Encouraging Children to Worship

This is part three of the series looking at the inclusion of Children & Young People in Worship – this time taking a bit of a step back and considering the wider issue. [Image courtesy of BobWeasel]

Having explored the issue of the children’s talk a little and critiqued our current practice, I want to suggest that perhaps we could do away with the slot completely. At Spurgeon Baptist Church we currently have a very tokenistic approach to the involvement of children and young people in our worship: they are permitted/expected to collect the offering and (usually) expected to engage with the Children’s slot. Even assuming that we do the Children’s slot well, I can’t help but think there’s more to involving and engaging the young people during the first part of the service than that. As I’ve been reflecting on this area the message I’ve sensed most strongly is that whatever else we do for young people in our services (Children’s talk, junior church,etc) we must be encouraging them to worship God (see Matt 21:16). Sorry if that sounds too obvious – but I don’t think it’s something we do well, if at all, on a Sunday morning.

Some may argue that our service is already accessible to most ages, if they choose to engage.  At times I think that’s a fair assumption – but only from an adult perspective. But if we were able to see the service through the eyes of a child/young person I think we’d come to a different conclusion, and we’d do well to heed Jesus words when he said: ‘Let the little children hcome to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven’ Matthew 19:14

So what is it about our services which hinders children & young people from worshipping God?  At present the first part of the service is aimed at the adults with the the token kid’s bits tacked on.  Often the language we use goes above the heads of the children & young people (and some of the adults too!); not specifically religious language, but language in general. This particularly applies to prayers, which are often long-winded, and unnecessarily wordy (see Matt 6:7). In our Church prayers are always led from the front – with no opportunity or encouragement for others to pray (I imagine this is an issue for young and old alike). The songs are hardly appealing to the young people, and certainly not the children.  We read scripture which is relevant to the sermon, but rarely to the songs we’re singing or the children’s talk. We collect the offering, during which the service stops and everyone waits for the bags to be returned to the front – this actively engages only four young people, whilst the rest sit bored and fidgeting – but we feel good about ourselves because ‘the young people collect the offering’. (Aside: when so many are now giving via standing order, and therefore probably half the church simply pass the bag along with putting anything in, what message are we giving to the young people who collect the offering? That half the Church don’t give financially? That isn’t likely to lead to a healthy attitude to giving as they grow up! Rant over…)

What message are we sending about God when our church’s corporate worship excludes children & young people? Church immediately becomes a time when they don’t need to engage – perpetuating the myth of church as ‘boring’ (or perhaps they’re right {gasp} and it’s not a myth!).  We run the risk of alienating them from attending Church – if their experience of worship is that it’s ‘for someone else’, they’re likely to vote with their feet as soon as they’re permitted to.

A slight aside to consider one aspect of all ages worshipping together:

In Matthew 21, as Jesus was entering Jerusalem we read that people welcomed him with shouts of ‘Hosanna to the Son of David…’, and the whole city was stirred up with people asking ‘who is this?’.  This is a passage which we’re probably familiar with, as is the story which follows of Jesus cleansing the temple of money-changers and market traders.  But read to the end of that particular passage and I believe we see a powerful side-effect of children witnessing adults worshipping.  The Chief Priests and Scribes saw the amazing things Jesus was doing, healing the blind and the lame, and they noted the children crying out in the temple: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’.  Whether or not these were the children of those who’d been worshipping Jesus on His way into Jerusalem is almost irrelevant. But it would appear that they witnessed their worship and are now copying them. You might question whether it was mindless repetition, but I don’t think the text supports that (‘crying out’ in the temple implies passion).  These children had experienced the power of Jesus for themselves – they were present in the temple as he healed the blind and the lame, and their response was one of awe and wonder which led them to worship him, using a form of words they’d seen employed by others.  The whole city was stirred up and people everywhere were asking ‘who is this?’.  Then as they came to know the answer, they too worshipped Him, in ways they’d seen modelled by others.

