (e.g. Ephesians 6:1).
  3. Consider what could possibly comfort you at the time of your children’s death if, through your neglect, they die in a Christless condition. The most heartbreaking cry is that of the parent who has to honestly admit, “My child is in hell and I did nothing to prevent it! My child is in hell and I helped him go there!”
  4. Consider this question: If you neglect to instruct your children in the way of holiness, will the devil neglect to instruct them in the way of wickedness? No, of course not. If you will not teach them to pray, he will teach them to curse, swear, and lie. Where the ground is uncultivated, weeds will inevitably spring up.
  5. Consider that if the years of your children’s youth are neglected, there is little probability of any good fruit afterwards. You have to make the best use of their most formative years. Flavel uses this brilliant little illustration: “How few are converted in old age! A twig is brought to any form, but grown trees will not bow.”
  6. Consider that you are the instrumental cause of all your children’s spiritual misery, both by generation and imitation, by birth and by example. They are in a state of spiritual death because of the plague of sin which they contracted from you. As David says, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). This further increases your responsibility to see them healed from that plague.
  7. Consider that there is no one in the world more likely than you to be instruments of their eternal good. You have advantages that no others have, such as the insights you gain into their hearts. Because you are with them every day, and because you have so much knowledge of their weaknesses, you have unique opportunities to instill the knowledge of Christ into them. If you are neglectful, who shall help them? No one else can or will take your place in their lives.
  8. Consider the great day of judgment and be moved with pity for your children. Remember that text, “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God” (Revelation 20:12). What a sad thing it would be to see your dear children at Christ’s left hand. Friends, do your utmost to prevent this misery! “Knowing the terrors of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11).

Now, the purpose of these 8 considerations is not to make parents despair, but to help them see their responsibility. Flavel acknowledges, of course, that God is the only one who can bring a child to salvation and that God’s purposes are his own. And yet the Scriptures make it plain that the parents are to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Every parent would do well to ponder these 8 items.

Update from Nick Rodgers on Prayer Needs

Over the Christmas season Bro. Nick, our former staff member, gave an update at Members Meeting about how we can pray for his family and his ministry at Centerville Christian Fellowship.

We asked him to record a video for those who weren’t able to attend the meeting.  Here it is:

Practical Steps to Helping Your Children Worship at Church

Thanks to the Confessing Baptist for directing fresh attention to this article on Attendance of Children in Public Worship.  The author, Jeremy Walker, offers very practical tips to helping your children worship with the larger body during Lord’s Day Corporate Worship.

PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS

1] Conduct family worship daily. Incorporate elements of the public meetings into the fabric of family worship where appropriate, demonstrating an active regard for and interest in what has occurred in the public meetings, and showing that the content of those meetings is relevant beyond Sunday. For example, consider singing hymns recently used, or read from the same passages of Scripture, or take up matters for prayer from the prayer meeting. Where necessary, practice the behaviour required in the worship services. Consider the particular relevance of family worship on Saturday evenings, as a means of preparation for the Lord’s day. Use the opportunity not only to prepare the heart for worship, but also to remind your children of the behaviour expected of them on the Sunday.

2] Seek to order things in your home so that children have adequate rest on Saturday night (we ought to be at least as concerned that children get enough as sleep as on a school night), and have adequate time on Sunday morning to prepare to leave the house, so that they are in every respect ready for church.

3] Aim to arrive in good time (perhaps 10-15 minutes before the service begins), and be in the appropriate place for worship as soon as reasonably possible. Remind children in advance what behaviour is expected in Sunday School, the worship services, and/or the prayer meeting.

4] Accomplish necessary tasks (such as getting a drink, or using the toilet) before the beginning of the service.

5] Assume that your child will sit through the entire service unless there is a particular reason for leaving. There is no need to leave the worship at the first sign of disturbance from your children: churches should appreciate that children are children, and that there will be times when they do not behave perfectly. If there is no alternative, take your child out of the service. Ensure that this is not seen as a ‘reward’ for disobedience, and, if possible, deal with the particular issue appropriately and immediately, and then return to the meeting room to continue participating in the public worship of God.

6] Train your sons and daughters to be good listeners, sitting with good posture and focusing their eyes on the one leading the service or preaching. When the Scriptures are read, have them turn to the text and follow in their own or your Bible. Likewise, help them turn to each hymn and follow from the hymnbook, helping them as required. With older children, consider means (such as taking notes) of helping them to concentrate.

7] Remember that leaving a public meeting (even for legitimate reasons) is a distraction, at least to those nearby, and that such a departure interrupts your worship of God. It will impair your ability to follow, understand, and therefore benefit from the preaching of God’s word. The logic and continuity of Biblical preaching is lost when there are gaps and interruptions in the hearing of it. Seriously consider the possibility that your child’s desire to leave the meeting place be refused.

8] If it is predictable that you will need to take your child out of a service to train or discipline him or her, aim to take seats near the doors of the meeting room, where you can get in and out with least distraction to others. When leaving or entering, try to do so with a minimum of fuss and noise. Other members of the church — deacons or door stewards, for example — might be able to help ensure that such seats are available. If you have an appropriate seat, you can retake your seat with minimal distraction when you bring the child back in to the service. Remember that the children are to participate intelligently in worship — diversionary activities (drawing, writing, playing, etc.) are not a part of the worship of God. Neither (outside of the Lord’s supper) are eating and drinking, which can be distracting for the child, yourself, and others.
These things will undermine a child’s active and intelligent involvement in the worship of God

9] Encourage children to continue behaving well (e.g. not making excessive noise and shouting) inside and outside the building, after a public meeting. Help children to behave politely to one another, and to adults (holding open doors, helping with tasks, etc.), and to behave in a friendly fashion to visitors, particularly visiting children.

10] Where possible, follow up the preaching and teaching with your children (during the drive home, during lunch, in family worship on Sunday afternoon/evening), asking them questions appropriate to their level of understanding.

11] Remember the power, for good or evil, of your own example in preparing for and participating in the public meetings of the church.