In my previous post, I laid out three benefits that children gain when they join corporate worship: it connects them to the past, the church, and the family.
Now, you may wonder, “Yes, I understand that children benefit by attending corporate worship, but I want to be able to focus on my worship without having to worry about my kids!” Bringing your children to corporate worship may seem to be more of a loss than a gain. Parents have to make sure their kids are keeping quiet and not bothering anyone else around them. Having children beside you appear to be taking away your own worship experience.
What I intend to point out is that including children in corporate worship is immensely beneficial not only for the children, but also for the parents and for the church. In fact, unlike the common belief, this practice enhances the worship experience of the whole congregation.
First, including children in corporate worship allows adults to properly recognize that children belong to God’s covenant community.
What I often found to be the norm in churches with a separate children’s worship service is the idea that the focus of God’s covenant community primarily lies in the adults. The understanding is that children will grow into being the essential part of God’s covenant community once they become an adult. For now, the church should be concerned first and foremost about the urgent needs of the adults. This may sound a little extreme, but when we segregate children from our church life and worship, there is a tendency to think of them as less important members.
For example, this is evident in the language we use to refer to the adult’s worship and the children’s worship in Korean churches. Interestingly, the adult’s worship is called “Sunday Worship” or even “Main Worship” as opposed to the children’s worship being called “Sunday School.” The place where adults worship is the “main sanctuary,” whereas where the children worship is simply the “education room.” Adults are called “congregants” compared to children who are called “students.” I’ve also met many pastors, when asked about the number of congregants in their church, would give their answer without including the number of children. Their answers would be something like, “We have about 100 congregants total. Oh, and we have some children too.” Though we may not think this as too serious, the underlying notion is that church is run by the adults and thus they make up the central part of what church is. This example from Korean churches demonstrates how a separate children’s worship service can lead to changes in our thoughts and languages.
Thus, it is important for the church and the whole congregation to recognize that children have an equally important place in God’s covenant community as any adult. Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 74 states, “Infants as well as adults belong to God’s covenant and congregation. Through Christ’s blood the redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit, who works faith, are promised to them no less than to adults.” When we encourage children to be in corporate worship, we are exactly affirming this statement of faith. As we hear a whimpering sound of a baby or see a child grow fidgety, we are again reminded of our belonging together in God’s covenant community.
Second, including children in corporate worship allows us to properly glorify God.
God calls His people corporately into His covenant community for His glory. Let’s take a look at several verses from the Bible.
In Gen. 1:28, God commands our first parents “to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” From the beginning of creation, God reveals His plan to be glorified by men and women whom He created in His image. The glory that God receives from His image-bearers is reflected in His blessing to the parents through the giving of children who are also born as image-bearers of their parents. In other words, God’s command in Gen. 1:28 implies that God desires to receive His glory not only through the parents but also through their children. Both adults and children are included in God’s plan from the beginning as ways in which He will be glorified.
This understanding has a significant connection to corporate worship. God’s design to be glorified through both children and adults alike is magnified in the new heavens and the new earth as all believers gather together to glorify God in unison. Rev. 7:9-10 reads, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” Imagine, countless number of believers from all generations and from every nation gathering before God, praising His glory! What a glorious vision! And corporate worship is the foretaste of that promised glory we will come to witness.
Until that time comes, God calls individuals to the church in one faith and one Spirit (Eph. 4:4-6) as His one covenant community. And it is in corporate worship that members of the covenant community gather together to sit under the preaching of the Word and participate in the Sacraments. In other words, God is present with His people in a distinct and powerful way in corporate worship through His ordained means of grace. This is a special calling and privilege for all believers, including the children. Thus, including children in worship is not about our preferences, but it is an act that understands God’s plan for His believers and anticipates the day when God will receive His utmost glory through His creation.
Third, the church fulfills its task of passing on the gospel message to the next generation.
It is always important for us to remember that the church has its roots in history. The gospel message that the preacher proclaims in corporate worship every week is based on God’s saving actions in history. What this implies is that the content of the gospel is to be passed on from generation to generation. The fact that children belong to God’s covenant community requires that the truth be handed on. Thus, the history of God’s saving actions has continuously been taught and preached to the next generation in the church.
Then, what is the best way for the church to fulfill this task of handing on the gospel message? The answer lies in corporate worship. In worship, every member of the congregation, the young and the old, gather weekly to hear the Word proclaimed, participate in the Sacraments, recite historical creeds, and sing hymns. This is what the church has done in worship throughout all ages. Children learn that the doctrines are not something invented weekly to please their taste, but that they are connected to history and the universal church. By worshiping together with the children, the church naturally fulfills its task of passing on the gospel message to the next generation.
Lastly, children also motivate adults to worship properly.
Certainly, all children must grow and mature intellectually, physically, and spiritually. In this process, adults are responsible for guiding them properly according to the teachings of the Scripture. But does this mean that children can never challenge us in our faith? We would be surprised to know how much children’s presence in corporate worship can really motivate the adults to worship properly as well.
I remember one Sunday I was having some difficulty concentrating in worship, my mind wandering with various thoughts. Then, I saw this little girl sitting with her mom. She was so attentively listening to the sermon that I immediately became conscious of how distracted I was. She was just a little girl and I was a grown-up seminary student, but it was the little girl who had challenged me to focus on worship that day.
Also, singing hymns in corporate worship together with the children really brings a different dynamic to worship. When children’s voices are mixed in with the adult’s, the corporate singing is absolutely beautiful. Adults who may have been discouraged to sing hymns are often encouraged by the joyful voices of the children. Children’s singing adds to the fullness of the sound we experience as we sing our praises every Sunday.
Although adults often tend to underestimate the seriousness and depth in the way that children think and practice their faith, what I learned serving in children’s ministry is that age is not proportionate to spiritual maturity. Just because children are younger, it does not necessarily mean that children are weaker in faith. As the Holy Spirit works in their hearts, kids are most capable of asking profound questions related to their faith and worshiping with sincerest hearts. The desire to know God is not limited either by their age or comprehensibility. And God uses the children to challenge the adults with spiritual truths.
Bringing children to corporate worship can be a challenge and will at first require discipline and patience on both the parents and the children. And every church will have a different set-up which may not allow for such an immediate change. I am not arguing that all churches must conform to one standard since how to go about including children in corporate worship can vary from church to church. What I’ve tried to show in my two posts is that a few important things (in fact, very crucial things!) are left out when we keep children out of our corporate worship. I hope the points that I’ve discussed will help some to think more deeply about the place of children in our worship. When including children in corporate worship becomes normative for your church, it will truly create a beautiful worship experience for all.