This is part four of the series looking at the inclusion of Children & Young People in Worship – if you haven’t read the other posts (intro, 1, 2, 3), I’d encourage you to do so before you continue. this time taking a bit of a step back and considering the wider issue.
Having critiqued our current practice at Spurgeons, and considered some of the relevant issues and theology, I believe there are three possible options we might consider taking in our context (with a little adaptation, they may be relevant for others too).
Some might argue that I should consider the implications of any change before presenting and choosing an option. I disagree. Too often in my experience we discount options/actions because their implications are too hard/involved/expensive. We focus too much on practicalities (and why we shouldn’t do something) and not enough on what we believe is the right action to take. I think we should work out the right thing to do, and only then work to achieve it. I am fully aware that each option presented below will require work in order to implement them (much of which will probably fall to me), but I don’t want to allow that to deter me from taking the right action, simply because it involves more work.
And so to the options:
- fine tune the status quo
- retain the present slot
- refocus it to engage 5-16 year olds
- produce theme/series
- each week builds on the last
- provide guidelines to assist those preparing to lead it
- assess each talk and feedback to volunteer presenters
- ensure appropriate vocabulary for first part of the service
- ensure prayers are suitable for all (length/content/style)
- maintain appropriate pace to keep young ones engaged
- change the nature of the ‘family time’ at the start of the service
- aim for all-age worship each week, prior to Junior Church groups
- introduce range of new songs suitable for children & young people
- allowing space for worship activities
- creative prayer, actions & movement
- engaging multiple senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell
- draw the children and young people into worship:
- ‘tell the next generation of God’s power & the wonders he has done’ – Psalm 78:4
- young people join together (separate from adults) and have their own worship time
- similar approach to option two, but without the danger of alienating the adults
Before I reveal my personal view, let me analyse the options a little first.
Option One would be an improvement on where we are now:
- providing clarity for those delivering the talk and some guidelines to assist in preparation
- helpful feedback will ensure both consistent quality and encouragement/development to volunteers
- theme for series will provide direction for volunteers, assist with their preparation, whilst also ensuring progression of the teaching
- although aimed at children and young people, this would also be accessible and helpful to new Christians of any age
- the focus on appropriate vocabulary will assist in making the service more accessible
- will build on the foundation we already have
- doesn’t specifically address the need to encourage children to worship
Option Two would provide a marked change (gasp! change?!) and involve a great deal of work, both in implementation and on an ongoing basis:
- form a team to plan & lead worship each week
- need to invest in appropriate worship resources and developing team skills
- introducing the changes to the congregation
- being sure to communicate the reasons well (both theological & practical)
- weekly task of planning the worship time
- enables children and young people to join the adults and fully participate in worship, following their example and learning from them
- the service will be more suitable for families
- there is a danger of alienating the adults (to be discussed further in a future post)
Option Three is a radical step but I fear it may be a step too far, offering some of the benefits of Option Two whilst avoiding the main danger, but also introducing a significant problem:
- makes worship more accessible to children and young people
- encourages them to participate more fully and express their worship
- the focus of children’s worship may make the church more appealing to families
- by separating the children from the adults you don’t run the risk of alienating adults by ‘dumbing down’ the worship time
- children & adults don’t worship together
- children need to witness adults worshipping
- adults should model worship (in life and in services)
- children & adults don’t worship together
Having considered at length the options outlined above, I believe that we should strive toward Option Two, effectively transforming the worship time at the start of our service. I will have my work cut out in order to present the options and convince our fellowship that this is the right option for us, and, more importantly, that we can achieve it. If we agree that this is the way forward, the really hard work will begin when we attempt to implement it.
The Easy Path?
I’ve been leading our ‘family services’ for the last six years, and understand just how hard it is to change the format and atmosphere of a service. Whilst the content of those services has been aimed largely at the young people, often they have reverted to our usual style and format. Preparing services which engage young people requires more work than a regular service (even more so to engage children too!) but as I’ve said, that’s no reason not to do it if you believe it’s the right thing to do. If ‘hard work’ was a valid excuse, I doubt we’d bother with services at all. The time and effort we invest in preparing our services must be proportionate to the value we believe they have. If we believe it’s important to engage adults in worship, we put in the work on a weekly basis. That fact that we don’t currently expend any effort to engage our young people in worship on a weekly basis reveals how little value we ascribe to their worship.
I’d love to hear your views on the options above and the brief analysis of them. Do you have particular experience of them which would be of interest. Please keep the conversation going in the comments below.
The final couple of posts in the series will probably focus on the ‘holy grail’ or all age worship and good practice which will make implementing the change a success (mostly theoretical).