Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Theological reflection on children and worship

Last week I said
"I will post some theological thoughts on this another day".

Some folks have said, both publicly on their blogs and in other public fora, that there seems to be controversy/challenges/issues around the inclusion of kids in worship. Why is this? Please do post your ideas anonymously if you like, in the comments below.

In my eschatological framework this issue will be one of the things that is changed and will be unrecognisable from that which some of us may see now; I love it that there will be thousands upon thousands singing praises to God idea....love him, worship him. Not sure if your age will be checked before you can join in!

Anyway, I digress.
Most of my thoughts on children and worship can be essentially distilled to the following points.

Do children have a contribution to bring to worship in the body of christ? - yes
Can children worship "in Spirit and in truth" - oh yes, yes, yes, yes.
Can they learn from adults in worship? - undoubtedly yes
Can adults learn from children in worship? - undoubtedly yes
Should all of their worship times be within their own peer group - in my opinion, no.
(That might make me unpopular. I understand clearly why some churches don't and I agree that it's better to have a well constructed worship/teaching time in a separate peer group than an altogether worship time done for the wrong reasons. As long as that's not used for an excuse for not re-examining it. I've now alienated all my N American readers - sorry John S!)

try the following:
* get children to draw something to illustrate God's greatness. Don't feed them too many lines. I asked our partnership nursery preschool kids to do this 3 years ago and we scanned and then projected their pictures on the big screen during a worship service. Wow - what they had drawn at age 3 and 4.....it was worship (without a song being sung!)

* let children pray - I feel there is a danger of tokenism so please be careful with this one in your situation; it's got to come from a place where inclusion and nurture and encouragement is fostered. Oh...unscripted prayers are awesome. A fairly new 11 year old was blown away by what a 4 year old prayed out in our monthly "kids only" worship time - pure adoration towards her Father God. Another 3 year old expresses he loves God so much that he feels as if his heart is going to burst.

I'm actually weeping as I type this - God, oh that we expressed our deep love for you with such abandon, not for public show but because we simply love you as daddy.

* journey together with kids. That may not sound very clear and I would need to probably explain this to you in person. But to say succinctly - be real, be honest, don't go for funky shows with a myriad of puppets just for the sake of it if its not you (its not me for example!) - put your passion for God on display. Love God with all your heart and you lead by example.

I organise an annual residential weekend away for 10s and 11s and last year we found ourselves in an amazing experience of worship, about 20 of us. The 5 adults journeyed with the kids in the Psalm 95 experience of worship described in an earlier post. Together - not with any one leader - we entered into the presence of God.

Turning now to a very quick theological examination, we are probably all very familiar with Psalm 8:2 about children and praise but I also find the verses on praise and worship from generations very stirring {reference to follow; it's on my work laptop!}

I've now been formally taught to pay careful attention to what I read in OT as it will have an application for today (oh the joys of a formal theological education, it's been so good for me. I need more, I know!) But in the NT I pick up the words of Jesus in what must surely be one of the most noteworthy passages on children and worship. Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey......

The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant.

"Do you hear what these children are saying?" they asked him.
"Yes," replied Jesus, "have you never read,
" 'From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise?"

I find it deeply significant that the chief priests were indignant at the children shouting out their worship. Religious spirits are offended! And even more significant that they knew who Jesus was; they seemed to have a knowledge of his greatness. Also, the indication in scripture is that these children were simply there, "hanging aboot" we might say; they weren't part of the Sunday School movement; nor Metro Ministries flock; nor are we told that their mums and dads are also present shouting praises. And Jesus himself reminds his listeners of Psalm 8:2. Time for me to use my favourite quote again (Judith Gundry-Volf ROCKS!):

“Children are not mere ignoramuses in terms of spiritual insight in the Gospel tradition. They know Jesus’ true identity. They praise Him as the Son of David (Matthew 21:14-16). They have this knowledge from God and not from themselves and because they do, they are living manifestos to the source of all true knowledge about Christ as from God.”

And I have seen this and heard this with my own eyes in the prayers and praise of unchurched kids summer after summer - they praise God with abandon, they just "know in their noah" that he's who he says he is; that his word is true; that he has power; that God's love is great (surely one of the best praise and worship songs EVER written: Great Big God vol 3 by Vineyard Music) How can we learn from these children? I sure know we can.

I'm ploughing my way through the reformers' various views of children (it's getting quite depressing!) and in some ways we (ALL of us) have come so far. Let's not give up valuing each other's contributions and let's be encouraged for there is a move in this country and others to recognise the importance of our children in worship.


  1. Anonymous10:10 PM

    will look forward to them...........Mx

  2. ummm, just done them today M!

