This week we will be probing Joel Beeke on how parents can assist their children to get the most out of the preaching they hear.



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I'm Scott Brown, I'm here with Jason Dome. Church and Family Life exists to proclaim the sufficiency of Scripture for church and family life for the spread of the gospel across the generations. And this week we're here to discuss preaching, particularly preaching to children in the church. And I have with me, Joel Beeke here, who is a wonderful preacher, who is the president and trainer of preachers at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and is also a pastor there in Grand Rapids, Michigan. So good to have you with us, Joel.

Thanks for coming. Great to be with you again, Scott. Okay, so we're here to talk about preaching to children. Joel, we preach to children all the time. Jason preaches to children all the time.

Most of the people in our congregate, at least Jason's congregation and my congregation that we preach to on Sunday mornings is full of children. We all wish we were better preachers to children. I do, anyway. But Joel, we just wanna tap you for your thoughts about how preachers should be preaching to children. And so, what are some of the things that come to mind Joel, when you think about the preacher who has established the exegetical matters, He's getting ready to deliver a message that he's probably spent, hopefully has spent hours on and much time praying about and crying out to God about and now he has a nine-year-old and he's preaching to a nine-year-old.

Well, how should a preacher think about that moment? So in preaching, we should always be asking the question before we get on the pulpit, so what? So what? What difference does it make that we preach this sermon? And a good preacher would ask that question from different groups of people.

So what for a child of God? So what for an unconverted person? So what for an aged saint? So what for a child? So I think consciously thinking about children before you ascend the pulpit is a good thing.

The second thing I would say is when you're actually in the act of preaching and you see all those children, our church too has just a ton of children, and you see all those children everywhere, that's got to stir you up as a preacher. Now when we were in this COVID lockdown for some weeks, we had 25 people or so coming to church. It was just the office bearers and they could bring their children if they wanted to. Well, only one office bearer brought his kids and four of them, they were lined up there in the front row, and I just told them almost every week, thank God you bring your children. I said if you didn't bring your children, there'd be no children in the congregation, it'd be very hard for me to preach to children when I can't see any children.

So seeing the children and consciously looking at them and trying to draw their attention so they're with you is I think very important. And one of the key things I think here is looking at every doctrine you're teaching in the sermon, and this is a third thought, looking at every doctrine you're teaching and say, can I come up with one illustration that reaches down to anywhere between a five-year-old level and a nine-year-old level? And once you have that illustration in hand and you can speak it without any notes, speak it freely and look right into the eyes of children, it's usually one of the most powerful points of your whole sermon. Because when you speak to children, guess who's listening? Mom and dad, everybody, grandpa and grandma.

When you're speaking at a child's level, everyone is in the palm of your hand. So a minister is foolish, it's foolish not to speak to children habitually during your sermons. Joe, you've done a lot of instruction of your students on the Puritan practices of preaching. And how would the Puritans talk about or think about preaching to children? Well for them it's a big deal and they actually wrote a lot of books about how parents should teach children as well.

There's at least 29 books they wrote of parent-child relationships, so that's interesting. And they didn't have nurseries, so all the kids, I mean, you come on horseback to church with your whole family in a carriage and all the kids are there. Yes, if a baby cried a lot, you take the baby out, but parents are very concerned that their children would get something from the sermon. In fact, Puritans cared so much about that question that the main reason they taught their kids to read was so that they could read the Bible so they could understand sermons better as they would be educated. And so this was a big deal.

And in terms of the preacher, the preacher was to try to include the children. Now, one of the Dutch Puritans, Alexander Cummary, who moved from Scotland to the Netherlands, he tended to be on the upper end of preaching. He was a real academic. And his wife would always say to him, when he'd come home from preaching, you know a 12-year-old wouldn't get much out of your sermon. You know, say the average part of your sermon should be understood by a 12-year-old, and then certain parts should be simpler, but a 12-year-old should be able to walk away from your sermon and say, I understand all the main things the minister said.

So simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. Now the Puritans called that plain preaching and they didn't mean by that that the whole sermon had to be just dumbed down to a real simple level. They had variety in their sermon. Sometimes they were speaking in a more advanced way to mature saints. But there should be different parts of the sermon where you, if you've lost the children for a little while, the young children, you draw them back in.

