Children in Worship

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is an imprtant passage to me and I believe it is an important passage for the church today.  Take a minute and look it up and then come back and finish this post …

Really, did you read the passage?  Okay, so you understand the importance of parents teaching their children how to love God and love neighbor.  A few months ago I was preaching on the importance of Holy Communion and I had a strong revelation that I do not appreciate this passage as much as I think I do. (I’ve even memorized it in Hebrew!)

During the children’s message I talked about rituals that we Americans experience.  Of course the most famous, at least for children, is the birthday party.  I asked the kids what kind of things happened at a birthday party and here is what they said: candy, games, presents, friends, and cake and ice cream.  I asked them if they could have a birthday party without cake and ice cream and they said, “Yeah, but it wouldn;t be very much fun.”

I then began to explain to them that the church has certain rituals, certain things they do to celebrate being the church.  One of those things we do is celebrate the Eucharist (or Holy Communion).  I explained that the early church and our Wesleyan ancestors practiced communion whenever they got together to worship.  Communion was like cake and ice cream to them.  Then I blessed them and dismissed them to go to children’s church.

The children were excited about communion and then they left.  In that moment I realized that I was not doing a very good job of implementing Deuteronomy 6:4-9 in Christ’s church.  Why do we send children away?

I think most churches would say we separate children from adults in order to teach them at their level.  I’m afraid that most churches separate children from adults simply for the convenience of the adults.  I confess that the thought of keeping children in gathered worship with us frightens me.  How will I preach?  What will music look like?  How will we answer the older people who get upset when kids dance, laugh, cry, or squirm?  How will we answer the parents who object to having their children with them – I need some time for me; I can’t focus on the sermon if my children are with me; I want my children to get something out of church.

There is something beautiful and mystical that takes place when God’s people gather to worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  I don’t want my children to miss that.  I want my children to participate in the rituals of the church and learn to discipline themselves to hear God’s word read and proclaimed.  I want my children to know that they are Christ’s little brothers and sisters.  I know I want these things for my children and for the children of the church.  What I don’t know is how to make it all happen.

Here are some thoughts I have about wholistic discipleship …

  1. I think gathered worship should be just that – gathered worship.  For one or two hours a week (we’re primarily an Anglo church 🙂 ) we should be able to worship together.  The body of Christ is not limited to adults, but is comprised of people of all ages.  When we separate that body I believe our worship suffers.
  2. I don’t think that the liturgy needs to be watered down just to keep children’s attention.  Worship is hard work and it challenges us at all levels – emotions, cognition, and behavior.  Children should be challenged by worship.  There should be aspects of worship that are difficult for them to understand.  As they grow and learn and mature in Christ they will be able to understand more and more.  Worship should be equally challenging for us adults for that matter.
  3. Children’s Sermons?  I think there might be a place for these.  I find that when I give a chidlren’s message before the “adult message” that the adults are awakened and prepared for what I have to say to them.  The children also seem to be more in tune with waht I am saying to the adults.
  4. Our worship space is important if we are to have children present.  I need to remind myself that for every muscle telling my kids to sit still there are 75 screaming, “Move! Move!”  Pews make it hard for children to express themselves in worship.  Our family sits up front or off to the side to allow for more space for our kids.  I am amazed at how they respond to the words we sing.  Kids know that when a song says, “We lift up our hands …” that they should lift up their hands.  When a song says, “Stand up, stand up for Jesus …” they stand up.  When it says dance, they dance; clap, they clap; bow down, they bow down.  If we don’t have space for them to worship God in Spirit and in truth then we squash the Spirit at work in them.  Our space should also be aesthetically pleasing.  The church calendar provides for amazing opportunities for color in the sanctuary – Blue/Purple during Advent, Purple during Lent, White and Gold, Green, and Red throughout the year.  Displaying these colors can help our children understand the movement of the events in Christ’s life and in the life of the church.
  5. If your local congregation utilizes Sunday School then I think that is the appropriate place to separate people according to age, life-situation, interests, etc.  In these mid-size groups (as opposed to small groups) we can learn to apply God’s word to our specific circumstances and be surrounded by people with similar life experiences.
  6. I think small groups (cell groups, home groups, or discipleship groups as we call them) are a good place to introduce adults and children to one another.  In our discipleship group the children are free to play or participate in the discussion.  We don’t tailor the group to the children, but I am often surprised by the insights our children have into what we are discussing.  I also notice that our children eagerly desire to join us in prayer for one another.  These small groups help the adults get used to the presence of children.  Their informal nature also helps children get used to being in the presence of adults.
  7. The role of the children’s pastor (if you decide to hire one) should be to train parents to train children to worship, to put together discipleship opportunities outside of worship for children (service projects, VBS, etc.), and to help resource the pastor and/or worship leader.

As I seek to lead my congregation in being followers who make followers through loving God (worship), loving each other (discipleship groups), and loving others (service) I want to know that we are doing this at all levels, not just among the adults.

I welcome your thoughts, comments, criticisms, etc.

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