If you think of it, in our own homes there are three ways in which our lives are trained. The earliest is discipline. By this, I do not mean punishment. Rather, I speak of structured activities where the youngest member of the family is provided a schedule that gives order to the day. Rising in the morning, bathing, eating meals, napping and playtime are all structured for the baby or young child. A rhythm for each day develops – the child learns fundamental activities for living a full, rich and stimulating life.
The second is imitation. The child continually observes those who are older – siblings as well as parents. From observation, behavior and speech patterns emerge that imitate those who are older. Though physical characteristics are determined genetically, unique behavioral traits, responses and voice inflections are largely shaped by imitation, both conscious and unconscious.
Third is inspiration. As loyalty and respect, even admiration, grows within the child for those who are older, so does the desire to honor them with similar life values. The child becomes an adult who desires to emulate the honorable life lived in their presence.
Training for the Christian life follows a similar pattern. Christian parents make a promise at their child’s baptism to raise the child in a church, a community of faith. Early in the child’s life there is the discipline of going to Sunday school and worship. Much about the worship experience may seem strange. Yet, the regular order of the service, week after week, results in questions that generate learning. Faith is lived before there is understanding.
Each week, as the child matures, they observe the behavior of others in worship. Imitation ensues. The child learns that worship is a time of deep reverence – they discover that there is present in the movement of worship something sacred and attention is demanded. Slowly, but certainly the child experiences and learns how to worship as a child of God.
Finally, our children are grown. Confident that we as parents have done what we could – and that the Holy Spirit has been a participant in the process all along – we anticipate that our children will choose weekly worship from a deep place of inspiration. They have observed and experienced something deeply moving and meaningful in the simple act of gathering with others to honor and praise their creator and savior, Jesus Christ. They have been trained well for the Christian life that will sustain them in joys and sorrows, good times and bad. More, they have been provided with guidance for what to do when they welcome their first child.