Posted tagged ‘Intergenerational Worship’

SEPARATING CHILDREN OUT FOR WORSHIP – NO MILLSTONE FOR ME PLEASE

June 1, 2015
People sitting on pews in church, smiling

People sitting on pews in church, smiling

Jesus was rather pointed when it came to the importance of our treatment of children.

Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,[a] it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:5-6)

So when it comes to the means by which humans relate to God for eternity, namely corporate worship, we say to our children, “Go away!” Really? Oh, I know we would never present it like that, and we legitimize separating children off as being for the “good” (aka convenience) of any and all involved, trying to convince ourselves it is best for the children, best for the parents, best for everyone for children not to be in the corporate worship gathering with everyone else. Really? How is that working out?

Our Thinking: If we give children their own worship they will love church and want to come more! We can give them treats, songs just for them, and put only the fun people in the room with them so they will love it, love it, love it. As an “added” bonus, children will not be disrupting “our” worship service.

What Happens: Children get the message that church is supposed to give them what they want the way they want it (not exactly the Gospel). Children become bored when it’s time to transfer to “big church” and continue to want what they want. They grow into teenagers wanting what they want, and so in many instances we split them off too in order to make worship fit an image we think will be appealing to them. In similar fashion utilitarian formula for church worship morphs into what leaders think people will like and want, all the while watering down the value of heritage, biblical liturgy, and the truth and power of the Gospel itself. How is that going?

All indications are that in the U.S. church worship attendance in our day continues to decline. Those who have grown up with this “Burger King theology,” meaning worship based on the idea of “Have it your way,” are the very ones who leave the church, leaving the treats, the songs, and the fun behind. Meanwhile, people are less and less familiar with the hymns of the ages, less patient to prayerfully hear scripture, engage less in active worship participation like singing, and demonstrate little grasp of the power rooted in the ordinances and rites of worship. Is it any wonder fundamental biblical understandings of such bedrock institutions as marriage are up for grabs, or that so many question basic Christian doctrinal truths?

One author, blogger, and former pastor notes three key things we have forgotten as we have segregated out children from the gathered corporate worship environment:

  1. A promise. When Peter first preached the gospel at Pentecost, he argued that ‘the promise is for you and your children….” (Acts 2:38-39). There is a tightly woven connection in God’s eyes between preaching, parents, and their children. The very first gospel appeal given after Christ’s ascension at the start of the church culminated in a call to action for parents AND their children.

  2. A Warning. ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 19;13-15). Jesus said that wherever two or three are gathered together in His name, he would be present in a special way. (Matthew 18:20) If a worship service is a place we gather expecting to experience the presence of our Lord, don’t we come dangerously close to imitating the short-sighted disciples when we discourage children from coming to experience His presence with us?

  3. A Process. Scripture tells us that our children will be moved to question us as part of their learning process. When they see the things we do in worshipping God, they will ask us about it. And they will learn. ‘When your children say to you, What do you mean by this service? You shall say…’ (Exodus 12:21-28). If they’re not present to experience the Lord’s Supper, the New Testament Passover, how will they ever be moved to ask about it? How will they learn? How will they know?[1]

I have three grown children who have families of their own. We are blessed with seven grandchildren and more on the way. I know the challenge of sitting with a child in church worship. On the occasions I get that privilege I do not get to sing every note of every song or hear every word of the sermon. I have struggled plenty with the internal debate of “Do I continue attempting to point to words in the Bible to keep up with the pastor’s sermon points and show the child this is how we do it?,” or “Do I cave and hand them my cellphone, on which I have loaded so many child games I had to up my plan to accommodate?” Although I confess to having done both, I have also found myself immersed later in conversation about the meaning of baptism and Lord’s Supper with a five-year-old. I have prayed with a toddler for the family of friends whose grandparent died. I have sung songs of Zion with a three-year-old who could not match pitch much less know what it might mean to be “marching through Immanuel’s ground.” There is no better place for my grandchildren to feel the calming touch of a grandparent’s hand on the shoulder, or to observe as Dad sings a hymn of praise or lament with meaning and passion, than in the place of gathered worship with Christian family all around. This thing we call Christian worship or church worship is a powerful force in a child’s development toward Christian discipleship. I am a proponent of letting them experience it next to parents, grandparents, and church family of multiple ages when at all possible. How about you?

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?” (Matthew 21:15-16)

Other reading on children and worship:  Value of Children’s Music Training by Mike Harland

Children in Worship by Jason Hulopoulus

Thoughts from John Piper on Families Worshiping Together

Parenting in the Pew by Robbie Fox Castleman

[1] Bill Blankschaen Why I’ve Stopped Singing in Your Church: Answers to Questions You’ve Been Afraid to Ask about Church Issues © 2014.


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