Author: Christopher Thoma
Publisher: Angels’ Portion Books
Why should children be in worship? What is worship? Why do our traditions matter? How are any of these things connected? Rev. Thoma’s Feeding the Lambs seeks to answer all of these questions. This is a short but weighty book. The chapters are brief, but they cover deep subjects that help the reader – be they a parent or church educator – understand the meaning behind the practices of the faith they profess and how to communicate that meaning to children.
But what does worship mean? That is the meat of the book. Thoma doesn’t overcomplicate the “why” of why children should be in worship. That is easily summed up: “to give our children anything less than what our Lord has for them is to whisper a disdain for God’s gifts under our breath and yet still loud enough or the lambs to hear.” You could not say it any clearer. Our children are offered these gifts of salvation and teaching every bit as much as we adults are. Christianity is not an exclusionary or segregated religion but one from the greatest to the least of these. Our children need to see that faith modeled; they need to have this doctrine and Service explained to them; they need this walk to be part of who they are, making it their own combined history, religion, and daily life as nothing else can be. They can only do that if they are in the Service with their parents and the rest of the congregation.
This point is woven throughout the book, but it is not the meat of chapters. Instead, Thoma realizes that parents and educators need to know the why. Most of our lackadaisical approach to worship and our ignorance is not due to our apathy (usually) but due to our lack of knowledge. Some of this is on us, but a large part is due to our predecessors not teaching us or their taking away these traditions from us. One place we see this most strongly is in what most refer to as contemporary worship. Thoma talks a little bit about contemporary worship. He focuses somewhat more on the lack of sound doctrine in the music, but that really isn’t his point. His point is that contemporary worship seems to have thrown out our traditions for something new and ever-changing with the culture, forgetting why we had “traditional” worship to begin with.
So what are (or supposed to be) we teaching? Sound doctrine through liturgical worship. We don’t use the liturgy because it is easy or flashy or fun or because we’ve always done it that way. It not about why we want to do it. We use the liturgy because most of it is pulled from Scripture and constructed with the sole purpose of teaching sound doctrine. We sing the scriptures, chant the creeds, and the pastor proclaims the Word each Sunday, centering worship around the Lord’s Supper. This is the Divine Service. Sadly, most churches I have been to recently don’t refer to worship as the Divine Service anymore, but they should. Worship is not about what we bring to God but about God coming to us. We need Him every day, every hour, sustaining and preserving us to life everlasting. But if we don’t even remember that on Sunday, how do we carry it through the week? And if we don’t know why we do (or did) these things every Sunday, how will these practices have an impact on our lives? And if we don’t know these things and are not teaching them, then how do our children understand?
Thus, Feeding the Lambs feeds the sheep. Thoma understands that most parishioners do not know the traditions of the liturgy, let alone why we have them or should use them. Much of the book focuses on the history of the Divine Service, what liturgy means, why we have certain rituals, the use of music, and why it is essential to use what has come before us. After explaining all of this, he points to why we should not so flippantly give up the liturgy, especially for our ever-changing whims and desires. Unlike most contemporary worship services, the regularity of the Divine Service is a haven in a rocky world. It connects us with the early Church and to those who will come after us. It teaches sound doctrine in a way that does not change as the doctrine itself does not change. It follows a pattern of receiving and giving and receiving once more. It fastens the Word of God in our hearts through repetition, chanting, and singing so that we will still have this hope and comfort even if such materials are taken from us. This consistency is necessary, starting from childhood (and really, before that) into adulthood, hiding God’s Word, His promises, in our heart that we might not sin against Him and that we might have it safe and secure against all harms that come our way (Psa. 119:1-16, 105).
So then the question might be, “Well, how am I to teach such profound things to children?” The answer is simple. First, learn about them. Learn about your faith, our history, our practices, and all the “whys” that come with them. This book is an excellent place to start, and so is your pastor. Then, answer your child’s “whys.” Do not keep them from the Service; invite them in as you have been invited. If they fuss, well, we are all sinners saved by grace. Keep them engaged by pointing out the different symbols, rituals, and changes in the Service and explaining what they mean. Likely, if your children have been included in worship for a while, they have already picked up on some of the habits. I know my two-year-old daughter has. So explain why they are happening and why we do each thing. Don’t leave your children to learn alone. Teach the faith in sight, sound, and action. There typically isn’t a distaste for the liturgy, only a lack of knowledge. Or, there if there is a lack of desire to attend in the youth ages and beyond, this is because participation with the Body of Christ wasn’t encouraged while they were young. So start teaching, encouraging, and equipping now. Parents: you can do this. You can raise your children in the fear and instruction of the Lord as you are called, but I know you often need encouragement. Thoma offers such encouragement and information in this book, and he has helped create other resources for such a purpose.
Parents and church leaders frequently ask my husband how to make Church, doctrine, etc., relatable or accessible to the youth of the Church. They always want to know, “How does this apply to daily life?” This question saddens me, for I see that it must mean the parents themselves don’t see their faith as part of daily life. Usually, parents and educators are looking to make something hip, or do topical studies, or more events, or something except teaching what faith, doctrine, and the Church actually are. The answer to all of their questions is that you don’t make it into anything, nor do you take away from it. You show how faith is how we live our lives. You live as we are taught through sound doctrine, finding the answers in Scripture. You present worship for the real, wonderful, and glorious thing that it already is: the Divine Service! We really do a disservice to our congregants when we do away with this name for worship. Church, worship, doctrine, faith, all of it, is not about us but about how God came and comes to us. Let’s not so quickly remove our traditions or shun learning them simply because we don’t like them or don’t understand them. As the saying goes, don’t remove the fence before learning why it is there in the first place. These practices have been handed down to us as a help and guide.
This faith we hold has a world-wide history starting from the beginning that affects every aspect of our lives. You don’t need to make it relatable because it already is. You don’t need to make it accessible because we have already been given access to it. But somewhere along the way, we stopped teaching what these things in the Service meant and why we did them, which now leaves parents wondering how to make the Service into something else. But parents and educators ask this “how” because they do not know the “why.” What’s worse, we stepped away from the traditions, ceremonies, symbols, and rights, placing aside our love and need for worship, making it a secondary part of our lives, that there is little wonder that children find it “unrelatable.” Our disdain is loud enough for the lambs to hear, and it translates to more than “how” we do worship. We don’t need to do anything new or add anything unique or different or flashy. What we have is already different from the world, given to us freely, bringing us into the glorious light of the Kingdom. All we have to do is learn, appreciate, and teach so that our children can learn, appreciate, and grow up to teach as well. We do this not for tradition’s sake, but because we are called to feed our lambs.
I hope you pick up this little book. It won’t take you long to read Feeding the Lambs, but the impact it will have on you, your children, and/or the families you minister to will be life-long.
Blessings to you and yours,
~Madelyn Rose Craig