Even though my kids are all grown up, I think often about the joys and challenges of training children to worship. It probably sounds trite, but in many ways, it seems like yesterday I was flanked by two young children in the pew while trying desperately to teach them about the joys of worshiping the triune God.
During our early married years, I was blessed to read Robbie Castleman’s, Parenting in the Pew. We weren’t parents yet, but we knew and loved Robbie, and were eager to read her new book. This book not only taught me much about training children to worship, but also taught me to be a better worshipper. Robbie points out that worship isn’t about us getting something. It’s about giving to God. Of course, because of God’s kindness and mercy, we are blessed by doing the very thing God made us to do—worship—but we make a mistake when we go to church on Sunday with the goal of getting.
Fueled by what I learned from Parenting in the Pew, when our kids were young, my focus during the worship service was on training my children to worship and helping them to feel included and connected. Since my husband is in ministry in the church, I was often alone with my children during worship. I determined there were going to be a few years where I might not get much out of the worship service. But that was okay. I was bringing my children to God and teaching them to be worshipers. That was my act of worship.
One mistake that parents of young children make as they seek to train their children to worship is they focus on what to not do, instead of what to do. We want our children to behave—to sit still and be quiet. In the process, corporate worship becomes a task to manage instead of an event to look forward to.
If I was to give just one piece of advice to parents of young ones regarding corporate worship, it would be this: Make Sunday morning worship something your children look forward to each week. But how do you do this? Here are a few ideas:
- Build enthusiasm: Sunday worship starts on Saturday. Talk to your children enthusiastically about the fact that tomorrow is the Lord’s Day. Say things like, “Tomorrow, we GET to worship God with all His people.” Talk about how Sunday is a special, exciting day. You can also do this in the morning before leaving for worship and in the car on the way. Children mirror your attitude about corporate worship. If we dread Sunday morning, they will likely do the same. On the other hand, if we treat the gathering of the saints on Sunday morning as a favorite activity, they will view it that way, too.
- Prepare your children. Help your children learn songs, hymns, creeds, and prayers that are part of the liturgy of your church so that even non-readers can participate in parts of the worship service. Children love it when they can sing songs or recite The Lord’s Prayer or the Apostles’ Creed along with the congregation. If possible, get the order of worship ahead of time and practice singing the songs with your kids and read the sermon text with them beforehand. Memorizing might be hard for parents, but it’s usually easy for young ones.
- Engage your children. Throughout the worship service, encourage your children to participate in age appropriate ways. Your children can worship now. They don’t need to wait until they’re older. They can stand when the congregation stands and pray when they pray. Whisper to your children about what’s happening and why. Talk to them about the meaning of the bread, the wine, and the water of baptism. During the sermon, point out key ideas and suggest that they listen for certain words or phrases. When our kids were quite young, but old enough to use a pencil, we would pick 3 or 4 keys words that we expected the pastor to say during the sermon. We would write those words down and have them put a hash mark each time they heard one of the words. At the end of the sermon they would enthusiastically count how many times the pastor said “Jesus” or “grace” or other words. Sometimes they would even tell the pastor about their word counts.
- Sit near the front. Many parents with young children sit near the back of the room to make it easier to sneak out, if necessary. I get that. But I encourage you to sit up front where it’s easier for children to see what is going on and where there are fewer people in front of them to cause a distraction. Give your kids one of the best seats in the house. Sure, sometimes you’ll have to get up in the middle of the service and it’ll be noticeable. But it probably won’t happen very often.
- Be a good worshipper. Children learn by watching. If you want your children to be attentive and enthusiastic worshippers, then you need to be an attentive and enthusiastic worshipper. Sing loud. Take notes. Be joyful.
- Children like routine. That means weekly corporate worship should be part of your routine. If it’s easy to find a reason to miss church on Sunday, your children will learn that church just isn’t that important. If it’s not important, then why should they look forward to it? Be committed to church attendance each Sunday—even when you’re on vacation. If it’s Sunday morning, then it’s time to go to church.
Being the parent of young ones on Sunday morning is hard. Instead of feeling refreshed and rested, you often feel exhausted and are left wondering if the time spent at church was wasted. It gets easier. It is a great delight when your daughter’s eyes light up because the next hymn is one that she knows, or when your son recites The Apostle’s Creed from memory along with the congregation. I have known few joys greater than worshipping alongside my children, which by God’s grace, I’ll be doing for all eternity.
About the Author:
A Florida native, Kim has been married to Robert for over 28 years. Together they have a 20 year old daughter and a 19 year old son. One of her favorite things to do is to lead the women’s Bible study at Dayspring PCA in Spring Hill, Fla., where her husband is the pastor. Kim would love to tell you about the joys of homeschooling, convince you that Florida is a great place to live in spite of the lack of four seasons, and offer you tips for feeding a crowd.