What are kids missing when we keep them out of the “adult” service? More importantly, what are WE missing about the purpose of worship?
It should be obvious that I think a gospel-rich Sunday school class, club or camp is a good place for kids. I teach in such places, and I’m honored whenever parents entrust their children to me by bringing those kids to a class I’m leading. What may be less obvious is that I believe it’s also good, as a general principle, for those kids to be in worship services with the rest of the church as well.
In Show Them Jesus, I briefly pointed out that the Holy Spirit uses the elements of a whole-church worship service to help kids grow in faith. It’s where they hear the Word of God not merely taught but preached by a preacher called to that task. It’s also where they witness baptisms and the Lord’s Supper (or, depending on their maturity and the church’s practices, they participate in the Supper). These are means to spiritual growth.
Another compelling reason to bring kids into these services is that children are part of the gathered church. The church spends most of its time apart, but it gathers weekly to praise God with one heart, to pray with one mind, to confess with one voice, and to feed on the Word together. This unity is both a witness to the watching world and practice for the day when we will all join the great multitude “from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9).
When we see the worship service this way, rather than merely as an age-targeted teaching and praise time, the inclusion of our kids makes sense. I wonder if the trend toward separate “adult services” and “children’s church” not only deprives our kids but also means that our appreciation of God’s purposes for gathered worship has become too small.
But rather than make the kids-are-included argument myself, I’ve invited Curt Lovelace of Lifework Forum to submit an excerpt from his book, Children in Church: Nurturing Hearts of Worship. Curt and his wife, Sandra, write:
We’ve noticed that responses to the idea of including children in the corporate worship setting seem to be broad and definitive these days. One church Sandra visited a few years ago posted signs above every sanctuary entrance directing parents to take their children to their appropriate, age-related classes. The metal chains suspending the wooden plaques only added to the underlying message, “Children not welcome here.”
We’ve also been involved with churches where children seemed to be a sacrosanct part of every service and event no matter how they behaved. The grumbling and complaining among other members of the body extended the effects of the childish disruption beyond the meeting time.
Our belief is that families need to be prepared to enrich the worshipping body of Christ, and the worshipping community should be prepared to incorporate families. When these two aspects are in place, they foster a spirit and life yielded to God in each member and contribute to the true gospel message being displayed as a light on a hill. This is the very image and role Christ gave of the church in the Sermon on the Mount:
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. (Matthew 5:14–15, NIV 1984)
God spends a significant amount of time in His Word communicating about His relationships with His people. As early as the book of Genesis we see that this relationship is personal and powerful. The Father changes the very name of His servant Abram, meaning “exalted father” to Abraham, “father of many.” God goes on to proclaim His promise of blessings. He makes it clear that the covenant He is making is for Abraham and his descendants, an everlasting covenant for all future generations. Even children as young as eight days old are mentioned.
As God maintains the firm foundation and conditions of His covenant promises, He continues to develop the concept of multigenerational participation in worship. Explaining the institution of the Passover, Moses relayed God’s commands:
“Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshiped. (Exodus 12:24–27)
The significance of this mandate is heightened because it was delivered on the eve of the destruction of every firstborn throughout Egypt. Moses is passing along the instructions God Himself gave for the first Passover meal. He explains that this celebration is to be a nation-wide memorial of the sacrifice that was made, and it is to be repeated annually even after God’s people enter the land He has promised them.
It is poignant and remarkable that children are expected to be integral members of the Passover celebration. They are directed to ask a specific question as the stimulus for their parents to explain the significance of the ceremony. The adults are directed to answer the children with the details of God’s rescue. One generation asks and the other answers. God commanded, through Moses, that the Passover be a regular opportunity to share the story of the salvation of the Lord across generations.
Thoughts? Please share or comment below. I love feedback and discussion—it’s how we learn from each other! (Pick any name you like, and no one but me will see your email address—and I won’t use it, I promise)