The Place of Children in Adult Worship
By Janice Leonard
Believers, including children, that gather in a local congregation are to be united in their declaration of God's worth.
Since earliest times families have worshiped together. Indeed, the Bible records examples of very young children who were known for participation in worship.
It appears that even as a boy Isaac was accustomed to worship. On the way to Mount Moriah, carrying the wood on his back, he noticed the absence of a sacrificial animal and asked his father Abraham, "Where is the lamb?" (Gen. 22:7). This was obviously not the first time Isaac and his father had performed sacrifice together.
Perhaps the most striking example is that of Samuel, presented to the Lord for service as soon as he was weaned, which was probably at about five years of age. Samuel, the Scripture tells us, ministered before the Lord, assisting Eli the priest in his sacred duties (1 Sam. 2:18).
The Bible assumes that children will be included in the worship life of God's people. Moses told the Israelites to explain to their children that because the Lord had delivered them from Egypt, and given them their promised land, they should observe all his commandments. Many of the commandments of the Law have to do with worship and ceremonies. Joshua challenged the people, "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" (Josh. 24:15). "Serve" is another word for worship, and Joshua indicates that he expects all members of his household, including the children, to follow his example.
As a child, Jesus accompanied his parents and their relatives to religious feasts in Jerusalem. And when, as an adult, he entered the city in triumph, it was children who cried out, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" (Matt. 21:15). Responding to the objections of the Pharisees to their shouts of adulation, Jesus quoted from Psalm 8: "From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise" (Matt. 21:16).
Since the period of the Enlightenment and the Protestant Reformation, much of Christianity has taken on a more didactic than celebrative character. It is assumed that converts, including children, must be carefully taught their way into the faith, learning the truths of the Bible so that they can understand the story of Jesus and respond to him. This has often resulted in the segregation of children into age groupings for more effective teaching, separating them from the arena of adult worship.
Teaching is, of course, important. But children learn best by imitation. Unless they are where adults are worshiping, they will miss the opportunity to learn by example. Indeed, they may decide that the worship of God is an adult activity which has no relevance for them.
When we bring our children along with us into the worship life of the church, we are giving them the opportunity to act out the truths they learn in Sunday school and make them real. Not only so, but participation in worship with the whole church helps to instill in them an identity as members of the body of Christ. This is particularly important in a fragmented society which so often produces a lack of identity in people of all ages, resulting in alienation and ruined lives.
Following the Biblical example, we can integrate children of all ages into the life of the church by teaching them worship-related skills. Some may serve as greeters, passing out bulletins to those entering the place of worship and directing them to various activity areas. Others can serve as candle lighters at the beginning of the service, or help in receiving and presenting the offering. Specially gifted children may sing with the choir or worship group, read the Scripture lessons or lead in prayer; this opportunity to work with adult worship leaders can be valuable training for future ministry. Where the church has a more traditional form of liturgy, children may serve as acolytes, assisting those who administer Holy Communion. In congregations where the Communion bread is offered by a church family, even small children may assist in preparing it at home. After the service, children can help to ready the place of worship for its next use by picking up communion glasses or discarded bulletins.
Most importantly, adult worshipers can encourage all children to sing, stand, kneel, or respond in other appropriate ways, so that the motions and activities of worship eventually come naturally to them. When children learn to drink from the fountain of God's presence in worship, they are more likely to maintain a thirst for God into their adult years.
The late Janice E. Leonard earned the Master of Theology degree from International Seminary, Plymouth, Florida. She authored several titles including Come Out of Her, My People: A Study of the Revelation to John
and a booklet version of this article, Heritage from the Lord: The Place of Children in Worship
. She also contributed several entries in The Complete Library of Christian Worship
, and served on the faculty of the International Worship Symposium. Janice Leonard passed away in July, 1998.
1997 by Laudemont Ministries
. Used by permission.