Worshipping Together: Theory into Practice

This is part six of the series looking at the inclusion of Children & Young People in Worship. I’ve updated recently on my presentation to and the outcome of the Church meeting in relation to the changes I proposed. Now I want to start updating on the progress which has been made so far and where we’re going next.

With the review in mind, following the Church meeting a number of us attended a training session by Doug ‘Duggie Dug Dug‘ Horley. The following is a brief summary of the sociological challenges, theological reflections and some practical tips which we felt were pertinent to our process of change:

He set out the imperative for children’s work – that children represent the greatest opportunity for evangelism:

  • moral and spiritual foundations are set by the age of 9
  • world view is formed by 13 years
  • 66% of Christians accept Jesus before they are 18
    • over 50% before they are 13

He explained the conflicting pressures which shape children’s worldview; the things we’re battling against as we seek to define their worldviews with Christ’s values:

  • media: TV (celebrity), age-inappropriate video games
  • family status: divorce & separation
  • drugs
  • peer pressure
  • internet: pornography

Theological reflections:

  • Deuteronomy 6:5-7 – ‘Impress [the commandments] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up’
    • the importance of relationships in our work
    • parents share the responsibility to teach their children about the Lord
  • Joel 2:16 – ‘Make sure that everyone is fit to worship me. Bring adults, children, babies…’
    • everyone is to be included in the act of worship
  • Psalm 8:2 – ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’
    • the innocent but heart-felt praise offered by children is powerful & valued by God
  • Psalm 78:4 – ‘tell the next generation of God’s power and the wonders He’s done’ [paraphrase]
    • it’s important for us to share our experiences together (young & old)
    • drawing young people into worship
  • Mark 10:13-16 – ‘Let the children come to me! Don’t try to stop them.’
    • children are not to be excluded from the Lord’s presence – not even by those who ‘know better’
  • Matthew 18:6 – ‘Doom to the world for giving these God-believing children a hard time!’ [Msg]
    • we are to encourage children in their relationship with the Lord, not hinder them

Headline points:

  • follow Jesus’ example
  • teach children well
  • build friendships & relationships
  • must encourage questions
    • never shut down a child who is engaging with faith
    • encourage an atmosphere of questioning
    • genuine inclusion vs tokenism:
      • ‘children will feel included not because they have been told they’re included, but because they have experienced it for themselves’

There were few practical nuggets of wisdom shared verbally about how to engage children and young people well, but many were modelled by Doug throughout the session (and the evening event):

  • simple language
    • even though his target audience for the seminar had an average age of 40+
    • genuine enthusiasm in delivery
      • don’t fake it – with children you might get away with it, but young people will spot it a mile off!
      • energy in ‘performance’
        • moving around, rarely standing still
        • short bursts
          • no one segment was more than 10 minutes before moving to the next
          • style & approach of segments contrasted

Next I’ll outline the outcome of our meeting to start making the practical changes needed, then let you know how it’s been going. Thanks for sticking with it – I hope you’re finding it helpful.

Worshipping Together: Update

You may remember some months ago I started a series entitled ‘worshipping together‘. I was reviewing the inclusion & engagement of children & young people in our services at Spurgeon Baptist Church, and the posts were a chance for me to air my thoughts and discuss them before proceeding. Here’s a quick précis of each of the posts:

Well, that was all before life got incredibly busy, and the posts stopped, but rest assured that the review and implementation didn’t. So here is a quick update of how the Church responded to my review & suggestions, before I share some of the progress we’ve made and include some details & practicalities in the hope that they may be helpful to others.

Using the posts above, and some of the helpful discussions had along the way, I set out a brief overview of the background, issues and possible options to our Church members’ meeting (‘cos that’s how it works in the Baptist Church).  Although I outlined ‘option 3’ (that children and young people worship separately from adults), I immediately discounted it due to practical issues with our church building (although I also had a big theological concern). So the members had the choice of:

  • option 1: tweaking what we do now in the present slot, some other minor changes
  • option 2: change the start of the service all-age worship: new songs, activities, engaging all senses
  • other: of course the meeting had the right to go for neither option

There was a lot of discussion around the issues I’d presented, clarifying some areas which weren’t clear and correcting some misconceptions, but on the whole it was a very positive time. The meeting recognised some of the issues, but admitted that their eyes had been opened to others which they’d not detected. The conclusion was that the meeting agreed to implement option 1 (tweaking the status quo) with immediate effect, but then working towards the implementation of option 2 (recognising that it would take a significant amount of time, planning & preparation).

