Incorporating children in worship
This Sunday, August 18, we’ll be presenting each of our third graders with a new Bible and journal. This is our way of opening the door for these children to transition from children’s worship (Kid’s Cove) to corporate worship. Parents, we believe that this transition into the corporate worship environment should happen earlier, rather than later (and I’ll explain why below), but please note that the third-grade year is merely our suggestion. You know your child better than we do, and if you feel that he or she is ready to move into the sanctuary in second grade, or that it would be better to delay the transition until the fourth grade year, we will gladly support your decision.
So why does Faith Church encourage families to worship together? The rest of this blog post is my attempt to answer this question in a theological and pastoral manner. If you’re already sold on the idea of families worshiping together, then there’s no need to read further. If currently you think this is the worst idea since Cheetos Lip Balm (yeah, it was a real thing), then please keep reading …
1. Jesus wants children front and center.
First, we encourage families to worship together because when children come up in the Gospels, Jesus always seems to display a “bring-them-close” rather than a “send-them-away” mentality. Jesus does not think of children as second-class citizens or as distractions to be dealt with. In fact, children have a lot to teach the adults. As Jesus says to the grown-ups,“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:2). In the foreword to the book Incorporating Children in Worship, pastor William Willimon artfully describes one of the key scenes from the Gospels:
Jesus was teaching with everyone gathered around, all attempting to pay attention. In the middle of Jesus’ theological commentary one of the grownups in the class shouted in exasperation, “Send these kids away! Don’t we have children’s church or a nursery or something to get rid of them?” A couple of children were scuffling in the dust. “I’m being distracted by these unruly kids,” one of the adults complained. And do you remember what Jesus did on that occasion? He took a child in his arms, embracing the one whom the crowd wanted to send away. Then in an evocative act Jesus placed the child “in the midst of them …”
2. Parents bear the primary responsibility.
Second, we encourage families to worship together because Scripture teaches us that parents bear the primary responsibility for the spiritual development of the children under their care. Why, then, would we gather our families for Sunday worship only to send our children off to learn from someone else? Certainly, children need age-appropriate instruction, but our contention is that this is best achieved through the avenue of Children’s Connection Groups, which meet at 9:00am. (Parents, sign up for a Connection Group here.) During the worship hour (10:00am), we believe that children should learn from their parents. They should sit with us, observing how we bow our heads in prayer, how we sing praises to God with joy on our faces, and how we listen actively to the preaching of God’s Word. As parents, we should model for our children white-hot worship of the almighty God.
I imagine some of you are thinking: “But my children can’t comprehend the service.” Maybe not. Or maybe you’re underestimating them. Children absorb far more than we/they realize, and this is true even when they are fidgeting or scribbling on the worship guide. As we sing the hymns and praise songs of the faith, our children are infused with a deep sense of the greatness of God. As we pray for our brothers and sisters around the world, our children learn something of the vastness of their spiritual family. And even if many of my sermons go over their heads, my years in ministry have taught me that children are better than we think at catching the big truths of the Bible. And unquestionably what they will catch is that there is something special about gathering with God’s people, with mom and dad, around this Book.
Parents, if you’re interested in learning more about your role in your child’s journey of discipleship, pick up a copy of Give Them Jesus. And if you’re looking for some practical tips on how to keep your child engaged during the worship service, check out this helpful article written by John and Noel Piper.
3. The traditional ministry model isn’t working.
According to Barna, nearly six in ten young people who grow up in Christian churches end up walking away. If the goal is to impart a lively, lasting faith to the next generation, we’re failing. Perhaps it’s time to rethink our practices, beginning with the idea that our children and students need to be segregated from the congregation. For decades, the dominant ministry model has been the one that creates flashy, thrilling settings for children and youth, something akin to a Christian version of Walt Disney World or Universal. Make no mistake: this ministry model is extremely effective at drawing a crowd. But the statistics reveal that it is not effective at producing deep-soil disciples. Why not? Probably because this model tacitly teaches our children and students that the church exists, not to glorify God, but to please them. For years we send them off to their high-octane, just-for-me environments, never having done the important work of helping them integrate into the life of the body. No wonder they graduate from high school and suddenly are overcome by the feeling, “I don’t belong here.” The problem isn’t that young adults are leaving the church; the problem is that they were never fully there to begin with.
Short-Term Happiness vs. Long-Term Health
I’ll sum up the subject like this: We’re all inclined to choose what’s easiest for our family this Sunday; we’re tempted to pursue short-term happiness. Would it be easier for you to send your 3rd or 4th grader off to someone else during worship this Sunday? Sure. But at Faith Church, we’re committed to assisting your family in the pursuit of long-term health. We want to see your eight-year-old grow into a twenty-eight-year-old who loves Jesus and serves in the church. And we believe the process we have in place will help bring this goal to fruition.
That’s all for now. Stay tuned for a follow-up post that explains how Kid’s Cove forms and prepares our early elementary children for their transition to corporate worship.