Children & Worship

“But Jesus called for them, saying, ‘Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.'” (Luke 18:16)

For the past year or so, we have included children in the first part of our worship services as they sing and pray with us. This is wonderful because not only do they learn that church is not for adults only, but as they observe how their parents worship, they have a new sense of connecting this faith to their parents.

Most often, I’ve been to churches where the presence of children in worship services is considered a distraction. Most often you will find contradictory teachings in those churches. They would teach from the pulpit that you should have a “family altar,” yet they segregate and separate the families on Sunday morning. Their “children programs” are sometimes little more than glorified babysitting. “Reformed Worship” magazine listed four erroneous thinking that lead churches to segregate children from Sunday worship:

  • Children should be seen, not heard (or even, Children should be neither seen nor heard).
  • Children are a burden (or an embarrassment).
  • Children are OK as long as I don have to deal with them.
  • Children would be okay if they just grew up and acted like adults

To me, worshipping with children in church should be a weekly thing, not something reserved for special Sundays.

Last night, my pastor’s wife gave me a challenge to turn it up a notch with involving children in worship during our upcoming church retreat in October. I’m starting to research and think about more ideas about children in worship. Anyone has any ideas, please let me know!

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12 thoughts on “Children & Worship

  1. I don’t think all children programs are just “glorified babysitting.” In my church, we now have children worship that include singing praises and sermons that are designed for children. I think seperation can be good in a way that the children can absorb more from the songs and teachings that are designed for them. =)

  2. Now, I’m not judging what your church specifically does, but here’s what I mean by “babysitting.” It’s a mindset where children are treated in such a way that we provide them something to entertain themselves so they won’t bother the adults. It may be program “designed for children,” but if it’s not engaging them with God actively within their culture, and if it’s treating them as second-class citizens, then to me it’s babysitting.

    One of the most famous quotes of Billy Graham is “Eleven o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.” That includes adults and children separated. Everywhere in the Bible we are told to teach kids spiritual things by the parents being an example. That includes, and I argue, especially includes, Sunday mornings.

  3. I agree… but if the sunday children worship for kids are really “not just babysitting” but programs specifically designed to teach the kids God’s words in ways they can relate to more, then I think it would ok… =)

  4. I think the key is, when you ask those adults have they considered involving children in the same worship service, and to tailor the worship service to be multi-generational, you’ll get their real reasons for why they’re doing what they’re doing it.

  5. I’ve been to a couple of medium-size churches where children are involved in the first half of the adult worship. Not only do they pray and sing praises with the adults, the pastors also give a 3-min sermon just to the kids. They would gather the kids at the front of the stage, and they would all sit on the floor in a circle listening to the pastor’s preaching.

    I really like this idea. It also gives kids a sense of belonging, that they are also an important part of the worship service.

  6. Tim, you’re touching on a sensitive subject. Family-friendly churches are rare. I keep Caleb with me for the entire worship service every Sunday ever since he was born. He is 3.5 years old now, and we’ve labored by God’s grace to train him to sit quietly through hour-long sermons, just because I happen to believe that’s what God would want for him.
    I am just very wary of repackaged gospels, even when they are designed with the purest intentions to suit the needs of a particular age groups or any other kinds of groups. There’s always room for potential failure in presenting the whole counsel of God when the objective truth of the Gospel is being re-designed to fit personal subjective needs. I wrote on a similar topic in May. And Al Mohler wrote a short and very nice post today on “Preaching to Felt Needs.”
    Churches sometimes forget that the biggest group of non-believers attending each Sunday service are the children. They need to hear the expounding of the real Gospel each Sunday just as much (if not more) as we adults do, and they also need to see that the God they are called to believe in is also the God of their fathers. What better channel for God to bless the little children than through Sunday service sitting next to their parents? Caleb may be a little young to understand all the words of a hymn or a sermon, but he is still a desperate sinner under God’s wrath and his sinful and unregenerate heart needs nothing short of the power of the full proclamation of the whole Gospel every day, including Sundays. God would demand a full account from me as his parent if I were to deprive him of that.

