On the Family Pew: Children in Corporate Worship

Almost all Chris­t­ian par­ents put great value on the devel­op­ment of our chil­dren. We make per­sonal sac­ri­fices and put in many hours of hard work in order to pro­vide what we believe is best for them. Our desire is for our chil­dren to be edu­cated so that they might suc­ceed and do well in life as ser­vants of God and neigh­bor. Like­wise, when it comes to the spir­i­tual devel­op­ment and nur­ture of our chil­dren, we seek that which is best for them. We want them to know God: who he is and what he has done in his­tory. We want them to under­stand why he cre­ated the uni­verse and why we exist in it. We want them to know God’s Word and hide it in their hearts. We want them to under­stand the mean­ing and sig­nif­i­cance of their covenant bap­tism. And above all, we want them to know and love the sweet­ness of the gospel.

But how do we ensure that such an edu­ca­tional goal will be met? If you were to make a list of the most impor­tant things for the spir­i­tual devel­op­ment and nur­ture of your chil­dren, what would be num­ber one? What would be num­ber two? Many of us might think imme­di­ately of things such as Sun­day school pro­grams, youth groups, Chris­t­ian schools, or home school cur­ricu­lum writ­ten by Chris­tians. While a case can be made that such things can be ben­e­fi­cial in the life of a covenant child, Scrip­ture gives us a dif­fer­ent answer about what is most impor­tant, one that is sim­ple and not com­pli­cated. In fact, it is down­right ordi­nary and unglam­orous. To ensure the spir­i­tual devel­op­ment and nur­ture of our chil­dren, the Bible gives us two non-negotiable essen­tials: the pub­lic means of grace at the local church (i.e. Word and Sacra­ment) and dis­ci­ple­ship in the home.

This post will be on the first of those two, the pub­lic means of grace.

THE PUBLIC MEANS OF GRACE

The cor­po­rate wor­ship ser­vice may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think about the most impor­tant key to the spir­i­tual health of our chil­dren. After all, it may seem to be a strug­gle to keep them atten­tive (or even awake!) in the wor­ship ser­vice and even harder to help them see the joy and neces­sity of wor­ship. But, like every­thing in our the­ol­ogy, we must begin with God’s rev­e­la­tion, not our own rea­son­ing. The Scrip­tures show us that God has called us to the wor­ship ser­vice because he has claimed us as his own and made us his own pecu­liar, wor­ship­ing soci­ety. This was done by virtue of the covenant he made with us, first through Abra­ham and later ful­filled in Christ.

God once assem­bled his peo­ple to Mount Sinai (Ex 19–20), but now he has assem­bled them to “Mount Zion and to the city of the liv­ing God, the heav­enly Jerusalem” (Heb 12.18–24). Thus, we are called to “offer to God accept­able wor­ship, with rev­er­ence and awe” (Heb 12.28). The church is a peo­ple called out of the world to wor­ship their covenant-making and keep­ing God. The very word for church, ekkle­sia in the Greek, essen­tially means “called out” and describes the relo­ca­tion involved in our salvation.

In pub­lic wor­ship, our chil­dren are brought with us as we are sum­moned by God to receive his good gifts and bring him praise and honor. He calls us together in order to speak to us and feed us in Word and sacra­ment. We respond to him in prayer, song and giv­ing. Over time, our chil­dren begin to see what is dif­fer­ent about them: they are part of a covenant com­mu­nity upon whom God has laid claim. They are part of a wor­ship­ing peo­ple who are in the world, but not of the world. And nowhere is their other-worldliness more notice­able than the cor­po­rate wor­ship service.

The spir­i­tual effects of grow­ing up as a mem­ber of this wor­ship­ing covenant com­mu­nity are incal­cu­la­ble. From their ear­li­est years, our chil­dren are brought with us into the holy pres­ence of God with his assem­bled peo­ple. They see their par­ents hum­bling them­selves in sub­mis­sion and ser­vice to the Lord. They learn to sing the Psalms and hymns of saints who have gone before us. They learn to con­fess their sins to God and rest in his par­don. They hear a mes­sage that can­not they can­not receive any­where else in the world. They rec­og­nize that this weekly event is unlike any­thing else they expe­ri­ence in the cul­ture in which they live.

