John 17: 21a May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. (HCSB)
Children in Worship
Should children be included in the adults' congregational worship service?
In my branch of the Restoration Movement, for most of the past 20 years, children have been dropped off in children's classes while the adults (except for classroom teachers) participate in congregational worship. These congregations were full of young parents with small children. Most were converted into the Restoration Movement rather than having been raised in it, and many had limited or no church background. So it is not surprising that it seemed like a good idea to get all those children out of the auditorium so the adults could concentrate on worship.
In the past year my congregation has re-examined this question. I now see good reasons, both biblical and practical, for including children in worship.
Deuteronomy 29:10:13 You are standing today all of you before the LORD your God: the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the LORD your God, which the LORD your God is making with you today, that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
In Deut 29, Moses is renewing the covenant with the Israelites. This is not a short sermon, and it was not tailored for small children. Yet the small children were present. The Hebrew word translated as "little ones" in the ESV is derived from the word "to trip". It has a striking resemblance to our word "toddler." When Moses called the people together for this sermon, he included the toddlers.
Jos 8:34-35 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.
In Joshua 8, Joshua read all the words of the law to an assembly including the toddlers.
So there is a biblical precedent for including the children in worship. This seems only natural, given the importance of passing on the covenant to the next generation.
Mat 19:13-15 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." And he laid his hands on them and went away.
Mar 10:13-14 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.
Why did Jesus' disciples consider it inappropriate for the children to be brought to Jesus? Perhaps they saw it as an unnecessary inconvenience and distraction. The children could not understand what Jesus was teaching. (Even the adults struggled with that!) But Jesus was indignant. He wanted the children brought to him.
I wonder if Jesus has been indignant about our excluding the children from the public worship for the convenience of the adults.
Christian parents are responsible to bring up their children in the teaching of the Lord. (Especially fathers! Eph 6:4) Part of that is teaching them how to worship. The children learn by observing their parents, and participating in age-appropriate ways at every stage. It is not sufficient to hand the children off to a Sunday School teacher for an hour or two each week. Christianity is a family affair. I don't think you can expect a child to suddenly want to worship God at age 13. It has to be taught from the beginning. And it needs to be taught by the parents.
As we have begun to include children in our worship service, it has not been without challenges. Our members do not have experience in managing children in service. They have not seen it done. There is really nobody in these congregations who has the experience to write books and teach classes about how to do it effectively. Thank God for the internet! I have been amazed to find communities of people online, full of conviction on the subject, who have tackled and solved this problem, and offer excellent practical advice on how to make the worship service a spiritual event for children of all ages.
One book keeps showing up at the blogs that talk about this subject: Parenting in the Pew
by Robbie Castleman. Many of the ideas on the blogs are taken from this book.
I'd like to hear some comments about other people's experiences. Parents, how are you addressing this in your family?