  7. Andy, I love this quote in your blog: “Churches are most healthy when the Gospel is most clear; and the Gospel is most clear when our evangelistic methods are most plain.”

  8. Hey Tim, yes, it is indeed rare to see multigenerational worship services these days.  I often wonder what it was like in the Apostolic age!  I’ve posted about what we do in training Caleb to worship with us.  Services at Berean are 1.5+ hours long, sermons are expository and last 50+ minutes, and we observe communion weekly.  Though children are dismissed to children’s lessons right before the sermon, we do keep Caleb with us, and so do some other families most of which homeschool and have many children.  I personally feel that it is not so much what we do with the programs/services on Sundays that matter but what parents do with the children during the week in preparation for Sunday.  The 30-minute children lesson taught them on Sundays is only a small portion of what they hear and learn throughout the week.  One can have all the fancy programs and fun things that attract the kids, and even messages that are supposedly tailored to their level of understanding, but I trust in the plain and simple yet infinitely powerful message of the Gospel itself–“What you win them with is what you’ll likely win them to…”  Caleb is blessed to hear the Gospel preached each Sunday on the pulpit.  We also sing with him during the week the songs/hymns that we sing at church on Sundays.  By God’s grace, he can recite the verses to the hymns The Love of God, Rock of Ages, and some others.  It is a blessing…

  9. Not only is this a sensitive topic, it is perfectly debatable. I think the interpretation of a children’s program as being a babysitting one comes from the parents themselves more than anybody else who originally intended for the programs to be. In most churches, the distinction is made very clear. Babysitting is a service to provide care for children during a short absence of the parents. There is no obligation that the Word be preached. The children may learn to build or to vandalize, to love or to hate, to fight or to share, to listen or to yell. The time spent is of no consequence and of no intended value. It is a circus with free admission in most cases. However, the contrary is true for the children’s programs, I must say.

    I think it is not up to the parents to decide FOR God how He thinks as being the best way for the kids to be accosted by the Word. Kids learn from consistency. There is no better time than Monday through Saturday for the kids to observe and to learn from their parents the consistency in their practice of faith and worship. If we speak in statistical terms, these 144 hours per week could very well be by far more crucial in the children’s development in spirituality than the 45 minutes of joint worship for which we are finding justification.

    We cannot dismiss the fact that the presence of children in a joint worship does cause distraction to fellow worshippers. There is a difference between making the claim that my child is not a cause of distraction versus saying that children are not a cause of distraction in general. Oftentimes I see parents who bring their children into the worship hall end up bringing their children in and out repeatedly when they begin to misbehave. If they truly feel that this is not a distraction, then I would question why they would ever find need to excuse their children from the worship locale when the kids begin to whine.

  10. biscuit_joiner, thanks for your input! I do beg to differ on a couple of your points.

    You say that consistency is important. The problem with not including kids with adults in the same worship service is exactly that — consistency. Kids see that he’s a part of family life from Monday to Saturday, but when it comes to the family of God, the church, he feels he has no part in it. In fact, this is the main reason why Chinese churches have lost a whole generation of American-born Chinese kids — by excluding them from “adult worship service” and segregating them to their whole sterilized world. When they turn 18 and people try to include them to adult worship service, they find it foreign and cannot feel any sense of belonging and connection, and they drop out. This is a serious problem that only people are starting acknowledge the reason was they segregated the kids.

    As to whether kids can cause distraction in church, I think the flip side is that the whole church needs to understand how they think about kids. Leadership of the church needs to understand that kids are naturally dependent, have short attention spans, and are still gorwing and learning social etiquette. (This is why kid-friendly worship services usually break up a sermon into 10-minute or 15-minute chunks with some different activities in between.) At the same time, they also cannot think that kids intentionally manipulate adults nor really wanted to create a distraction. Kids naturally want to belong and want to help. They do make sounds, but I don’t use the word “noises”, which reflects incorrect mentality. After all, when Jesus says “let the children come to me,” the context of that passage was that people thought the kids are a distraction, but Jesus would rather look at the benefits of kids coming straight to him.

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