But above all, they come under God’s ordained means of spir­i­tual nour­ish­ment and the way in which faith is birthed and sus­tained. Our fore­fa­thers under­stood the Bible’s clar­ity on this. Hei­del­berg Cat­e­chism ques­tion 65 asks: “Since then we are made par­tak­ers of Christ and all his ben­e­fits by faith only, from where comes this faith?” A: “The Holy Spirit works it in our hearts by the preach­ing of the gospel, and con­firms it by the use of the holy sacra­ments.” Paul calls the gospel “the power of God for sal­va­tion to every­one who believes” (Rom 1.16). It is only through the gospel that a per­son can come to faith, for “faith comes by hear­ing, and hear­ing by the word of Christ” (Rom 10.17).

But the Holy Spirit not only brings a sin­ner to con­ver­sion and jus­ti­fi­ca­tion through the preached gospel, he also does his life-long work of sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion through the preached Word in con­nec­tion with the wor­ship ser­vice. This is what we see through­out redemp­tive his­tory. In the old covenant, God revealed his will to his peo­ple through the Law and the Mes­sianic gospel-promise by priests and prophets who explained God’s Word. This was done pri­mar­ily in the cor­po­rate wor­ship ser­vice related to the Taber­na­cle (and later the Tem­ple) and the synagogue.

With the com­ing of Christ and the new covenant, God con­tin­ues to sanc­tify his peo­ple through the preached Word. Just before he went to the cross, Jesus prayed in his high-priestly prayer, “Sanc­tify them by the truth; your word is truth” (Jn 17.17). It is for this rea­son that Christ gave to his church the offices of the Word: apos­tles, prophets and evan­ge­lists (which were tem­po­rary and extra­or­di­nary offices), and pastor-teachers (ordi­nary offices). Why did he give them? Paul tells us in Eph­esians 4:

to equip the saints, for the work of min­istry, for build­ing up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowl­edge of the Son of God, to mature man­hood, to the mea­sure of the stature of the full­ness of Christ, so that we may no longer be chil­dren, tossed to and fro by the waves and car­ried about by every wind of doc­trine, by human cun­ning, by crafti­ness in deceit­ful schemes. Rather, speak­ing the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Eph 4:12–15)

This growth from spir­i­tual infancy to matu­rity takes place pri­mar­ily by means of the weekly cor­po­rate wor­ship ser­vice, that place where God’s covenant peo­ple gather together to con­tinue stead­fastly in “the apos­tles’ teach­ing and fellowship…the break­ing of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2.42). It is essen­tially God’s ordained life­line for the church, which includes our chil­dren. It is the pri­mary means of their spir­i­tual growth.

This is not to say, how­ever, that brin­ing our chil­dren to wor­ship will be free from all obsta­cles and dis­trac­tions. Like every­thing in the nur­ture and devel­op­ment of our chil­dren, it requires a lot of work and effort. At times, we will be tired, maybe even frustrated. As par­ents, we prob­a­bly feel the weight of the chal­lenges of covenan­tal wor­ship. In the next post, I will address some of the most com­mon con­cerns that I, as a pas­tor, have heard from par­ents in regard to the cor­po­rate wor­ship ser­vice. I hope to encour­age all of at Christ URC to suf­fer the lit­tle chil­dren to come to Jesus.

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7 thoughts on “On the Family Pew: Children in Corporate Worship

  1. I find the same mid­set within our area of the coun­try. It is diifi­cult to find a blaance between reach­ing chil­dren at their level and emmesh­ing them within the life of the larger Soul­bridge body. We have devel­oped a 3 week rota­tion for children’s church, so that the chil­dren have an oppor­tu­nity to be with their peers, but also be with the entire body in the ser­vice. In addi­tion, we do not start children’s church until after wor­ship time ends, so that they receive expo­sure to the wor­ship, singing and pray­ing.
    I beleive it is our respon­si­bil­ity as church lead­ers to “train” young par­ents in the value of hav­ing their chil­dren par­tic­i­pate in the larger ser­vice; it will require a patience on the part of leaders.

