Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Children in Worship

As long as I've been a pastor, the question of whether children should be expected to sit through the Sunday morning worship service has stirred controversy. It's a question about which good people differ.

In my particular church, which has two worship services, we offer a complete Sunday School program for all ages during the early service. During the late service, we have classes only for children from birth through Grade 2. Our goal was to make it possible for families to worship together (at least with their older children) during the late service. For most people that works well, but parents with a child in 3rd, 4th, or even 5th grade sometimes find it a challenge to expect him or her to sit through what is normally a 75- or 80-minute service.

So what do I say to those parents who have a tough time keeping their young child quiet and attentive during worship?

I say, the Bible says you're doing a good thing.

When you search the Scriptures, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that children should participate in the corporate worship of the covenant family. Here's a smattering of Bible verses:
  • Joshua 8:35 - children participated in Israel's covenant renewal ceremony
  • 2 Chronicles 20:13 - children stood before the Lord along with their parents when Israel was threatened with attack
  • Ezra 10:1 - children were there when Ezra led the people in repentance
  • Psalm 148:7-13 - children are told to praise the Lord along with everyone else
  • Colossians 3:20 & Ephesians 6:1-3 - children were in the assembly when letters from Paul were read and explained
  • Matthew 19:14 - children were welcomed, blessed, and prayed for by Jesus
  • Matthew 21:15 - children shouted at the arrival of Jesus on Palm Sunday
My favorite Bible passage about children participating in corporate worship is Deuteronomy 31:12-13 -

"Assemble the people - men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns - so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess."

Notice what Moses is saying. Children should listen, learn, fear the Lord, and obey God's law...just like everyone else.

The bottom line is that children are an important part of the believing community. They not only get blessed by the Word of God and the worship of God, but they are also a blessing to the rest of the church family.

I realize that kids get restless and sometimes disturb other people. That's why I think parents need to come to church prepared with activities and rewards, and everybody else needs to be 100% understanding. When our children were young, my wife came to the sanctuary with a good supply of papers, crayons, and treats. If a parent needs to get up and walk around in the back of the sanctuary with his child for a few minutes, go right ahead. If a child makes noise, so what? I'm sure those Israelite gatherings referred to above could be noisy affairs.

In this as in so many areas, we have to resist the consumer mindset that is always knocking on the church door. Maybe there could be nothing better for our families, our churches, and our nation than to welcome little children into the worshiping community.

I conclude this post with an excerpt of a sermon by John Piper:

"...we live in a day in which pressures from all sides are on the family to be fractured and atomized. Fathers are worked to a frazzle and so are too dogged to spend quality time with children; mothers are lured away from their little children to the work force; children have their own activities, and the one thing that pulls them all to the same room makes zombies out of them all: the television. Stir into this a general cultural mood of 'me first,' and my rights and my self-realization, and you have got a powerful anti-family milieu. In this atmosphere, the church, as the preserver of biblical principles, must find ways to say 'no' to these pressures and affirm the depth and beauty of familial bonds. But where and how? It seems to me that the high point of our corporate life together is the place to start. Let’s make worship a family affair as much as we can."


Hana said...

This is great, Mike. As I mentioned at the 5th Sunday Summit, some of my greatest childhood memories are of being with my whole family in worship. Watching my father worship the Lord has always been particularly special to me. I think this is so good for the church.

Andrea said...

I wholeheartedly agree! My pastor here in Uganda just touched on the very same thing. He was explaining, for some of the same reasons you mentioned, why they do not have "children's church." I think it is SO important for children to see their parents worshipping and to be a part of it as well! Thanks for this post! I miss you guys! Thanks for all of the support in prayers. You are loved here in Uganda!

Andrea said...

Oops...that was supposed to say all of your support and prayers :)

mikeandsteph said...

Great thoughts Mike. I whole heartedly agree on that, especially now that I am a parent of an 8 week old. I understand where my wife would walk out of church if my son is screaming bloody murder, but if he is making the typical infant sounds, I expect him and her to stay in the service. I would want the same for any parent of a child that is not my own as well. I think it breeds a more family atmosphere to gathered worship.

jason said...

Good stuff, Mike! Thanks for sharing.

Ande said...

Thanks, Mike. As a new momma, we are learning how to do this. I love for Owen to be with us during the music, but I obviously can't expect a 5-month old to stay quiet through the sermon, so I am either putting him in the nursery before your sermon or we are in the cry room.