And the way the Peartons would do it quite often was through illustrations. They were big on illustrations. And children love pictures. But also they said, when you talk to children, it's not just the content of what you say, it's the impression you leave behind, the manner in which you say it. You know like Martin Lloyd-Jones said, if a man leaves me with a sense when I leave the house of God that I've been in the presence of God, he said, you know, Even if I don't remember much of what that sermon was about two weeks later, just the impression I've been in the presence of God makes it a successful sermon.

And I think there's something about that for children too. I'll tell you an illustration that actually happened yesterday to me. We had our kids over and my daughter-in-law was telling me that my colleague in the ministry here in Grand Rapids, he was on the screen in the basement. A few families sit in the basement when they're very young children, so as not to disturb the flock, just a few. And they were walking through the basement to go up to the main sanctuary and my one and a half year old grandchild holding her mom's hand.

They're walking through the basement and they see my colleague on the screen and my daughter-in-law says do you know who that is, Selah? And she looks at the screen, she says, God! Now where did she get that from at one and a half years old? See, she had some impression somewhere. They never talked to her like this.

She had some impression of the sacredness of the pulpit and that holy things, God things are being spoken from the pulpit and she identified the minister with the pulpit. So children can take away impressions that maybe they don't understand everything, but if they understand the presence of God there in an almost tangible way, That will leave behind good seats for the future. My own brother used to tell this story that when he was three years old, his oldest memory in life is looking up at my dad's face in family worship and seeing my dad weeping as he talked to us about the things of God. And he said to my dad at their 50th anniversary, Dad, I want to thank you. I never had to doubt the existence of God because my oldest memory in life is looking up at your face and family worship and seeing you weeping about God.

I just remember thinking God is real. So illustrations, can I just give one or two that what I'm trying to say here? Would that be good? Sure, go ahead. Yeah.

Okay, so I'm preaching. How do you preach, for example, to children about God's all-seeing eye, when he sees everything? Well, you can do it doctrinally. You can do it through the story of Hagar, thou God seeest me, and that would be perfectly legitimate. Probably quite powerful.

But why not throw an illustration in like this of a true story that happened in my congregation that a mother, and I'll say it like I'm saying it to children, boys and girls, there was a mom once who gave a box of really good cookies. You like cookies? Yeah, We all like cookies. To a daughter, and she said to that daughter and her sister, she said, you go bring these cookies to mommy, to grandma, but don't take one along the way. Don't take one along the way.

Remember they're all for grandma. Later on you can have a cookie but not now. Do you understand?" The girl said, yes mommy, yes mommy. And so they took the box of cookies and they got halfway to grandma. You know what happened children?

On the way to grandma, Sally, one of the girls said to her sister, Heather, oh Heather, I'm getting kind of hungry. Heather said, me too. And Sally said, I don't think grandma would mind. Do you think grandma would mind if we just took one cookie? Grandma, grandma gives us things quite easy, doesn't she?

Yeah, Heather, I think it's okay. And so Sally's put the box down and she opened it up and she began to reach for a cookie and she said, Heather, no one's watching us, is there? And Heather looks around. No, no one's watching. And so Sally reaches and she picks up the cookie and Heather says, wait a minute Sally, somebody's watching us.

God, God sees everything. And you know what happened boys and girls? Sally just put the cookie back, put the lid back on the cookies and they took them all to grandma. You see, God always sees us. You can't hide anything from God.

He's an all-seeing God. So I mean when you talk to children that way you've got the whole congregation don't you? And so it's just a rich moment in the congregation and you get out afterwards and you're in the vestibule of the church And some adult comes to you and says, You know, I really like that illustration. You think, oh, no, you know, they miss all my teaching. Right.

But the illustration solidifies it. That's what the Puritans were so good at. If you all pure to book and you look at their sermons, they're just peppered with illustrations. Joel, you've got you've got the preacher on one end working hard to preach in an effective way to make an impression on children. On the other end, you have parents who are interested that their children listen in a way that's impactful, what counsel would you give to parents to help them bring children who are really ready to receive the most out of preaching?

