Preaching to a 4 year old

Like many parents, I am regularly rebuked of how greatly I underestimate my children. How often something slips from their lips and Lisa and I look at each other with eyes that say, “wow, they were actually paying attention” or “wow, we need to watch what we say!” But rarely have I been so encouraged and exhilarated as I was after last Sunday’s service.

At Immanuel, we do staff a nursery every Sunday morning and evening. But as much as they are able, we encourage parents to keep their children with them in worship. Not “children’s worship”, just “worship.” Of course this results in a slightly more, well, energetic worship service. (But can’t we all admit that reformed worship sometimes could use a little energy?) Training young ones to sit, sing, read and listen also means moms and dads are often multi-tasking, lifting their hearts to the Lord while explaining why paper airplanes don’t fit into the regulative principle. Is it worth it? Absolutely–even more than I realize.

Let me set the stage: last Sunday I preached on Psalm 15. It was an exceedingly simple sermon, designed to highlight our need for Jesus’ righteousness. The sermon went something like this: “Who can be with God? Whoever’s perfect. Are you perfect? Nope. Is Jesus? Certainly. So…trust and rejoice in him.” Hearing the gospel simply explained, seeing Jesus magnified as our only hope, seemed to bring great joy to the congregation. After calling those present to repent of their self-righteousness and trust in Jesus, we ended the service in the joy of the Holy Spirit. I was deeply thankful for God being with us and blessing his Word to us. But when I got home, Lisa brought tears to my eyes by showing me this (click for larger image):

I realize this is not easy to read, so let me interpret. Elias, our 4-year old who has been learning to read and write under his mom’s tutelage, took his first real sermon notes. With corrected spelling, it goes like this: “The heart of God is holy. But our heart is not. I am sorry God. I am sorry God.” What was even more wonderful is that these weren’t phrases I used in the sermon but rather Elias’ understanding and response to what was being preached. It took my breath away and immediately made me even more thankful for what God can do.

[Lest anyone accuse me of pride in my preaching or parenting abilities, let me assure you that I have many more examples of times when my kids had no clue what I was preaching about and often have “sermon notes” devoted to pictures of baseball. However, I will take this opportunity to commend my wife, who is not only a great teacher of tiny people but wrangles four of them while their dad is preaching and somehow maintains a worshipful heart at the same time.]

Here is the point: not only do our children understand more than we realize, God can do more than we dare to imagine. When preachers delightfully preach the simple gospel in its beautiful simplicity, God opens ears and hearts–not just of sinful and beleaguered adults, but of covenant children as well! I hope you who are parents will be encouraged to keep your children in worship, not just to learn self-discipline for the future, but to bring them to God now. And I hope we who preach will be encouraged to be simple enough for children and simple enough for adults as well.


  1. Ellen April 15, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    As you know, I saved the sermon “notes” you and your brothers took many years ago, and so I know how amazing God is and that He works during corporate worship in the hearts of our children. I am so thankful for our Elias, and for his reminding me that church is for ALL of God’s people – old and young. To your post, I say “Amen and Amen!”

  2. Marlene Bibby April 15, 2011 at 11:02 am #

    What a blessing! It is so wonderful when this happens. I love hearing Bobby answer Dave’s questions in the sermon or say ‘thank you’ when he talks about eternity. The little minds process so much more than we give them credit for.

  3. Elias April 15, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    Daddy, why is my picture on your blog?

Leave a Reply