Children in Worship
As a church planter, there is a cornucopia of pressures that are forced upon my shoulders by the outside world. One of those pressures is what to do with children during our worship gatherings. Pastors are reminded constantly that there are multiple things attendees will grade your church when they visit. One of those is certainly the children's program.
Where I pastor, we have chosen to simplify our vision for children's ministry out of both necessity and conviction. We emphasize the corporate gathering of our church as a primary discipleship tool for raising-up a faithful generation of followers of Jesus. Though we do offer childcare for children 0-3 during our service as well as a family listening area for families who feel they must remove children, we encourage parents to keep their kids with them during the worship time as much as possible.
The goal of this article is to two fold. First, I want this to be an encouragement to church plants, smaller churches, and those that keep their children in worship. The work is hard but the reward is great. Second, I want to share some of the often forgotten reasons and benefits for children remaining in worship with their parents. In no way am I implying that like-minded churches can’t choose to do things differently than we do at Grace. We hold this with an open hand, graciously and encouraging, knowing very well that things can change in the future if led.
1.) The Biblical & historical witness regarding corporate worship gatherings has always included children
To be clear, I am not suggesting this is an inclusion into the household of God until they put their personal faith and trust in Jesus and follow Him. Some might argue that we neglect the pedagogical needs of our children by keeping them in the Sunday gathering. Others argue that our child simply cannot sit still during a sermon. These arguments have merit to them, but perhaps we can focus on other aspects than just the sermon. Maybe the best lesson we teach during this time is reverence and worship for the Lord. We can teach them the meaning of the Sacraments or teach them a song we sing regularly at the church. It is necessary for parents (and the church) to train, exemplify, and discipline children to give reverence to God and respect others who are there to worship Him. Children can and will be noisy and inconvenient, but we can't let that be a deterrent in teaching them to love the church gatherings.
2.) Keeping children in worship trains parents to be disciple-makers
God grows us best through difficulty, not ease. When we remove children from service we might assume that we are helping remove distractions, therefore giving the church unrestricted opportunity to learn from God's Word. Children are not to be viewed as distractions. They are gifts from God under our stewardship and for our own growth in this life. Parents are being trained in the difficulty to be the lead disciple-maker in their children's lives when they suffer (yes I said it) through training a child to participate in a Sunday service. Because I preach most Sundays, my wife has had to bear the weight of teaching our 3 boys (presently 12, 9, and 6) to participate in our worship gatherings. She would testify that as tough as it was (still is, the tiny one still has his moments), she wouldn't change that experience for the world. She has noted wisely that children are coopted out to schools and sports, and I don't want church to be another place that I limit my influence over their lives.
3.) Children will replicate what their parents do
Children learn to value what we value. Positively speaking, children will follow our example in singing, having our Bibles open, and being expectant each Sunday. Negatively speaking, if the church serves at my convenience, then that may result in teaching children that the church must revolve around me and not God. This does not mean that we don't need appropriate environments for children to teach them God's Word. At Grace Church, we have a fully staffed Sunday Morning Bible Study hour and provide parents with some of the best catechizing resources available.
4.) Children are learning even if we think they are not
I have been amazed that when I think my kids are in Narnia on Sunday morning how much they are hearing and learning after we leave worship. My middle son recently wrote out his testimony during service completely unprompted. Don't get me wrong, children can be complete hellions and often do help realize our deepest fears as parents but we are finding the positives outweigh the negatives.
5) Your kids are not nearly as embarrassing as you think they are
From the spilling of an entire box of pencils to the random noises that ring from the pew, we are often mortified in embarrassment by our children's behavior during worship. Let me say this kindly: parents, we need to get over ourselves. It's not about us. Others eyes are not locked on you when your kids acts up. Pastors, we need to create a culture where it is normal to have noisy kids around. Remember our stewardship from God. Stay in the game! Know that the Lord understands what you need and is using your strung-out Sunday mornings for HIS glory and THEIR good...and yes, yours also.
Fight the good fight. The Lord is with you!
My name is Tom Agnew. I am the Lead Pastor/Planter of Grace Church in Smyrna, TN. Grace Church is a confessionally Reformed Baptist Church that partners with the Acts 29 Network and the Southern Baptist Convention. I have been married to Amanda for 13 years and have 3 amazing boys: Caleb (11), Asher (9) and Judson (6). As a family, we love soccer and college football!