How Can We Prepare Children to Worship?

Dear Reader,

I am feeling a little smug these days though I know in my head that I have no reason to. My husband and I chose our denomination before we were even married and we never considered its view of children when we did. Perhaps we should have, but we didn’t. So really I know I only stumbled into what I now consider a wonderful approach to children and church without any real forethought on my part (or my husband’s).

All of this a precursor to me telling you about a conversation I found myself listening to last week. I was sitting around at (indoor; brrr) park day with three other Christian moms, all of us from different kinds of churches. One mom was lamenting that her daughter is aging out of their church’s Sunday school program and now will either have to attend worship or help with the littler kids’ classes.  She did not feel like her child was ready to attend worship with the adults and would not get anything out of it. As the conversation progressed, it came out that all three of their churches only have Sunday school for kids during worship through sixth or eighth grade and that at least two of them feel like their children, who are now reaching that upper limit, are not ready for or have no appreciation for corporate worship.

Now in our church kids are encouraged to be in the worship service from birth on. We do have a nursery that is available until age 6 (and six is a high limit which is set only because we have many immigrant families who have different customs and struggle with English). In reality, most parents keep their kids in service whenever they can and almost always by age three. It is not the quietest worship service you will ever experience. But the kids do fine. And I can attest that while my kids do not get everything, they do get something out of the service even at a young age, certainly by eight years old if not earlier. And these are not at all dumbed down sermons. They are accessible to a general audience while still being pretty meaty.

I am actually saddened by my friends’ situations. I care about both them and their children and it is sad to me that a 12-year-old would feel lost and bored in worship when my kids have been handing it fine from age two on. I also feel really lucky blessed that we were led early on to the denomination we are in which includes children. It turns out that those Sunday school classes which were supposed to be training children and preparing them for adult worship just don’t seem to have done the job. What prepares children to be worshippers is to bring them into worship. To expect it of them. It’s pretty much my view of children in a lot of areas of life — we need to include them in real life. We can’t prepare them for real life by isolating them in fake environments that are meant to mimic it. And especially when it comes to imparting our faith to them, the bets thing we can do is to just live it out before them, to include them in all aspects of it.

Really there is a much deeper theological issue here about how we view children of believers. Are they heathens for us to convert or are they members of God’s covenant? In our church we believe they are the latter. We baptize them as babies and we treat them as members of the body of Christ unless and until they prove otherwise. An old pastor or ours would say that in the flood, you don’t leave your kids outside the ark. You bring them in. Include them. Treat them as members of the church. That means they too are called to worship Him every week. It is incumbent upon them as much as it is upon their parents. And I do believe that in the end God honors such behavior and chooses to save most of these kids.

So if you are a parent of young kids and your children are segregated on Sunday morning and not included in your worship, I would encourage you to prayerfully consider a different way. I hate to see these kids end up drifting away because they have never experienced what it is to worship with God’s people.

Nebby

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Karen on January 29, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    “We can’t prepare them for real life by isolating them in fake environments that are meant to mimic it. And especially when it comes to imparting our faith to them, the best thing we can do is to just live it out before them, to include them in all aspects of it.”

    I so, so, so, so much agree!!! — And yet, we take a different view in our faith – that the children must decide for themselves to follow Christ; they must confess their own sins and ask Jesus to forgive them and to live in their own hearts. Then be baptized, as a public confession of faith in Christ.

    I understand that “junior church” has its place – but for children whose parents always attend church, “junior church” shouldn’t be necessary. In our church, parents are always taking out children who are misbehaving or being a distraction or whatever. True, a parent carting a child out is distracting – but only for a moment. And aren’t we adults old enough to rein in our thoughts and come back to focusing on the service?

    Our services are also noisy by times – but there again, it all comes back on the parents and the parents’ level of discipline. We ask our children to listen carefully to ONE reading of a story and then narrate back…..I must ask myself to listen to ONE preaching and then be able to narrate (live) it.

    Not always easy to do. :(

    Good post, Nebby.

    Reply

    • I completely agree that adults need to be able to tolerate a little distraction. And we all need to learn better attention skills. Not something our culture seems to encourage these days.

      Reply

  2. I appreciate your perspective :) We’ve just begun working with our 2.5yo to stay in the music and prayer part of service with us. She’s one of the few littles in there – most get dropped off at the nurseries on the way in. Our nurseries only go up to 4.5 years old, but there is “Beginner Church” for 4.5 – 3rd grade during the sermon section. How long is your service? Usually we run an hour and a half, so the kids are with us roughly 45min. I think we’ll probably keep this pattern for now – an hour and a half is a LONG time for little kids.

    I don’t comment often, but I read every post. Thanks for your writing :)

    Reply

    • Our service is about an hour and a half too. The sermon is almost half of that. I always found ages 9 or 10 months through about 2.5 yrs to be the toughest time. I also think the first child is toughest. The later ones tend to emulate the eldest and do a better job. Though juggling multiple babies and toddlers can be tough too. Many people in our church do end up taking their little ones out just for the sermon. I have known some who just sit with them on their lap in the nursery and don’t let them play so they don’t come to associate being taken out with a good time. Our church is also very tolerant of little kids eating snacks or playing with quiet toys during service. Even my older kids still doodle.

      Reply

      • That is the toughest age for me too. My kids gave up morning naps and started walking and running at 9 months, but were not yet interested/capable of drawing or looking at a book for very long. We rent a church building and there are extra hymnals, tithe cards, brochures etc. that I really don’t want my kids to wreck because they aren’t ours.
        Our nursery is as-needed (so I hesitate to make someone go out for just my child unless it’s absolutely needed) and only in the morning, so I feel like I have been up and down and in and out for the last 5 years with no end in sight, but I do believe it’s worth it! Our kids know that worship times is important and meaningful conversation with God, they know what the Lord’s supper is, they know how to sing.

        Reply

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