Children in Worship

by John Yoder on January 28, 2015

It is expected these days for churches to offer some activity for children during the worship service.  I came across one church that dismissed K-3rd graders (ages 4-9) for “children’s church” after the time of worship (i.e. singing).  Another church offered a program for K-5th grade (ages 4-11) children during the entire worship service.  But, at HRBC, we expect our children to attend the worship service of the church with the adults, for two primary reasons:

(1) First, it is the implication of biblical church ministry.  We believe that the local church is the primary vehicle through which God works to accomplish His purposes of salvation.  He has given it both the message and the method for its task.  The message which it proclaims is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The method which it employs focuses on the ordinary means of grace – the Word, the sacraments and prayer – which are found in public worship.  Therefore, adults and children should be in the worship of the church for the good of their souls.

(2) Second, it is the constant example of Scripture.  The Word of God shows that young children are to be present when His people gather for worship.  Moses gave instructions that the law should be read in front of all Israel, including children (Dt. 31:12-13); during the time of Nehemiah, men, women and “all who could listen with understanding” assembled to hear Ezra read the law (Ez. 10:1; Neh. 8:1-3); and the letters of Paul, which were to be read publicly in the church, assumed the presence of children (Eph. 6:1-4; Col. 3:20).

Parents, then, have the duty to bring their children to the worship service at a very young age.  It is the responsibility of fathers (with the help of mothers) to bring up their children “in the discipline [training] and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).  This begins by attending the worship of the church where both parents and children hear the preaching of the Word of God.  Furthermore, by bringing them into the service, children see the faith of their parents acted out in worship.  So through worship parents point their children to Christ.

This requires parents to prepare their children for worship.  Jeremy Walker (a Reformed Baptist pastor at Maidenbower Baptist Church south of London) wrote a very helpful article published in the Banner of Truth magazine, “Attendance of Children in Public Worship Services”.  In it he gives eleven very practical guidelines to help parents prepare their children for worship.  The first suggestion is to conduct family worship.  This activity not only provides children with spiritual instruction, it helps to train their behavior before coming to church.

I would also draw your attention to #6: Train your sons and daughters to be good listeners, sitting with good posture and focusing their eyes on the one leading the service or preaching. When the Scriptures are read, have them turn to the text and follow in their own or your Bible. Likewise, help them turn to each hymn and follow from the hymnbook, helping them as required. With older children, consider means (such as taking notes) of helping them to concentrate.  These are just a few ways to help your child in worship.

At the same time, we do provide a nursery for the youngest of children.  Notice that the texts which show children in worship, also indicate that this was not a mere formality, but “an intelligent presence” (Walker, p. 1).  The children participated with those who were to listening, understanding and responding to the Word of God (Neh. 8:1-3).  Obviously, this does not describe the youngest of children, so while we believe that children will benefit from being in worship, we do provide childcare for children up to age three.

This does not mean that we require children to remain in the nursery through that age, but we do encourage parents to make use of the nursery for a few reasons: (1) first, it is easier for parents to concentrate in worship without having to take care of children too little to understand; (2) second, it is a distraction for the congregation when worship is interrupted by children too young to sit quietly and pay attention; and (3) third, it is a way that the church can serve parents and help promote the worship of God in the church.

Finally, I want to say something to those who might be thinking of visiting the church with young children.  Try not to feel intimidated.  Yes, in the beginning, it may be a challenge to have your children in the worship service, particularly because everything is new.  But we understand, because we have had to work through the same issues with our own children.  Keep in mind, we are not here to judge you, but to do what we can to assist you and your children.  It is our desire that your family would grow together as you join us in worship.

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