by Will Peycke
A recent conversation reminded me of one of our values as a church that is easy to overlook or misunderstand. For years, Kossuth has believed the corporate worship gathering is for all ages—for children as well as for adults. We believe there is significant value (as well as significant biblical and historical precedent) in all ages worshiping God together.
What does that look like in practice? For starters, from the time they begin kindergarten, our children are part of the worship gathering every Sunday. Nursery and preschool classes are available for the youngest among us, but families are welcome to keep their little ones with them in the worship gathering as well.
But what does that really look like in practice? To be quite candid, 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.
Regardless of our age, genuinely engaging our hearts and minds in praising God and listening to his word can be a challenge. Adding kids to the mix only increases the level of difficulty. In her book Parenting in the Pew, Robbie Castleman writes,
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.
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, 17, 24)
As a result, it is easy for our practice of “all together worship” to lag behind our value of it.
It is easy to say the corporate worship gathering is for children as well as adults; it is much harder to plan and lead the gathering with that in mind.
It is easy to tell families it is good for them to worship together; it is much harder to support and encourage parents as they seek to do this.
It is (relatively!) easy to tell our children to sit still and be quiet; it is much harder to help them learn to worship God alongside us.
As a church, one way we seek to encourage “all together worship” is through Sermon Notes for Kids. Parents, think of this resource as a tool to help your kids participate in the worship gathering. The main Sermon Notes for Kids page features activities and questions for elementary-age children, while the “Junior” page provides a simplified version for preschoolers who are not yet able to read and write. Both options are available each week on the bulletin tables just outside the auditorium. We’ve also put together a list of parent tips you might find helpful as well.
Kay and I happen to be two of those parents who are trying to practice this “all together worship” thing as a family. We’ve been at this long enough to know tools like Sermon Notes for Kids can be helpful… but they are certainly not an automatic fix! We can’t simply hand our children an activity sheet and think we have taught them to worship. That misguided expectation either leads to frustration and conflict (which doesn’t help either the parent or the child to worship!) or giving up on worship and going back to the more attainable “sit still and be quiet.”
So parents, remember: our goal is not to get our children to sit still so we can participate in the worship gathering; our goal is to help them to learn how to worship God alongside us. It takes work, patience, and a lot of grace. Yes, “all together” worship is challenging; and no, none of us have this all figured out. But I continue to believe the rewards are worth it.
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)
I’d love to hear how “all together worship” is going for you—both what’s working and where you feel stuck or frustrated. How can we as a church continue to pursue this value of all ages worshiping together?