Yes, yes. Well, one thing that my wife did with our kids, which I think was very successful, I recommend it to parents, is if the children can't write very well yet, let's say they're six and under, from the time they were three years old, my wife would, let's say we talked, let's talk about God sees everything, And you can't do a lot of this, of course, because it takes time in the sermon. But she would do dash dash dash G, dash dash dash O, dash dash dash D. And she'd write out a basic sentence, and then the child, three years old, can draw the line between the dots, and actually be taking notes, like mommy's taking notes, and like older brother's taking notes. And then in the evening, dad will go over those notes of all the children and talk to them about the sermon.

And then the three-year-old, even though he can't write yet, he can bring you his notes and say, and you say, oh yeah, God sees everything, let's talk about that Tom, and you talk about it. So involving the children, instead of just saying, oh here's a coloring book to color any old thing because you won't be listening anyway, and here's another book to keep you busy with something. No, no, no. Involve the children. Now once the children are about seven years old, of course then they're starting to be able to write things themselves and they can take notes themselves And then we did the same thing.

We would take their notes on Sunday evening, and we would walk through them and talk about them. And give freedom to children to take notes in different ways. Don't be overly critical. As long as they're involved, as long as they're taking notes. So my son when he was nine years old, he would always put things into his notes that I didn't say because he was thinking about the implications of what I was saying, which was really, I was always fascinated to read his notes.

Like what would he come up with as an outgrowth of what I was saying because he had a really vivid imagination. My daughter is very you know straight-jacketed and she just put down exactly what I said, no other reflections. A little more boring for me to read, but very neat and tidy and she actually I think got more of the sermon really. But give them that freedom to follow their own listening skills patterns even as you go over the sermon again with them. I think the important thing is the whole family benefits if dad goes over the sermon with them afterward because then the father has a challenge of bringing the whole sermon down to a nine-year-old level or a seven-year-old level or a five-year-old level.

That's good for the deaf, but it's also good for the children. You know, Joel, I did a similar thing in terms of taking notes with my kids. When they were really little, I would sit them on each side of me and I would have, I said, now if I write a word down and underline it, I want you to write that same word down. So I would choose really simple words and they would write those words down and I would just try to identify important words and they would copy my note you know as we were listening to another preacher preach but I think helping children with different ways to be engaged with the preacher is really helpful I really like what what your wife did as well but there are you know as children grow up they can gain more sophisticated skills, but I tried to start real early, even when they could just write a few letters and copy those letters off my own notes. Yeah, yeah, it's beautiful, beautiful.

And then too, it's true, isn't it, that not all children are the same this way as well. We had one child that actually didn't like to take notes in church. And I think we made a mistake, and we tried to force it too much because everyone else is taking notes. But she would just focus on the preacher, actually got quite a bit out of the sermon, and she would say to us, I get less out of the sermon when I take notes. And we found that hard to believe because the other four of us are all wired the other way.

So we thought she just wasn't listening. I think there was a little period of her life where she wasn't listening, so that made us think more that way. But we should have been more in tune with that, that Some people just listen better without taking any notes. You know, one of my grandsons, actually yesterday I was talking to him and he was asking me, how do you remember all the things that were preached in a sermon? And because he was just acknowledging that he didn't remember everything that he had heard preached.

And we were actually talking about one of my sermons, but he was telling me some of the good things out of that sermon. But his question was, how do you remember all those things? And I said, well, most people don't remember everything out of a sermon for sure. Maybe someone with photographic memory might. But most of us aren't like that.

And what I told him was, you know, if you can identify one thing, just one thing from a sermon that is really helpful to your soul, then focus on that. And even if you're not taking notes and getting the entire outline and things like that. You know some children, I like to take notes with outlines. I want to see the flow and things that helps me a lot to see it. But other people they don't and I actually I have a friend who he encourages people not to take notes absolutely don't take notes and let the Lord speak to you you know through the thing that he's bringing an impression upon you from that preaching and focus on that so I don't think that taking notes is the only godly methodology, but it does, at least it does one thing, it helps children focus on the preacher and keep their focus eyeball to eyeball.

