How to Change What Children Worship


A few weeks back one of my friends was interacting with Tim Keller on Twitter. Keller made the statement that we change behavior by changing what we worship. Chris asks a question I’ve asked and most parents are asking. How can we change what children worship? Now not every parent parses it just like that, but at the heart of the issue that’s what they want to know.

Putting Out the Fires

We’ve all been in the restaurant eating with our families. Our kids are engaged with the task of eating. There are a few bumps. And in the middle of one of those bumps, you hear what sounds like the cry of war. A child going full out Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai. Screaming. Crying. Stomping feet. Demands are made. Parents embarrassingly give in. It’s over. Phew.

In many situations like that, I’ve leaned back to let my food digest and think, “At least my child is not like them.” Parents care about behavior. And it’s not that behavior is unimportant. We want to raise well-rounded people who function in society and love their neighbor.

But it’s easy to make behavior our family idol. You know it’s an idol when you catch yourself mid-Pharisee, “I am glad I’m not like those sinners” (Lk. 18:9-14). Or when you’re willing to change the behavior at the cost of not dealing with the heart. Let’s stomp out that fire (just ignore the burning charcoal that’s left). Parents, don’t worship peace at all cost then expect your kids not to pick up on that and use it as a bargaining chip.

Don’t get me wrong. Some behaviors you immediately correct and worry about the heart later. For instance, if your child disobeys and runs in the street and you see a car coming, you don’t worry about the heart. You grab them bringing them back to safety. You have a conversation, but not until after you’ve grabbed. And honestly, think about it—even the act of grabbing and holding them safely may get at the heart in a way a stern lecture wouldn’t.

Back to Keller: So How Do We Change What We Worship?

So how do you change the behavior in a way that acknowledges the importance of the heart? Change what you worship. One thing I’ve learned is the most formative worship happens outside the wave of discipline. Changing what you worship happens in the mundane—inbetween waves. As we walk. As we talk. As we eat. As we worship at church. As we worship as a family in our home. As we bath. As we put to bed. As we cry. As we hurt. Show them that every square inch is King Jesus’ in those moments.

Don’t protect them from this disordered world. Worship within it. Don’t hide your sin. Confess, repent, and worship together. Don’t make peace at all cost your idol. Humble yourself, love them firmly, and remind them of the gospel—and worship.

Changing what you worship is more difficult than putting out the fires. It requires an all of life approach to discipleship. But we have a God who is able and enables. And we have his promises. Oh how God loves to keep his promises to a thousand generations. It’s what I cling to when I know my parenting isn’t up to par. And when I worry that my sins will cause my children to turn their back on God. And when I sin by thinking my parenting/discipleship is the deciding factor. I cling.

I regularly pray two things for my children: “Father be faithful to them as you have been faithful to me. Keep your promises to my children and their children and their children’s children. And Father help them to know they’ve never sinned so greatly that they cannot come back home. Help them to know their heavenly Father always welcomes the broken and repentant son back.”

Change what they worship by worshiping with them and by clinging to the promises of God.


Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and a contributor in Make, Mature, Multiply (GCD Books). He completed over forty hours of seminary work at Geneva Reformed Seminary. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and the project manager for the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Mathew offers freelance editing and book formatting. He is a member at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC.