- We once asked John MacArthur to give us his most important piece of advice on parenting. His answer was that we should help our children sing in every room of our house.
We are a society that has become very compartmentalized in the way we view the various aspects of life. For many Christians, this means that what happens at church on Sundays is an accepted—and even expected—far cry from what is happening under our own roofs every other day of the week. In fact, “worship” is now a term we almost exclusively relegated to the less-than-half-hour on Sundays when we stand and listen—and possibly sing along—to a few songs being performed by a worship leader and team.
This room for worship.
We began writing hymns in the year 2000 with the intention of helping people understand the Bible in deeper, more creative ways so that they could more easily remember and access the transformative elements of the gospel throughout their lives. Since then, we have only grown more determined in and inspired by the belief that we have been created, compelled, and commanded to sing by a God who can be trusted and who desires the very best for our individual lives, our families, and our churches. But we also believe that God has never intended that these three groups reside in separate quarters, each experiencing its own unique spiritual process with mutual exclusion from the others.
In other words, you cannot isolate one’s personal life from one’s family and one’s church because God has created the message of grace and truth to not only flow, but also enrich the soul as it flows through and throughout them all. So then, if we are even somewhat willing to do so in church, we should also be singing the gospel—and obviously to a much greater extent because so much more of our time is being spent there—with our families in our own homes.
We once asked John MacArthur to give us his most important piece of advice on parenting. His answer was that we should help our children sing in every room of our house. He would place cassettes in every one of his family’s cars and in almost every room from the kitchen to the living room to the bedroom. He said that as he and his wife looked back on those formative years of raising their family, their high-priority habit of immersing their children in scripturally-rich, memorable music was essential. Martin Luther would have agreed with Dr. MacArthur. While he is famous today for his theological viewpoints, many people do not know that it was also his insistence upon a return to and celebration of the sacred act of congregational singing in the people’s known language that created just as great of a wave among those experiencing the Reformation. At the time, congregational singing was considered a heretical act, but Luther knew it was a biblically vital component to sustaining the gospel in the hearts of God’s people. Luther knew what we as leaders in our families must also learn—that a minister or a parent can teach what the Bible means, but people—and especially children—“carry out” the gospel by the songs they sing. People are literally catechized by what they sing. Singing affects their minds, emotions, hearts, memories, prayer lives—and ultimately, their thoughts and spoken words. Perhaps that is why Luther said, “Music is a gift and largesse of God, not a gift of men. It drives away the devil and makes people happy; it induces one to forget all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and all other vices. After theology, I accord to music the highest place and the greatest honor.”
The implication is that music and the act of singing are irreplaceable vehicles for the gospel to take root in the hearts of our families. This is why there is an immeasurable value when the entire family constantly sings together about the Lord. Yes, singing should be a family activity—an extension of what Christ is doing in each of our lives at every age.
Interestingly enough, we believe the importance of singing together as a family is the main precursor to actually singing together as a congregation. If you’re not singing with your own family, you have absolutely no business coming to the congregation to sing.
The church and the home are divinely adjoining rooms.
There are so many reasons that can keep us from pursuing a culture of singing in our homes. You may be thinking: “I know that my kids do not want to hear my singing voice,” or, “They’ll never join in—and besides, I can’t play any instruments anyway. And if I could, what exactly would we sing?”
While these are valid concerns, the best road trips rarely begin with the final destination in full view of the starting line… that would merely be a short and uneventful journey across the street. At some point, you have to visualize where you want to go and start towards it, trusting that the winding turns and changing weather will be worth the challenges you experience. In other words, you have to decide that singing in your home together is a good—and even a “God”—thing and then begin the process of doing it, even if it feels awkward at first.
As parents, we have personally experienced the truth that singing in the home is a God-given gift to each of us. In fact, we can even see this truth reflected in the homes of ancient Israel where parents were called by God to do their best to ensure that their children learned the correct truths about the One they worshipped. One of the main ways they met this charge was by singing songs about God with their families. The lyrics from one of those songs demonstrates this desire: “I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old— things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.” (Ps. 78:2–4)
We should also be singing these eternal truths in our homes every day. However, it is all too easy to default to the mental assumption that children can only tolerate the simplest of songs. Our parental hearts may be in the right place because we only desire to make the gospel as clear and confusion-free as possible, but sometimes we oversimplify or even leave out all together key elements of the gospel message to do so. When we think like this, we can easily lead our children to only sing simple songs that are childishly fun, to the extent that our kids become more accustomed to a frenzy of enjoyable emotion than anything else.
While having this kind of fun is wonderful and there is most definitely a place for simple children’s songs, we must also avoid the inadvertent mistake of subconsciously teaching our kids that this kind of emotion is a reliable mark of true worship. In other words, just because they are young doesn’t mean there is no place in their lives for historically significant, theologically rich songs like the hymns.
We need not underestimate a child’s capacity in terms of knowledge and emotion, dismissing their God-given ability to experience and begin to internalize—even if they don’t yet fully understand, as none of us fully do—the beautiful and mysterious simple complexity of the real gospel. Being unhindered and unburdened by self-awareness, there is a sincere expression that comes through when their little voices sing the melodies and lyrics that express the deepest mysteries of a grace they are just beginning to experience.
And singing these songs together will help them continue to experience these mysteries for life.
In general, the contemporary church experience today includes the feature that the little ones do not sit—and also do not sing along—with their parents and grandparents. While there is definitely practical wisdom in some of this separation, this also means that our children are not sharing certain formative family moments in the message of grace and truth that bind us all together at any age.
The results of this separation are most evident in the transition between the teenage and adult years when we tend to become disoriented. But God calls us to a higher reality with real connections between the older generation above and the younger generation below each of us. These bonds, grounded in the gospel, provide safety as we navigate life’s many transitions. There is something timeless and beautiful about singing the same lyrics and melodies that your parents and grandparents sang before you—and also which you sang alongside them.
What’s the best room for worship?
It’s the living room, which is appropriately named because when we sing there together with our families, our hearts become more fully alive and we become equipped to carry the gospel with us for life.
Over the last 30 years, Worship Leader Magazine has been blessed to have many different contributors on the editorial team - this is their archive.