One of the great neglects of the past few decades in the Evangelical tradition has been how we think about and minister to children and teenagers. Because Evangelicals believe in the necessity of regeneration for one’s salvation and thus for full membership in the local church, many current Evangelicals will take a view of the children of believer’s that, although consistent, is nonetheless unhelpful and unhealthy. Regardless of when you believe the baptism of a Christian child should take place, it should not cause Evangelicals to put discipleship and the formation of children into an either/or category of either too young for evangelism and formation or candidates for evangelism.
This attitude is unfortunate and goes against the long history of Evangelicals to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. It should only propel us to see the place of the children of believer’s in an even higher regard and cause local churches to take ministry to them very seriously. How we consider our children leads to how we minister to them, therefore we should consider our children blessed members of the covenant community, who have been given the privilege of God to come under the care of God’s covenant and covenant people that they may hear the gospel from their parents and from the church each week as they grow in their understanding of the gospel of Christ. This by no means replaces the work of the Holy Spirit to convert and regenerate, but is a tool by which the Spirit does His work. The children of believers are in the unique position of being under the loving care of their parents and the church. There are great privileges and high expectations given to them from God, so we must be pressed to take their need for nurture and admonition very seriously and with great hope in our God.
In order for Christian families to progress in training and teaching their children to love and worship God, we need to ask ourselves an important question: What is the purpose of your children being in the worship services? The answer is rather simple: the same purpose for you. All who come into the corporate worship of God are there to worship God and receive his grace, from the youngest to the oldest. All of us are broken people in need of healing, change and formation, which is one of the benefits and gifts of corporate worship. Here, God meets with his people to bring grace, healing, change and formation and children aren’t excluded from receiving these from God in corporate worship. It is to our benefit to believe that our children can actually receive and profit from corporate worship beyond learning to be still and quiet. On a personal level, this is what motivated my family to begin including our children in worship and what sustains us on the hard days. As a pastor and parent, I must remember this and keep it before myself and our congregation. Like all things, if we forget the most important truths, we often become despondent and irritable if our only goal for our children is to be still and quiet. If the only goal I have for my child while they are in public is stillness and quiet, then I am likely training my children in obedience and respect out of a desire to not to embarrass me by them disturbing others. However, if my desires are for my children to receive from the Spirit and be formed by God Word in worship, then it would follow that I will have the same desire for others and thus work hard to keep my children from being a distraction to others. In other words, if I desire for my children to worship God, then I should want the same for all those gathered for worship.
Our hearts need to be prepared to meet with God and reflect upon the gift of God’s grace to us within our corporate worship. Keep this near your heart and ask for God’s grace to be given to your children when you enter into worship, no matter their age or yours. I pray that as you train your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, they will always believe the gospel of Christ and will love Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.
One last thing: I want to acknowledge that I am by no means condemning those churches and families that make use of a nursery for younger children. Convictions among God’s people differ on this particular issue and even differ within those that have the same convictions about the practicalities. Whatever your church and family situation or belief, I hope this will be helpful for those whose younger children who participate in the worship service.
Here is a list of 22 ways you can help encourage your toddler age children to participate in and receive more from corporate worship.
- Encourage your kids to squeeze hand or something similar when the name of God, Christ or the Holy Spirit is mentioned.
- If you know the sermon text before, encourage them to listen for certain things and to then squeeze your hand or something similar when they hear that mentioned.
- Draw a picture of what is being talked about
- Encourage them to say a short prayer when there is a time of silence.
- If possible or profitable, encourage them to hold a bulletin during readings and singing.
- Be near them when there are corporate readings so they can hear you read.
- Have them say “AMEN” after each prayer and Scripture reading.
- Let them hold a Bible for Scripture readings to know that the Word of God is being read.
- Whisper to them that you are transitioning to a different part of the service.
- Encourage them to raise their hands during the doxology.
- Encourage them to hold their hands open during the benediction.
- In a time of corporate prayer, where appropriate, tell them to say the name of a family member, church member, or friend as a prayer.
- Let them put the tithe check in the offering plate.
- Give them some change to put in each week during the offering.
- Only let them bring 1, no more than 2 items to church. More items allows for more distractions.
- Limit snacks and drinks during corporate worship
- Make bathroom visits before the service
- Sit closer to the front. Sitting further back can cause distractions to the children
- Limit Saturday activities and go to bed early to be rested for worship
- Remind the kids on Saturday night and Sunday morning they will be worshipping.
- Pray for the worship service every Saturday night or Sunday morning
- Read a Psalm about worship Saturday night or Sunday morning