One critical children’s ministry decision is whether to have some sort of “children’s church” during the Sunday morning worship service, or opt to keep children in worship with their parents. Ultimately, the pastoral leadership and elders of your church are responsible to cast the vision of what biblical corporate worship looks like, including how children are to be involved. Yet, the children’s ministry team is often tasked with the planning and implementing of whichever type of children’s worship programming is chosen. So that makes this an issue that you need to wrestle with as you implement a biblical philosophy and model of children’s ministry.
Lesson Thirteen: Train for Worship
Unfortunately, the question of children’s church is not always an easy one–it can often be divisive, with passionate believers on both sides. So, in order to choose the right direction for our children and families, it’s essential that we begin with the ONE major point of agreement on this issue: Children MUST be trained to be worshipers of God! As immature, sinful human beings, children will not just learn to worship on their own. The right and true worship of God must be learned from God’s Word, and modeled and taught by older Christians. So, if training children to be worshipers is recognized as an important task for our adults, then what’s the best and most biblical way to tackle it?
Scripture gives us some essential pictures and instructions that should provide the foundation of our worship training philosophy. In the Old Testament nation of Israel, children were regularly involved in the “large group” worship of God and the teaching of the Law (Deuteronomy 31). They were included in yearly feasts and festivals, like Passover and the Feast of Booths (Exodus 12, Leviticus 23). Parents were repeatedly taught to take the lead in training their children to worship God and obey His commands (Deuteronomy 6). In the New Testament, we observe Jesus welcoming children when the disciples wanted to turn them away (Matthew 19); and, giving dire consequences for causing children to stumble (Mark 9). Clearly, children in Scripture are portrayed as essential members of the worshiping community of God’s people.
With that biblical context in mind, let’s consider the primary reasons for each perspective, beginning with the children’s church option. Here are it’s main arguments:
- Children can learn to worship God at their educational level.
- Children can have an age-appropriate worship context.
- Children can have a more positive church experience.
- Children are often distractions to adult worshipers.
- Covenant parents can assist in the nurture and training of children to worship.
If the children’s church option is chosen, then there are a number of significant decisions to make in order to program it well: What age children will attend? Will all children be required to go, or is it just an option for families? Will the format mirror the “adult” worship service, or will it look more like Sunday School? Who will preach the sermon or teach the lesson? What resources are available to actually train the children to worship?
On the other side, those who argue for children to remain in the regular Sunday morning worship service typically point to these primary reasons:
- Children can learn to worship God within the worship service.
- Children can learn much about God even if the sermon is “above their heads.”
- Children are welcomed into the entire community of worshipers.
- The congregation learns to worship amidst potential distractions.
- Parents are responsible to train their own children to worship by their example.
If the choice is made to include children in corporate worship, there are questions to be answered here as well: How do we purposefully assist our parents to train their children to worship (and not just to play, sleep, etc.)? Will we have a special children’s message to make a portion of the service more age-appropriate? Will the pastor use child-friendly application in his sermon to include the children? What about the use of children’s bulletins and children’s sermon notes? How will we handle families who have children with special needs so they can worship too?
Finally, you may also want to consider some sort of “hybrid” approach to this question. Children could attend a portion of the worship service and then be dismissed to a shorter training time. Or, your Sunday evening, midweek service, or small group meeting could use that time to teach through a worship training curriculum–so that the children could remain in the Sunday morning worship service. The bottom line is: Whichever direction you choose, don’t lose sight of the primary task of training children to be worshipers of God. This essential work is too often neglected by parents and covenant parents alike. The children’s ministry team must be advocates for the raising up of the next generation who will love to worship our great God!