Children in the Worship Services
Written by Frederika Pronk
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Reformed Practice - The Family

From time to time the question arises, how old children should be when they are taken into the worship services. Sometimes it is said, “they don’t understand, so why take them, especially when they frustrate the parents and may keep others from concentrating?” It is very important that children take part in the worship services as early as they are able. Why? Because they belong to God’s covenant and He wants them to be present when He speaks to His people.

Children Belong in the Worship Service

In a worship service God addresses His people and they in turn respond to Him by listening to Him as He speaks to them in the preached Word, singing to His praise, praying to Him along with the minister or elder, giving their gifts and receiving the benediction (blessing) of the Lord pronounced by the minister. Worship is the gathering of the “children of Israel,” whether in the Old or the New Testa- ment church. None are excluded when God speaks to them about His covenant promises and their obligations through His servants, as Moses (e.g. Deut 29:10-15), Samuel, Joshua, David Solomon, and especially Ezra and Nehemiah did in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Paul’s epistles were originally distributed to the churches as sermons, and the apostle does not hesitate to address the children during the course of these ser- mons. The family is the basic covenantal unit and as much as possible, families should worship together. A biblical case can be made that even nursing babies should be present at worship, but in our culture children are given much more freedom. However, they should be trained to attend church and no longer be in the nursery at age 2 or 3, except in special cases. They should be taught early in life to worship with their families.

Children Do Not Understand:

Do we expect a three or four year-old to understand the worship service or the sermon at the same level as their parents? Of course not! But never underestimate what children are capable of learning. At the very least, young children are beginning to learn the importance of worshipping the Lord with reverence and awe. Gradually, they will learn, especially when they can sing along with the congregation. How important, therefore, that the songs of the church are taught to our children. Their very presence with the people of God will teach them that they belong, that the Lord has an interest in them and their salvation.

Prepare Children for Worship

Get to bed on time on Saturday evening. Why is it that so many parents allow their teenage children to stay out on Saturday evening until midnight or beyond? And then they wonder why these kids drag themselves into the pew on Sunday morning and drift off to the “Iand of Nod.” On Saturday evening before retiring for the night, be sure ev- erything is ready that you need in the morn- ing to get dressed properly, to eat, and to go to church without rushing. Have a plan and set a pattern for Sundays so your children look forward to this as a special, joyful day to hear what the Lord will say to us in His house, where we meet our Christian friends, and at home enjoy special family time that is centred on God and His Word.

Arrive for Worship With Time To Spare

Most parents would never think of showing up late for a formal White House dinner. Why would we do anything less when entering into the very presence of God in worship? Spend the extra time before the service in prayer. And one more thing: avoid unnecessary chitchat in the sanctuary.

Train the Children To Behave in Church

Talk to your children about what is happening during the worship service. Like everything else they must learn, children also need to be taught the importance of the worship services, to be reverent and to behave. Did you know there are books about training children how to sit still and behave in church? Maybe that is going a bit too far, but most children do need training about being in church and how they too, young as they are, may benefit from the worship services. Explain the parts of the service but especially that we come into the presence of the Lord. (Some parents I know succeeded so well that they thought the minister was God! But you get the point.) Worship is unlike any other meeting.

 Some of the most skilled parents are those who stay close enough to their children to rein in any inappropriate behaviour. Fathers can take very small children on their laps to keep them nearby and to give them a gentle squeeze when the squirming sets in. Still others may gently squeeze a leg or an arm. Some parents are especially adept at giving children “the look,” which is often more than sufficient to quash any youthful rebellion in the pew. In other words, parents, be vigilant. And one more thing: encourage your children to use the washroom before the service.

Instruct Your Children To Listen To The Sermon

I’m sometimes told that children can’t comprehend a thing that’s said from the pulpit. That’s nonsense. Children can and do comprehend the sermon, even if only in small portions or at an elementary level. If children are old enough to write, have them bring a notebook to church. During the sermon they can write down key words used in the message, and when they are older they can begin to jot down concepts. Taking notes, at what- ever level, keeps the mind from straying from the message,

Discuss Worship With Your Children

Parents should discuss the sermon or the worship service with their children. Obviously, “discussing” shouldn’t be equated with serving “roast pastor” for Sunday dinner.  Discussing means that parents will ask key questions to determine if the children actually listened and understood what was said from the pulpit. If this is practiced consistently, it will pay great dividends for your children, as well as for you, your pastor and church.

Some General Advice

The older church members should be quick to encourage the parents and children, and also the teens in church, rather than criticize them. You know how hard it was at times to get all the family members to church. Let them feel you appreciate them and compliment and encourage them, especially when you see they pay attention in church. And if you find you do get annoyed when some very frisky children sit in front of you, next time sit where you will not be annoyed. Some parents and children do have a hard time training very active children. Do not be critical but encourage.

However, when children are disruptive, parents should take them out and discipline them right away lest children think they can get away with misbehaviour in church. What is also helpful is to have a “cry room” or “quiet room” off the sanctuary where a parent can sit with children to listen in to the worship service, meanwhile training them. Toddler nurseries can also be a place where a Bible story is read and a simple activity is made available rather than a noisy, boisterous time. As the apostle Paul said, ”Let everything be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40) and remember that not only parents but the whole church ought to cherish children as “ a heritage of the Lord” (Ps. 128:6).

Mrs. Frederika Pronk is the wife of Rev. C. Pronk, and a mother and grandmother. She has a Master’s degree in church education.  This article was printed in the FRC Messenger and republished here with permission.