Worship BC and AD
I’ve heard this question several times over the past year: “Why doesn’t Kossuth provide a children’s church program for elementary-aged kids during the worship service?”
My typical answer: “That’s a great question. How much time do you have?”
Since long before my time here, Kossuth has believed that corporate worship is for children as well as adults. Instead of trying to create a parallel experience for children, our church encourages families to worship together. Nursery and preschool classes are available for little ones, but families are welcome to keep their youngest members with them in the worship service as well. There is significant value (not to mention biblical and historical precedent) for all ages worshiping God together.
That said, worshiping together as a family is hard: it’s a long time for young kids to sit in one place, and there are big words that are hard to understand. We live in a culture of 30-second commercials, not 40-minute sermons. We are used to being entertained, and worship is not entertainment. Our life tends to be all about us, but worship is all about God.
For all of us, genuinely engaging our hearts and minds in praising God is a challenge—and adding kids to the mix only increases the level of difficulty. Author Robbie Castleman sums up the challenges this way: “There is a big difference between worship BC and worship AD—worship ‘before children’ and worship ‘after diapers.’ I have heard more than a few parents confess, ‘I used to get more out of church before I had kids’” (Castleman, Parenting in the Pew, 24).
As a result, our practice in this area often lags behind our convictions. The church settles for telling families to worship together instead of training them in how to do so. Parents and grandparents settle for telling kids to “sit still and be quiet” instead of training them to worship with us.
But the hard things are usually the good things, and the easy way out is never the way forward. To borrow again from Castleman:
Worship can be one of the times when we parents would like to pay attention to something other than our children. Kids can be distracting, aggravating and embarrassing in church. Parenthood can make sitting in a pew a lot of work. Paying attention to our children can make us less attentive to the service. . . . It’s hard to pay attention to God and children at the same time.
Training children to pay attention to God, however, is one rare way to have your cake and eat it too. Parenting in the pew can help children and parents pay attention to what is really important. (Castleman, 17-18)
Worship Training Tools
Consider the original question again: “Why doesn’t Kossuth provide a children’s church program for elementary-aged kids during the worship service?”
Another way to answer that question would be, “We do. It’s just not what you think.”
You may have noticed the “Sermon Notes for Kids” sheets that started popping up a few months ago. We now have two versions: the main “Sermon Notes for Kids” bulletin features activities and questions for elementary age kids, while “Sermon Notes for Kids Junior” provides activities for preschoolers who are not yet proficient at reading and writing. Our desire is to see SNFK become our “children’s church program”—right in the middle of “big church”!
To say I’m excited about the potential of these tools would be an understatement. Kay and I happen to be two of those parents who are trying to figure out this “all together worship” thing ourselves, and the SNFK sheets have already been a great help to us and our kids. However, it would be a mistake to simply hand our children an activity sheet and think we had done our duty. Remember, the goal is not to entertain but to train. As a parent, my goal is not to get my child to sit still so that I can participate in the service; rather, my goal is to help them to participate in the service alongside me. It takes work, but the end result is worth it!
Parents, if you have tried using “Sermon Notes for Kids” with your family, share a story below—good, bad, or ugly! I’d love to hear how it’s going, what’s working, and what isn’t. We’ve also put together a few parent tips for using SNFK, mostly based on our own experiences as a family.
“All together” worship is challenging, but the rewards are worth it. I’ll leave you with these words of encouragement from Robbie Castleman:
Parenting in the pew can be a hot battle or a holy triumph of grace. It can consist of whispered commands: “Be quiet,” “Shhhhh,” “Sit still,” or it can contain the most intimate moments of life with God’s family together in his presence. Sunday morning with children in the pew can be the longest hour of the week, or it can provide the very best preparation for eternal joy.
Teaching your children to worship—parenting in the pew—is entering the house of your heavenly Father and saying, “Daddy, I’d like you to meet my children.” Worship is seeing your Father’s smile. (Castleman, 23)