And that was one thing I found, I felt was really important that they honor the preacher who's preaching. Whoever's up front, no one talks, everybody listens to that person who's preaching. Scott, I think parents are universally aware that children are absorbing and reflecting our dispositions towards different things. And preaching is certainly one of those. If I have an eager disposition towards the preaching, even without a word, I haven't said anything to my children, they're seeing, oh, hey, Dad thinks this is a really important activity.

I can tell just by looking at them. Then our children are likely to absorb and reflect that. I think listless parents in preaching probably have listless children in preaching, but really engaged, eager parents as they're listening to preaching or more likely to have children who are that way as well Yeah, absolutely The parents disposition That's why I would when our kids were young I would always wake them up on Sunday morning I'd knock on the doors and say time to get up. It's the Lord's Day today We get to go here what God has to say to us is excitement in my voice, you know And then in the prayer before breakfast, I'm more excited. My prayer is more effusive.

We get to go up to the sanctuary God This is the highlight of the week children. What a blessing we get to hear. So you just build expectation. Oh that's great. I want to add one thing here.

I was in a family once. I wonder what you think of this. Is this good or bad? After church we came back. We had this noon Lord's Day meal and then it came time for dessert.

They had nine children. They start with the youngest and they say what is one thing you learned from the sermon? And each one going up in age has to say one thing that no one else said yet. Well nine things, that's quite quite a few, right? But that family passed that test so easily and then they could have dessert if they got something.

A legitimate way of doing it, But it sure worked in that family. And just like that, bam, bam, bam, they had nine things they learned from the sermon. And the father very judiciously then discussed each thing the kid came up with. It took about 10 minutes before we got our dessert because he's just going from child to child to child but it was really it was fascinating for the preacher too to hear what the kids picked up. I think that's a great idea you know dinner time on Sunday nights at our house We go around and everybody shares something, something different, and of course, how often you hear, oh, you stole mine.

You know, you have it. But yeah, that's, but adding dessert in there, now that's pretty, that's, I like it, I like it, yeah. Because that means there's dessert. My grandchildren really light up on that you know I I'll give them whipped cream for that I'd be a little bit too much of behaviorism in there but anyway Joel in our circles I've kind of a cherished verse is Ephesians 6 verse 4, and you fathers do not provoke your children to wrath but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. How would you settle church, but specifically the sermon time in church, how would you settle that into in the midst of what that verse is communicating?

Just repeat the question one more time. Yeah, so Ephesians 6-4 has fathers responsible to bring up their children in the training and admonition of the Lord, how would you merge that with sermon time on Sunday? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, first of all, the training, you know, deals with how do you prepare for the sermon, your family for the sermon, already on Saturday night set an expectation. How do you teach your children before you come to church how to listen during the sermon, what kind of expectation level do you set up, How are you going to handle the notes question?

And then how do you talk to your children afterward about the sermon? So the sermon is not just a sermon time, there's a pre, a during, and a post sermon time. And I think that's all part of training children so that the family, for example, that sits in our same pew and when I'm not preaching has eight children. And it's just amazing to me from 18 year old down to three year old, all of them are just intently listening to the minister the whole time. I mean, it's a model family in terms of listening in church.

But that just didn't happen. That came through training through the father and the mother expecting their children to listen and talking to them about the sermon afterwards, making them accountable for the sermon. And the admonition part, I think that you know, you need to admonish children to the degree of the infraction that they've committed. And if children know that the sermon is the most important part of their life, then not listening in church or messing around or just being restless and not focused on the minister, they know that in their dad and mom's eyes, that's a pretty serious infraction. It's a sin because God is speaking to us.

If you train your children that way, I think then your punishment for a child that was obviously not behaving well in church is more severe because infraction is really greater than the punishment is for some more minor problem or something where you say, okay, there's maybe a bit of sin involved there, but not necessarily blatant sin. But not listening to God in church is a blatant sin. And when you train your children that way, I think you both admonish them. But meanwhile, you train them. So you use both the positive discipline in training them and the negative discipline in admonishing them.

Jill, here's a question about little children and how parents can encourage little children, you know, two, three, four, five years old to listen and dial in. I've never been a fan of bringing in extraneous books or toys or things like that into the worship of God, you know distractions of different kinds. That's been my perspective. But How can parents best help their children recognize the sacredness of the moment and stay engaged as best they can? Now, you know, a three-year-old can't stay engaged like a 20-year-old.

