Let the children worship
A growing trend in churches around the world is to have separate age specific classes and activities on a Sunday morning when the entire covenant community gathers to worship. Yet this is in stark contrast to how the church has worshipped for most of its history. Common reasons given for dividing the community on a Sunday morning are simply space, children worshipping better with child friendly songs and to give priority to the adults by keeping the main service more reverent and focused. The result is that there is less and less time when the whole community is together. Families arrive at the church gate, Mum and Dad go one way and the children the opposite way never to meet again until coffee time! The opportunity for the family to worship together has been lost. Is this helpful? Is this biblical? Are we hurting our covenant children?
The Bible clearly shows children, and even very young children, being included in corporate worship, from the very origins of the covenant community. A child asks an important question in the Passover celebration, giving opportunity to the father to explain the meaning and teach his children. (Exodus 12) Children are present at the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths (Deut 16). Children were participating, observing, learning, growing as they were included in these important times. In Joel chapter 2 the prophet is warning the people about the coming Day of the Lord and the judgement that will fall on the land. “Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming.” (v1) But there is hope and Joel calls the covenant people to repentance. “Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly.” V15 Who was Joel intending to be part of this ‘sacred community’? “Gather the people, consecrate the assembly, bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast.” V 16 The entire community from the eldest elder to the youngest child being fed at the breast were to come together as God’s covenant people before their covenant-keeping God! This doesn’t end in the Old Testament as we know that children were present as people gathered in Ephesus as Paul addressed them in his letter.
Our Sunday gathering, our corporate worship, is the most important gathering for believing families. Our attitude to children during this time often goes against what we have seen demonstrated in scripture but also makes a statement about our children’s status in the covenant community: whether they are included or excluded. We seem to have a contradiction: we baptise out children into the covenant and then remove them from the covenant worship.
Our attitude to children during our corporate worship also means we lose vital teaching opportunities. Children miss out on observing the sacraments, the signs of our covenant. Whether or not they participate in the Lord’s Table is not the question here but in observing it they can ask questions and parents can use these opportunities to teach their children. In observing Baptism, they are reminded of their own, and the promises of God to them.
Worship is not age specific. It is not over the heads of those of a certain age. We learn by experiencing and observing. As our children are amongst us Sunday by Sunday, they become familiar with how to worship. As they observe their parents participating, they learn and grow. They are developing disciplines that are foundational to their Christian faith.
Maybe we need to think again about why we remove children from the main service on a Sunday. Maybe we need to shift our thinking, from how the community benefits from being separated, if they do at all, to how they could benefit from remaining together. Maybe we need to make changes.
“As I gaze around the room during this opening song my eyes inevitably land on a child. Few things encourage my soul more than seeing children sing with all their little strength to God. They possess no inhibitions: they were told to sing and so they sing with a full voice. In those moments, I am reminded of God’s faithfulness and care. The gates of hell shall not prevail against the church. He will keep His own, and the covenant community of God continues on. A new generation of worshippers confirms this truth. I need that reminder – it does the soul good.” Jason Helopoulos