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  3. Before I com­ment, let me first say that I have always believed that it is only right for chil­dren to be present with their par­ents in wor­ship. That said, I have not noted a solid, well con­structed argu­ment, by nec­es­sary con­se­quence, in the absence of a spe­cific com­mand — which I believe does not exist in Scrip­ture (the spe­cific com­mand). So the weight falls to to pro­po­nent of chil­dren in wor­ship to con­vinc­ingly demon­strate Scrip­tural pre­scrip­tion over against what many have deemed a mat­ter of indif­fer­ence — - at least up to a cer­tain age; and that age usu­ally appears to be that time when the means of grace are appre­hendible and cog­ni­tively mean­ing­ful. To speak in gen­er­al­i­ties, merely point­ing to few debat­able instances in Scrip­tures does not carry that weight of good and nec­es­sary con­se­quence. In other words, merely cit­ing the fact that God assem­bles his peo­ple before Moses can be argued that a great major­ity could not hear, let alone see Moses — - espe­cially the chil­dren; and that we assume chil­dren are of pri­mary ref­er­ence together with the par­ents, rather than inci­den­tal and quite sec­ondary to the mat­ter. While I believe mod­el­ing is per­haps more instruc­tive and sanc­ti­fy­ing to young chil­dren than we give credit for, again the ques­tion of age becomes a valid con­cern. It just seems to me that good argu­ments must be detailed in terms of the weight of the notion of cor­po­rate ele­ments and corporate-covenant neces­sity so that par­ents are not only con­vinced (not will­ingly sub­mis­sive, though vaguely under­stood) but under­stand in an artic­u­la­ble man­ner, and can then explain and teach their chil­dren as to this impor­tant prin­ci­ple. This will become espe­cially impor­tant as the mother (or father) with four young chil­dren dis­tract her to the point that no one is able to pay atten­tion for long at any point in the pub­lic wor­ship — - which I have seen as typ­i­cally occur­ing, even caus­ing a par­ent to leave the ser­vice 3–4 times in a 30 min­utes period. I know this leads into part 2, but it is rel­e­vant here for that rea­son (that more than gen­eral argu­ments are nec­es­sary for an artic­u­la­ble, par­tic­u­lar pre­scrip­tion for inclu­sion at an early age). Given that, I’m not sure we can accom­plish such an exeget­i­cal feat in a blog; but some might :) — - just not me :) But I com­mend your zeal and your bib­li­cal exhor­ta­tion, and I hope it is effec­tive and instruc­tive to God’s peo­ple and the church. Hav­ing raised chil­dren included in pub­lic wor­ship of God, I can attest to the awe­some ben­e­fit and joy in doing so.

  4. Thank you Pas­tor for the reminder and encour­ag­ment that we’re not just spin­ning our wheels but rais­ing our chil­dren in the God-ordained habits of hear­ing and respond­ing in the pub­lic assem­bly as covenant chil­dren, recip­i­ents of God’s promises and royal ben­e­fits. It is frus­trat­ing at times, but it does not com­pare to the ines­timable riches of train­ing chil­dren to call upon the name of the Lord. Thanks!!

  5. Well said, Mike. I just briefly taught on the impor­tance of hav­ing our chil­dren in the wor­ship ser­vice this past Lord’s Day dur­ing Sun­day School.

    Recently, while Emmanuel URC here in Han­ford has been exhibit­ing a booth at a local farm­ers mar­ket, I’ve spo­ken with sev­eral fam­i­lies look­ing for a church. Sadly, one of the first (and often most impor­tant) things that evan­gel­i­cal church con­sumers are shop­ping for in a church is child care or children’s church dur­ing the divine wor­ship ser­vice. It is quite a for­eign con­cept to par­ents nowa­days to keep their chil­dren with them dur­ing the wor­ship service.

    There seems to be at least a few things going on: 1.) A lack of under­stand­ing of (and lack of Pas­tors teach­ing on) the mean­ing and impor­tance of the means of grace and of cor­po­rate, covenan­tal wor­ship; 2.) The cul­ture of self­ish­ness in our day has sub­dued much of the church in Amer­ica. The “Me Gen­er­a­tion” is con­sumed with their own desire for non-distraction dur­ing their own pri­vate expe­ri­ence of wor­ship… to the detri­ment of their own chil­dren; 3.) Churches too eas­ily give in to the pres­sure to pro­vide alter­na­tives for par­ents to send their kids off to dur­ing the cor­po­rate wor­ship ser­vice, thereby per­pet­u­at­ing the problem.

    I look for­ward to read­ing your next post on this subject.

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