How can Christian parents and the church best nurture the faith of the children in their care? It’s an important question, and one where churches respond with different answers. The main options are:
- Children stay with the adults in the church service the whole time, or
- Children leave the service at a certain time (whether it’s after a few songs, or only for the sermon) where they can have dedicated teaching.
Both methods desire children to develop their own faith, and neither is easy.
At Eaglehawk Presbyterian Church we love our children to stay with us for the whole service. We hope this article will help explain why, answer (some) questions, and offer some tips on how to help your children worship our God with you in the pew.
Why keep the children with us?
We believe one of the most significant ways we can parent as Christians is to worship with them, with the covenant community. There are struggles, but they are well worth it. Why?
- God made us to worship him
Whether we’re very young or very old, we’re here to worship God. This is why God created us (Gen 1:27; Psa 149:11-13), why we’ve been saved (Rom 12:1-2; Eph 1:4-5), and why we’ll be raised on the Last Day (Rev 19:6-8, 22:3-4).
- Worship is both individual and corporate
Throughout the Bible, people are called to worship God both as individuals and a community. In the New Testament we’re called to do everything to God’s glory (1 Cor 10:31), and to gather together (Heb 10:25). Together we are the flock (John 10:16), the body (1 Cor 12:12) and the temple (1 Cor 3:16). When someone is missing from the gathering, we all suffer for it.
- Gathered worship involves the Word, prayer, singing and sacraments
God gets to decide how people worship Him, and these are his appointed means. God’s word is to be preached (Neh 8:8; 2 Tim 4:2), we’re to pray (1 Tim 2:1; Col 4:2), sing (Col 3:16), and have baptisms and participate in the Lord’s Supper (Matt 28:19; 1 Cor 11:24-25).
There’s more to say about worship. Our worship should have integrity (not just hearing the Word, but believing and obeying), joy and awe. It should be encouraging and centre on God.
- Throughout the Bible, children are included in gathered worship
They take part in the feasts of Israel in the Old Testament (e.g. Passover [Exo 12:26-27]) because they are considered part of the people of God. This is why infant boys were given the sign and seal of the covenant (Gen 17:9-14). This continues in the New Testament. Whether you believe children of believers should receive baptism or not, they are part of the church. They receive the promises (Acts 2:38-39), and they are spoken to in the letters (e.g. Eph 6:1-3; Col 3:20).
- There are blessings that come with children worshipping with the church
- They hear the Word preached. While it is beneficial for children to have the Bible taught at their level, there is also great benefit in them hearing God’s Word proclaimed to the whole church, and to sit under it themselves. They won’t understand everything, but they will pick things up quicker than we might think.
- They see the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper). They will no doubt ask questions about this, which gives great opportunities to explain the gospel truths.
- They join in prayer, hearing what the church prays for each week, and often learn how to pray themselves as they hear others.
- They are with the church, surrounded by saints of all ages and walks of life who are examples as they worship with all their heart.
- They are with their parents, learning from them what it means to worship God, seeing what is important to them.
- It tells them that they can worship God too. It’s not an adult activity; it’s for them.
- And it encourages the adults, older saints, as they see these young ones learning how to worship, learning the songs, learning to pray, starting to serve. The older ones are reminded of the call to have child-like faith.
We know (all too well!) that children being in the service can be difficult. Parents with young children may feel they miss out on church for a long period of time, as they manage crying and squabbling children. Parents may fear their children will be bored.
But consider that we struggle through these challenges with other things we find important. We battle feeding our children what they need multiple times a day. When something is important to us, we want to include our children, even though they don’t understand the intricacies.
Parents don’t keep their kids away from footy until they can understand the rules – if they love the game they’ll have it on TV, take their kids to the games, and explain as needed. The child won’t always be paying attention, but they’ll learn that it’s a love of their parents, and as they experience it themselves it may become a love of theirs too.
So, what can parents do to help their children in gathered worship?
- Talk about church through the week. What were the sermon and songs about?
- Try not to make Saturday a late night, and be ready early on Sunday.
- Have family worship at home – read the Bible, pray, and sing together.
- Whisper to your child occasionally, telling them what hymn you love, or what you were challenged by in the sermon.
- Get help from others in the church.
- Encourage them to be involved – stand for the songs, give in the offering, bow their heads in the prayers.
- Don’t worry about what the other adults are thinking about you! We’re so glad to have children in the church!
- Encourage your children when they are behaving (don’t only speak to tell them off!)
- Be patient. Your children are learning, and so are you. Pray that they would encounter God through His Word
We know it’s not easy, but there are great moments of joy and blessing. Please join with us as we teach and model worship of our great God to our children.
(This is mostly a summary of Let the Children Worship by Jason Helopoulos – a small book that is highly recommended!)