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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Teaching Children to Worship

Our church has no nursery. This is actually selling point to us. Part of raising them up in the faith and preparing them to be adult members of the church is allowing them to participate in worship as young children. It acclimates them to a service that isn't geared at entertaining them, one where the worship of God rather than the playing of games is the focus, and it trains them in the practices of the church body.

From their first weeks, every one of our children has sat in church with us, and participated in the services. Rich and I do have to give correction every now and then, and a good look will usually settle them down now. We help them sing the songs, pray the prayers, stand or sit or kneel as necessary, we show them in the order of service where we are, and help them read along, if they can read. Our older two boys, pay pretty close attention to the sermon, most of the time now. The main point, though, is that they are learning the practice of sitting still, listening and participating in worship and learning. We do not expect them to understand it all, but we also don't expect them to suddenly get it one day and be able to participate if they have never had the exposure and practice.

"What about the noise?" You might ask. Well, we are a congregation with lots of young children and several large families, and little children do make sounds sometimes during church. However, we recently saw illustrated quite clearly the difference between children who are used to sitting through a church service and participating to the best of their abilities (and our church service is about 1 1/2-1 3/4 hrs) and those who have been sent to the nursery and children's church for their entire lives. In January, one family had their new daughter baptised. They invited their extended family as well as some friends of theirs who brought their own children. These were good children. They were not acting out with bad behavior, but they couldn't handle sitting, listening, singing and praying along with the other people. They just weren't used to it. The rest of the children, ranging in ages from two months to 17 years old, from different backgrounds, developmental stages, etc, were quite able to do so.

"Oh, but you don't know my child! He can't sit through the long service, he'd be bored. I wouldn't get anything out of worship, because I'd be spending all my time correcting him." That's what you might be thinking about now. I do know that we have raised five children to participate in church as best they can, we've seen countless other families do so, and know it can be done. Yes, you will spend the first several times correcting him, especially if this is new and your child isn't used to being in church. It is much easier to train children in this, as in anything else, if you start right away when they are infants and toddlers. You can sit in the back, where you can stand up and bounce a small child, or leave the sanctuary if it is necessary for a moment.

I want to challenge the last objection, though. Worship, by definition, is not something from which we should be "getting something." You might enjoy it, you might love the music, or the prayers, but it is something that God gets, not us. If our focus is on what we are receiving from worship, our focus is wrong.

The same family whose daughter was baptised recently went down to the mother's parents to visit. They went to church with her parents. As usual, they took their two children, who are well behaved and very accustomed to being in church, with them into the church service and sat down. The usher actually came and told them that the children were not allowed in the service. They were fuming, but tried to explain that their children normally were in church with them and they were visitors. No matter, the church rules were that no young children were permitted in the service. Rather than make a stink, the mother, her mother and the two children went to the completely empty cry room, where they could hear, but not see the service. It is no wonder that the modern church keeps having to reinvent how church services are run. The younger generation grows up never seeing or participating in the one their parents did. Jesus had something to say about adult believers keeping children from joining them around Him:

"Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."

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We have raised our 7.5 year old daughter to be with us in the service. We've actually left a couple of churches who told us she couldn't be in the service with us. She is very well behaved and why should that surprise anyone, she's been learning how to behave in the service for 7.5 years! The church we attend now does things a little differently, but we actually enjoy it. Our daughter is in the service with us for the music and then goes to a Bible study class during the sermon. Since we don't have a separate Bible study time before or after the service, this gives us the best of both worlds by allowing her to worship with us and still spend time with other children learning the Word! Anyway, I'm rambling. Just wanted to thank you for posting this.
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