I have pretty fond memories of the first time I took my son Nate to a Nashville Predators game (despite the fact that we lost that night). I had been a season ticket holder for several years, and always loved seeing families enjoying the games together. I couldn’t wait to be able to share something I loved so much with someone I loved so much, and so when he was about six months old, I bundled him up and brought him along. It was the first of many hockey games we’ve enjoyed together, and our joy has increased every time, most recently at a game we attended as we passed through Nashville on our long road trip moving here.
In those early years of his life, he had no idea what was going on. He didn’t understand the rules. He couldn’t really follow the action. Sometimes he got grouchy and needed to go for a walk around the arena. But he loved the festivity of being at the game. He loved seeing how excited I got about cheering on my Preds, and even as a toddler he began to join in with all the singing and shouting whenever the good guys got a goal.
Over time, he began to ask questions about the game. We spent time at home watching hockey games together, learning the rules and the players’ names so that he could begin to follow along on his own. Before I knew it, he’d become a fan in his own right!
Helping our kids learn to love and appreciate the corporate gathering of the church works in much the same way. Long before they are capable of understanding what is happening in our services, they are absorbing our values to a greater extent than we likely realize. They are being formed by our patterns and learning to love what we love. And most importantly, they are being saturated in the Word.
How can we as a church best disciple children (both our own and others in our Faith family) during our time together each Lord’s Day?
At Faith Bible Church, we highly value the inclusion of children in our gathered worship services. However, many families may feel as if their children are a burden or a distraction to other worshipers. And it’s no wonder, as children often are thought of as a burden in most areas of society, and have been for as long as adults have been the ones calling the shots. But Jesus showed us a better way when he said, “Let the children come to me.” And so, as a church family, may we warmly greet the children (and parents!) around us with smiles as they come to worship with us.
Kids learn primarily through imitation. And they are always watching! One of the most important ways we disciple our children is by showing them what it means to be a worshiper of Jesus Christ. This is a continuing call to put into practice what we’ve learned in our recent series on worship. Be actively engaged yourself, and set an example for the children in your life.
Note that this is something that can’t be faked. John Piper writes, “The greatest stumbling block for children in worship is parents who don’t cherish doing that worship. They don’t love it. Children can feel the difference between duty and delight. They know if dad loves being here.” If yours is a Sunday-only kind of faith, you may be able to fool many people, but you can’t fool your kids.
I can’t stress enough the importance and the value of this kind of modeling, particularly in a culture and era in which families often don’t spent much time together. But think of the cumulative effect of worshiping together as a family for 780 Sundays in a row between the ages of 4 and 18! That is a lot of influence, and you’d better believe it’s going to make a big difference.
While it’s true that there are some elements of our services—primarily the preaching of the Word—which will be more difficult for young children to understand, much of what we do is accessible to them from a very early age. Kids love to sing! Encourage them to sing along with the congregation on Sunday mornings. Teach them the songs we sing by listening to them at home. Help them follow along with the Scripture readings. When we have times of gathered prayer, include your children, asking them to pray with the rest of the church. The more involved they are now, the more they will learn to love and engage with the worship service as their understanding grows over time.
Even when they don’t understand everything that is happening during the service, there is still an incredible opportunity for learning and growing. You’d be surprised how much they remember, and how many questions they will have. Don’t miss the opportunity to draw these questions out and teach them! Ask them what they learned from the pastor’s message. Ask them if there was anything they heard at church that they didn’t understand. Ask them what they’d like to know more about.
Lately my 8 and 9-year-olds have had a lot of questions about confession, because in recent weeks they’ve heard Pastor Dan and I speak quite a bit about the role confession plays in both our corporate and private worship. Some of their questions are hard (and I went to seminary!) but I have so enjoyed walking through that with them, and am excited about the fruit that I know those conversations will bear.
Life is hard. It’s going to get harder. Your kids will disappoint you, and you’ll disappoint them. Sometimes they won’t talk to you about what they’re thinking; keep asking. Sometimes they won’t want to come to church. Sometimes you won’t want to come to church.
Don’t be surprised by these trials. Don’t be dismayed when you fail, or when your kids fail. And don’t give up! None of us are in this alone, and there is no better place for adults or for children to receive support and encouragement than in the gathering of the local church. Together, we are raising up a new generation of worshipers to the glory of God!