We called a meeting of the people who were involved in the ‘children’s talk’ slot, and invited any others with an interest, and we set about agreeing the necessary tweaks and what would be required to make them. From October 2010 the newly renamed ‘YourSpace’ slot came into being.

In the next post I’ll share some of the findings from our initial meeting and how we’ve been getting on so far.

Options for Worship

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:

Option One

  • 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

Option Two

  • 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

Option Three

  • 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
  • positive:
    • will build on the foundation we already have
  • negative:
    • 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
  • positive:
    • 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
  • negative:
    • 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:

  • positive:
    • 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
  • negative:

Conclusion

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).

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?

Segregated for Worship

This is part two of the series looking at the inclusion of Children & Young People in Worship – this time just a quick overview of the issue of segregation.

At Spurgeon Baptist Church it is our practice to spend the first part of the service with all ages present, before separating about half way through, with the young people leaving the service and heading into different age groups.

There appear to be three different approaches to the logistics of the Junior Church ‘hokey cokey‘ (in, out, etc).  In brief, this involves Children and Young People:

  • in at start of service then depart…
    • positive: get to experience other people worshipping
    • positive: experience ‘church’ together as a family
    • positive: acts as an introduction when the leave Junior Church
    • negative: sending them out can appear negative
  • out from the start (never joining the main congregation)
    • positive: appropriately targeted teaching & worship
    • positive: a more relevant expression of church for them
    • negative: never worshipping with adults
  • out at the start but joining the congregation later
    • positive: welcoming the younger ones into the Church
    • negative: logistically more difficult

This is just a simple outline of the options and some positives & negatives of each – it is by no means exhaustive.  Apart from spending the whole service together (traditional ‘family service’), can you think of any additional models to add? Do you agree or disagree with the positives/negatives as stated? Do you have some more to add? Leave your comments below.

The next post will have more to get your teeth into…

The Children’s Talk: Critiquing Current Practice

I’ve been tasked with reviewing the aim and focus of the ‘all-age talk’ or ‘children’s talk’ at the church where I serve as Youth Minister. We are a pretty conservative Baptist church with a fairly set form of service (affectionately known as a ‘hymn-prayer sandwich’). The Junior Church leave approximately half way through the service and head into their own groups for age-specific teaching. But before they go we have the mini-talk which is aimed at them.

For a few years there has been confusion over the title and aim of this talk. Some refer to it as the ‘children’s talk’ and argue that it should be aimed at the children (4-12 years?) with others calling it an ‘all-age talk’ which should be aimed at everyone present (0-90ish?). It was primarily this issue (the name and focus of the talk) that it is my challenge to resolve. But as I scratch the surface of the issue it feels very much like opening Pandora’s box.

Whichever understanding you have of its purpose, in reality the talk rarely hits the mark. Frequently too long, rarely engaging, sometimes indecipherable even to the most switched-on people present, regularly pitched nowhere in particular and occasionally seen as an opportunity to say something to the adult church that you’ve been wanting to say for a while but could never find the right place or time.

There is little doubt that the initial thought/aim was to make the first part of the service more interesting (you might even say bearable?) for the children & young people. I’m sure it was well intentioned – but we’re still a long way off achieving that. Our approach to involving children and young people is very tokenistic (we also ‘allow’ the young people to collect the offering). Clearly something must be done.

At present, at the very least (in my opinion) we need to:
– firmly establish the aim & focus of the slot
– provide training to volunteers on the rota
– produce guidelines & practical advice to assist volunteers in their preparations
– provide feedback to volunteers after each slot with the aim of helping them to improve (not to knock them down)

However, I think a far more radical approach is called for (gasp!). But I’ve said enough for now.

Over to you…

Do you have any thoughts/comments/wisdom to share? Please take a minute or two to describe how you engage children & young people in your services, and if you have any nuggets of wisdom to share – positive (‘this works well…’) or negative (‘here’s how not to do it!’).

Including Children & Young People in Worship

This is the start of a series of posts around the issue of inclusion of children and young people in worship.

As I review the current practice at my church and seek to find appropriate developments, I will be blogging my thoughts, comments, concerns and questions in the hope that it will aid my reflection, help to document my progress and allow others to join the conversation and share their wisdom.

Proposed instalments:

Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences, to disagree with me, and to join the conversation along the way…