A few years ago, the church I pastor was working to accommodate children in worship while retaining an atmosphere conducive to learning and praising God. Some members were concerned about excessive kid-noise. But I was of little help. “I’m just not hearing it,” I reported to the other church leaders. I suppose my concentration while preaching was blocking out distractions.
Then I heard it.
My youngest child lost it during a Sunday service. My wife took her out of the worship hall into the foyer—a room that apparently works like the body of a guitar, mysteriously amplifying sound back into the worship hall though all the doors were closed. The screaming was so intense I had to sheepishly say from the pulpit, “Could someone please help that beautiful woman and child in the back find their way to a more comfortable part of the building?”
After the service, more than one leader asked me, in good humor, “Did you hear that?” OK, I got the point. We had some work to do.
Children of believers belong with their families among the congregation. But inclusive congregational worship isn’t all glory.
I’ve written before about how children of believers belong with their families among the congregation. But inclusive congregational worship isn’t all glory. Children squirm and talk. They’re more easily distracted and can lack the maturity to behave as the circumstances require. Sometimes they scream. Loudly. With no sign of retreat.
But all people are incurably religious. Children are learning to worship at church with God’s people, or somewhere else in some other way. So, including them in worship is a godly discipleship goal. How can we do that effectively? Here are a few places to start.
1. Train your children at home.
Expecting children to be still and quiet in church is asking a lot. But expecting children to do so only once per week without any practice at home is wishful thinking. Regular family worship—a simple routine of Bible reading, spiritual conversation, singing, and prayer—is the best primer for congregational worship and a crucial opportunity to nurture children toward spiritual maturity. Teaching children songs and hymns at home helps them learn to participate in corporate worship. It’s true that parents should distinguish family devotions from congregational worship. But age-appropriate reverence and focus can be cultivated at home as well.
2. Help your children participate.
To keep children from being mere observers in worship, we should explain what’s happening and prompt their involvement (Ex. 13:8, 14). Encourage their memorization and recitation of repeated worship elements like the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and the doxology. Teach them to pray, sing, and to listen to preaching. Spell out the meaning of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Have them help you give the offering. Churches can also give kids jobs like passing out bulletins—and they often make more exuberant greeters than adults! Active parenting in the pew can be exacting, but it’s also a rewarding part of our call to train children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
3. Be positive and patient.
Worship habits (and their consequences) are shared generationally (Ex. 20:5–6). And what we’re passing on involves much more—though not less—than liturgical motions. Our children will sense our heart for worship long before they understand the logic of our liturgy. Discipline may be necessary. But never lose sight of this goal: we want our children to sense that praising God in the congregation is the most joyful experience in the world (Acts 8:8, 39; 13:48, 52).
4. Get help from others with more experience.
The learning curve in training children to worship is steep, especially for first-time parents. We’ve never done this before! But others have. Talk to older parents; learn from their shortcomings and their successes. If need be, enlist the help of fellow church members. As a pastor, I’ve rarely sat with my wife at church. But when our children were small, we asked for and received a lot of help from other church members.
You can also read books that encourage and equip you. My wife and I benefited from the now-classic book by Robbie Castleman. Joel Beeke, Jason Helopolous, Daniel Hyde, and others have also written excellent little books for helping children acclimate to corporate worship, some beautifully addressed directly to children. Don’t expect to implement everything in every book you read. But you can’t go wrong learning from good guides.
Mature believers have the inestimable privilege of personalizing Jesus’s invitation: ‘Let the little children come to me.’
Mature believers have the inestimable privilege of personalizing Jesus’s invitation: “Let the little children come to me” (Mark 10:14). In him is life, for us and for our children (John 1:4). We should do all we can to bring our children to Jesus as he walks among his worshiping people (Rev. 1:9–20).
And, as an encouragement, my daughter is no longer screaming in church. She’s only a few years older, but now she’s devoting her energies to confessing her sin, hearing God’s promise of salvation to all who believe in Jesus, learning God’s will for her life by listening to sermons, and singing psalms and hymns as part of an offering of thanks for God’s grace. She has a lot to learn. I have a lot to learn too. And we’re both in the right place to learn it.
The Gospel Coalition