But how do you, what advice do you have for parents on that? Yeah, my wife could answer that one better than me because when our kids were young, I was the only preacher, I was always preaching. And she grappled with it. I would say two things though. One is that again here children are often very different from each other.

Some three-year-olds can sit through a whole worship service and appear to be listening the whole time, maybe they're not, but they can sit very quietly and reverently. And other three-year-olds are just squirming everywhere. So again, it's like all parenting, you need to learn to treat each child according to that child's personality. And what will work for one child won't work for another. So if one thing is if a child doesn't listen well in church, you could bring that child home and you could just have him go sit quietly in a chair for 20 minutes and just think about what he's done against God.

That might work for one child. It might be a rather severe punishment, but it might also sober them up. Another child you might have to take into what we call the sun room, which was really the spanking room, and say, you know, you stand against God and I'm going to give you a spank and you cannot do this. This is God speaking to you through the minister and you're disturbing other people around you. You're even disturbing your mom and dad and your brothers and sisters.

And you can't live selfishly like that. I mean, I'm talking now to a four-year-old. And so, yeah, the child's level and whatever works for the child in terms of admonition there, you can't obviously make a great display in the church itself, all the services going on, but there comes a point when a child either breaks out into crying or is just so obnoxious and sitting there that you actually have to take the child out. And I think some parents today are to the opposite extreme of most churches where they actually leave the child in when really the disturbance is so many people, that child needs to be taken out. And what we like to do there is we have in the basement the section with a loudspeaker still on so the mother could still, mother father could still hear the sermon, take the child down there and probably take the child to a side room, maybe give a spanking or a good talking to, and then go back out into the basement for a few minutes before everything is back to order and pick up more of the sermon and then the parent transitions back with a child into the worship service unless the sermon is almost done.

So yeah a lot of it's common sense isn't it? But I think the main thing here is to impress upon a child from very early youth. This is a very, very special event, and you don't, you don't disobey God or not pay attention when God is speaking to you. This is the biggest event of your week. So Joel, I'd like to pile on to what you just said and just read a little bit out of Revelation chapter 5.

In Revelation chapter 5, the Apostle John weeps because no one's found worthy to open the scroll. And an elder tells him not to weep and points him to the lion of the tribe of Judah, but instead of seeing a lion he sees a lamb as if it were slain. And then the four living creatures and the 24 elders sing this song. This is Revelation 5 starting in verse 9 and they sang a new song saying, You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals for you were slain and you have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation and have made us kings and priests to our God and we shall reign on the earth." As a dad, I feel like the target for me is to bring my children into an awareness of this scene and the greatness of God so that they don't think that church is just sort of like what we do in homeschool but in another category and on another day of the week not not to diminish what we're doing in homeschool but to exalt what we're actually doing when we meet together on Sunday we have we have a big God who has sent his son to bleed and die to reconcile us with himself and and just to your point Joel just to communicate what we're doing is of the utmost importance because of just the great worth of God.

Amen. Absolutely. Well, Joel, thank you. Thank you so much for joining us. It's a great subject.

I hope that children hear hundreds and hundreds of hours of preaching as they're growing up. It always makes me happy when I'm listening to a sermon and I hear a baby crying in the background. As I do when I listen to you preach in your local church, I'll often hear Children's noises and I'm grateful for that even Lloyd-Jones from time to time. You'll hear a baby cry And I keep thinking there's there's a baby who's hearing the sound of a shepherd's voice What a blessing that is well, okay, may it be that we raise up a generation of children who love the preaching and they regard it as something from heaven, you know, for their own souls. So thank you so much Joel.

Great to see you. Great to be with you. Great to be with you. Well, thank you for joining us and come back next. In the next broadcast, we're going to be dealing with medical tyranny and we have an attorney and a doctor on the line to talk about that subject it should be very very helpful as we discuss various encroachments on the jurisdiction of the family in matters of medical care.

So join us in the next broadcast. See you then and don't forget that scripture is sufficient for church and family life. We'll see you next time. Announcements of conferences coming up. Hope you can join us.

Go to churchandfamilylife.com. See you next Monday for our next broadcast of the Church and Family Life podcast.