  3. Thanks for this Lynn. As usual I thought I'd post my initial thoughts and come back once I've reflected on it a bit more.

    I want to pounce on that idea of tokenism. It happens in schools (i.e pupil councils) where school IS about children and I think even more so it happens in churches. When someone mentions that children should be involved people may throw in a quick children's song or invite the well-spoken child to read out a prayer. Other than that... lots of people wouldn't bother. I know I've been guilty of doing this in past - I want the younger kids involved so I create a 'job' (usually an easy one) for them rather than let them just go for an actual job. It makes me sad. Tokenism is a pet peeve. Ban it!

    More to come =)

  4. YES - children do have a contribution to bring to worship in the body of christ.
    YES - children worship "in Spirit and in truth" - and we miss that when we segregate by ages!
    YES - children learn from adults in worship - AND adults can learn from children ONLY IF THEY ARE PRESENT!! Why else did Jesus place a child in the centre (as an example of true discipleship)and say, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."? Do we stop and observe what a child is like - or just assume!?! Those who work with children are impacted by them because we see something of God staring from their eyes. Yet we insist on removing them from the centre of the body as the adults continue to 'worship'!?! Worship ... ? mmmmm I'll stay with the kids thanks - and pray to God that I, His servant, would glimpse something of His Kingdom on earth.

    Keep fighting the good fight sister!

  5. I was thinking way back to your post where you discussed the view of how children develop faith and presented the idea that children are already close to God and it's only by choosing to turn away from God that their faith is lost. That made me think that, if as you suggest our children have a natural relationship with God, they are entirely capable of true worship - as any believer is. I was thinking back also to an SU camp I attend annually. Between my friend Emma and I, we've had the same group of campers from P7-S2 and we've watched them grow in faith. At the big Praise Party on the friday night, we've seen those girls, as young as P7, truely worship and weep with love for Jesus. It just gets us going every time. It's so special to see. I only hope that one day the kids in our church will do the same. =)

  6. Hi Amie

    Thanks for your comments. When we understand that the indication in Scripture is that children possess a unique place in God's heart and that they possess an innate spirituality that requires nurturing, it revolutionises the way we "do church" with children.

    Just one thing:
    I think it's more subtle than children "choose" to walk away from God; of course their choices and things do demonstrate this; but it's even more subtle than that. Sin is in our DNA; our gene pool. It's our natural disposition. I illustrate this visually with a ball bearing gently veering off course....

    So without two intentional processes - nurture AND evangelism - and you can probably see for whom which process is appropriate - we end up with kids who are lost; empty; fearful; needing God.

    Hence my clear twofold articulated vision for those with whom I work - nurture and evangelism.

    Oooooooh getting all worked up now with no audience!
    My rates are reasonable :::::: big grin :::::::

  7. Lynn,
    Great posting going on here! E (age 11) & I were discussing this post yesterday & he initially said he would rather be with his own age group, rather than with the whole congregation on a Sunday morning. However, when I drew his attention to this:
    "Can they learn from adults in worship? - undoubtedly yes
    Can adults learn from children in worship? - undoubtedly yes", he had a wee "Aha" moment!
    It's normal for children to learn from adults, but counter-cultural for us to learn from children - BUT WE DO (well I do anyway)!!
    This is best illiustrated for me by the response from adults in our church to the little girls (aged about 4-7, one of them mine) who dance in the aisle on Sunday mornings. There are loads of comments about how people are blessed & encouraged by them. I'd like to think the adults are set a little bit more free in their own worship when they see the enthusiasm of the children.
    As a mum, a children's worker & as an ex-child, I'm so glad to see this breath of fresh air sweeping our churches - a re-surgence of generations appreciating each other & learning from each other. More, please Lord!

  8. welcome back GG - you've been away for a while! Hope that pastor of yours hasn't been making too many demands of you :-)

    Wow, your son must belong to an absolutely acey-pacey fab group
    :-) Wonder if he knows how his praying out loud in services and giving testimonies encourages those who are older and sets an example to those younger than his 11 years....

    I need to go and get that Gartmore date booked....!

  9. NB on tokenism -
    tokenism is only tokenism if the adult doing the tokenism is using the child because they feel they have to/got to include a young person.

    Tokenism is not tokenism when the heart motive is pure - so I see no problem in inviting children to read prayers if its not your usual practice if you who ask do so because you so want the children and young people to feel part and included :-)

  10. Re: Tokenism. I agree. Sorry - took that concept as a given but you are right. It's where the motive is more 'I suppose I ought to...' than 'Wouldn't it be great to...' that it irritates me. One would hope we always think the latter where our kids are involved. =)


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