But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
Every Sunday God gives us a window of opportunity to show our children and grandchildren that there is only One Being worthy of our worship—the sovereign God of the Bible. Monday through Saturday their eyes, ears, and hearts are vied for by screens, pixels, data, friends, hobbies, sports, or the latest toy on the market, keeping them busy, distracted, and entertained. One day a week they need to see a community of people who love to worship God, who cherish their times of worship together, and who truly believe that worship is the most important thing they do. We may not be conscious of it, but our children are watching us.
So how do we incorporate our covenant children into worship on the Lord’s Day? What does this look like when we’re talking about very young children who lack abstract thinking skills and long attention spans? Actually, it can look rather messy. I have a vivid memory of the time my husband and I were training our oldest son for worship. He was your typical three-year-old boy, full of energy and imagination. We had decided to let him color quietly during the sermon, instructing him to listen for words he understood and then draw pictures of what he heard. Apparently, this didn’t sit well with a woman in the pew directly in front of us. She literally turned around, reached back with her hand, and grabbed his paper. We were stunned along with everyone else that witnessed it.
Our words as well as our actions say a lot about who we think God is and what He is like. Possibly this woman thought of God as annoyed with young children who don’t sit at attention during the hour of worship. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for taking children out of the service when they continue to be disruptive after being corrected. This is training after all. But more often than not, our children will remember our patience and kindness as we set necessary boundaries for them. These are all things to pray about at home during the week especially during family worship, which is the best training ground for corporate worship.
Personally, I have so many memories from my childhood regarding corporate worship. My parents holding hymnals and singing with smiles on their faces taught me to do the same. Opening the Bible to where the pastor’s message was derived taught me to open my Bible and attempt to find the chapter and verses myself. Seeing everyone close their eyes in prayer taught me to close my eyes and listen carefully. Observing adults at church hugging each other and cheerfully talking together taught me that this was a place of love and joy. I learned a lot about my Savior within those doors. So don’t grow discouraged when your preschoolers interrupt your concentration during the sermon. You are building a legacy in their lives week by week, month by month, year by year. They are absorbing things of infinite value.
Here are some helpful ideas for training children in worship.
Ages five and under (Focus on respect for other worshipers, participation, and developing listening skills
1. Teach your children to stand when the congregation stands, to hold a hymnal, and to close their eyes during prayers.
2. Train them to sit, not crawl around (which disturbs others around you).
3. Train them to look towards the front of the church, not at people behind them.
4. Teach them to use Bibles, hymnals, and bulletins quietly.
5. Train them to keep their feet down, not on the rack of Bibles and hymnals in front of them.
6. Have them draw the words they hear in preparation for note taking. Ask them to share their “notes” on the drive home or at mealtime.
Ages six and older
- Teach your child to takes notes, starting with words and then sentences. You can even write down Bible words for the younger end of this category and have your child place check marks next to the words when they hear the pastor say them, such as God, Jesus Christ, Savior, sin, Gospel, Holy Spirit, love, truth, obey, etc.
2. Practice singing the doxology and hymns during family worship so that your child becomes familiar with the words and tunes. (This pertains to younger children as well.)
3. Formulate simple questions before the worship service that your child can answer afterwards. For example, “What did the pastor teach us about Jesus today?” Ask your child to share his or her answers on the way home.
Many of these ideas concern outward behavior or form. That is not our goal in training children for worship, but the forms provide the framework for our children to observe and absorb greater spiritual realities as they see us delighting in the worship of the One who created us for His own glory. Just like their parents, children will worship something or someone. Corporate worship is a means of grace that God often uses to change hearts, including the hearts of our children. As the pastor preaches God’s word each week and your child has trouble sitting still, remember that God is sovereign even over their squirms and fidgets. Let them serve as reminders to pray for the work of the Holy Spirit in your child’s life, that one day soon they might hear with ears of faith and join us in true worship from the heart.