It is vital for us to share the message of Jesus – but we mustn’t stop there. As others come to hear the message and meet Jesus for themselves (however simply) we must encourage them to worship.  Part of that encouragement must be modelling worship well.  That’s not to imply that we must all worship in the same way – but we all have to start somewhere.  When we learn to speak we learn very simple words and sentences, often just repeating the phrases others say to us, and gradually as we grow in our ability and confidence we learn to form our own sentences.  So it must be with our worship – and the worship of our children & young people.

I believe a different approach to the start of our service is called for.  Whilst the children’s talk has its place, and with a little effort could be far more effective, the thing which is lacking from our ministry with children on a Sunday morning is not ‘teaching’ but ‘worshipping’.  At present they attend the service and are given the choice of worshipping in a way which is aimed at adults, or opting out.  Not only does Jesus say (quoting from Psalms) that the Lord ordains praise from the lips of children (Matt 21:16) but that the things of the Kingdom will be revealed to children (Matt 11:25).  Not only do we have a fantastic Gospel to teach the children & young people with whom we have fellowship – we have a great deal to learn from them too!  As we all worship together, not only can they learn from us, be we can also learn from them.

Questions:

  • does this resonate with your experience?
  • how would you critique this view?
  • what other scriptural examples would you use to argue in favour of all-age worship?

9 Comments

  1. Ricky.
    I quite agree that the 'slot' should be done away with – after all do we have 'children's slots' in our regular families? Of course not, the children are involved in all aspects of family life, so why should church be any different? Children need to be involved/engaged whenever they are in the main service. Don't get me wrong, we don't hit the mark every time but we do try!!

    • Thanks Angela,

      :: do we have 'children's slots' in our regular families?
      :: the children are involved in all aspects of family life,
      :: so why should church be any different?

      That's a very powerful argument – well put.

  2. Part 2!
    Has anyone asked the children/young people what they would like to see more of/how they would like to worship? Maybe they have songs they have sung elsewhere that they would like to see included? Maybe they have a heart for a project/news item that they wish to share? (Recently one of our 9yr olds and her 7yr old sister spearheaded a sponsored bike ride in aid of Haiti – obviously they had help to organise it but they initiated it & raised over £600!) The children could write the prayers for when they are in – give them a topic and who knows where it will lead! Their prayers are as valuable to God as adult wordy prayers! Could they do a drama, help to dramatise a bible reading? The possibilities are endless!
    Well that's just a few thoughts – must get on! Am following this discussion with interest being part of the 'all age worship' team at Maghull
    Angela x

    • As part of my review I'm consulting the young people. Whilst I believe it will provide an important insight, I think there needs to be wider thinking too. For those who have only ever been to Church, I guess they'll find it difficult to suggest anything different in terms of worship, because it's what they've always know.

      Some of our young people have recently been to Spring Harvest, and a few of our children have been involved in X:Site <a href="http:// [http://xsiteuk.org/]" target="_blank"> <a href="http://[http://xsiteuk.org/%5D” target=”_blank”>[http://xsiteuk.org/] (a Scripture Union initiative for 7-11 year olds) – so they're gaining a greater experience of worship. I'm hoping that it will have a positive impact on our worship – it's certainly opening my eyes to greater involvement/engagement of children and young people in our worship.

      The next couple of posts will look at the more practical examples of all-age worship, and explore some of the pitfalls. Too to have you joining the conversation…

      • Asking kids is a great idea, but we have to do it in an atmosphere where change is possible. Churches can't be precious about "the way we've always done it".
        I'm right behind you on this, Ricky, even if I'm on the other side of the world!
        Try something new and daring and different. Including the kids in the process will help them own it.
        Angela's suggestions about projects, and prayers etc are worthy of pursuing. Who knows, the adults might like it too.
        Hetty

        • Hmm – I believe change is possible, but I can't make them any promises sadly as the final decision won't be mine. I'd like to think there will be an openness to change if I can communicate the needs well.

          Thanks for your support!

  3. It's been said that children and young people's engagement in worship is parallel to adults, they just don't hide it so well! So kids are bored, chances are adults may be too! It's not always true, but often is!

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