Teaching Children to Worship
It is a big event in Tallowood when children turn 4 and join their parents in “big church.” This never fails to bring smiles of understanding from worshipers sitting nearby who vividly remember when they faced the same challenge of maintaining order in the pew. Carol Kleckner, Tallowood’s children’s minister, writes of the Biblical reasons behind this important transition.
“Big Enough for Big Church,” is a phrase that can strike fear in hearts. Because attached to the Big Yellow Button with the five word slogan, is a child who must now go to worship with parents. “Will my child behave? Will I ever hear the pastor’s sermon again? Will the minutes drag by as I try to maintain order in the pew? Will my child go to sleep? Please, Lord, let him go to sleep!” Let’s take a few minutes to examine seven questions that guide our thinking to the Scripture. We love our children and desire God’s best for them. Think with me for a moment about children, worship, families and church.
1. Who Teaches Children to Worship God?
What we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.
Teaching children to love and worship God is most effective when parents are the primary teachers of devotion to God. This is God’s plan for families. Family life today is segmented. Schedules and commitments take the place of families spending time together. This is a result of culture and choice. God offers families whole and seamless lives. God is greater than our busy schedules and it is a choice each family must make. The right choice will produce love for God and others in the lives of our children. Tell your children the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.
2. What is the Greatest Commandment to Teach Children?
Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Pharisees numbered a least 600 important laws. In an effort to trap Jesus, a “law expert” Pharisee asked Jesus the question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered him by quoting from Deuteronomy, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the greatest commandment.” Jesus added, “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Jesus said EVERYTHING hangs on these commandments. If these commandments are that important, we must teach them to our children. The greatest commandment taught by parents is modeling their greatest joy; the worship of God.
3. Why Do We Welcome Children to Worship?
People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
Jesus spoke to those who needed Him the most—sinners, tax collectors and children. Jesus sternly reproached his disciples when they tried to provide Jesus a way of escaping from the children. Imagine the surprise of the disciples. After all, Jesus was busy. He had important things to do. He had important teachings for the people. He was God’s Son and surely God is too great for the least of these. But the parents knew Jesus would welcome and bless their children. And they knew their children welcomed the opportunity to love and worship Jesus.
We do well as we welcome children to worship. Children benefit from intergenerational worship when they are taught to do so by loving parents, teachers, and church leaders.
4. How Do We Train Children to Worship?
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
We train our children in daily activities of life—eating, dressing, bathing and the momentous moments of toilet training. We teach our children reading, math, history, and science. We teach our children social skills, respect of authority, obedience and kindness. We train our children to work hard, to be industrious, and imaginative. We teach them to hit a baseball, bounce a basketball, catch a football, and kick a soccer ball. We offer them music lessons, dance, swimming, and gymnastics. But when it comes to the most important training of all, the worship of God, we assume they will learn to love God, worship Him and serve Him if we bring them to church. Proverbs 22: 6 does not say, “Bring a child to church and when he is old he will not turn from it.” I am afraid that if we only bring our children to church, there is a possibility he or she will not turn to God or return to God. Learning to worship God involves parents teaching, training, and modeling worship and their love for God. No where in scripture is it written that anyone can do a better job than you!
5. When Do I Teach My Children to Worship God?
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them 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.
Teach children in the daily activities of life: at home, away from home, in the morning, and in the evening. Look for the teachable moments in your day. Find the moments of sharing when your child is receptive. The church joins with parents by offering age-graded Bible study. In worship we offer intergenerational family worship. A family modeling their love of God is vital for the spiritual development of children.
First of all be intentional about training children to worship. Pray about it. Ask God to help you. Develop your own thoughts and plan of action. Teaching children to worship God occurs Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday—each day of the week.
This can be part of your plan. During the week talk to your child about worship. Ask, “What does it mean to worship God? What do we do when we worship?” (We pray, sing, read the Bible, listen, give, obey.) Share your thoughts and reflections with your child. “I learned…., God wants me to…, Isn’t God good!” Hang on to your weekly worship guide and review it with your child. “I like this praise song or hymn. Let’s sing it together.” “Do you know why Pastor Brooks asks us to stand when he reads from the Bible?” “Let’s read this verse together.” “Next week, let’s listen for the name of a Bible person we know.” Small times of preparation can make a big difference!
6. What Can Children “Get” from Worship?
God is spirit and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.
Adults should embrace the fact that everything that happens in worship does not have to be on a child’s level of understanding for it to have meaning for them. Children learn new words, a new truth, and sense our awe and reverence for God as we worship together. Children learn that worship is about God, not about “me.”
Another benefit of intergenerational worship is the relationships children form with church members and staff. Learning to greet others, to express delight in seeing them, to welcome others to worship is important for children too. Children’s Church segments a congregation. Worship is for families and the family of God. Worship should be the high point of our week, as we come together to celebrate God, His goodness, love, provision, mercy and forgiveness.
Children’s church does not train children to worship. Too often it is entertainment, or at best “edutainment.” Worship is not a show about God. Worship is about God. It is much more difficult to introduce an eleven or twelve year old to worship than a four year old. Every year delayed fosters the attitude that worship is about me. The mind-set grows that worship is boring or must meet my needs to earn my participation. This hinders the spiritual growth and development of children.
Think about what children will miss if they are excluded from worship. They will miss hymns and songs of faith, the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, missionaries, testimonies, the message, prayers and offerings,. They will miss the sense of closeness, warmth, and security that comes from worshipping together with family and friends. The most anticipated hour of the week should be our corporate worship of God. Is it wise to exclude those we love the most from that time?
7. What Can We Learn from Children?
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.”
Jesus welcomed a little child into the circle of his disciples to teach them an important lesson. A child’s faith is uncomplicated and simple. Children believe in God. We learn from Jesus that a simple child-like faith pleases God. The kingdom of heaven belongs to those, who like a little child, come humbly to God, trusting and believing in Him.
Worship is life giving and vital to followers of Christ! Children learn to become mature followers of Christ when they see worship is important to us. Pray, plan, and prepare your family for worship. It will change you too!
Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.