Psalm 34:3 O magnify the LORD with me; and let us exalt his name together.
When I was growing up, I learned from an early age to be in big church with my mom and siblings. My dad was a pastor and we always went to church together – as a family – in one car.
The first church my dad pastored was small, it took 35 minutes to get there, and I still don’t quite know how Mama and Daddy did it but on Sundays, they did something quite spectacular.
They had all four of their young children ready at least 30 minutes early. The four of us then had to occupy ourselves in a way so as not to get our bodies dirty nor get our Sunday clothes messy. Yes, we wore Sunday clothes – set apart clothes – different from the clothes we wore during the week. They weren’t fancy, not expensive – just set apart. Oh, and our hair was always freshly washed for Sunday.
So during our time waiting on Mama and Daddy, we children gathered in the living room. That room was set apart – it too was special. See, we never played in that room during the week. It was always clean and in order, and I remember how in the winter it was always cold. The only times I can recall being in the living room as a child was on Christmas morning, on Sunday mornings, and when someone special came to visit. Occasionally I would sneak in there and sit on the floor at the round coffee table and daydream. Sometimes I would listen to records on the stereo. I knew I could be by myself in that room because it was set apart.
But on Sunday mornings, the living room became the special gathering place for all four of us children and it was there we “played church.” I’m not sure how it started. Maybe Mama and Daddy told us to wait there - it would certainly explain how we could spend maybe 35 or 40 minutes without getting dirty.
Well, in our pretend church, my older brother was the pastor. My older sister was the pianist. My younger brother ushered and collected the offering.
And me? Well, I was the congregation – all by myself – at least in the beginning of our worship service. Eventually my sister and younger brother joined me in our “pews” after they finished their duties of piano playing, collecting, and ushering. I think I was the only one my brother ushered into our pretend sanctuary.
In our playing church, we sang hymns together. My brother read the Bible and preached in front of the fireplace. I sometimes sang solos, “What Will You Do with Jesus?” and “Have Faith in God.” And I often went forward at the close of our service.
I was raised Baptist. If you were raised Baptist, you understand this. You know about an invitation at the close of the service. You understand singing “Just as I Am.” You understand about going forward.
So I guess my siblings and I are the ones who started the trend of two services – because every Sunday morning, we attended services twice – once in our living room and once at Hebron Baptist Church.
And I’ve been thinking - the reason we did this is because we saw it modeled every week in church. We were in church every week worshiping with our parents. We went to Sunday School on Sunday morning, Training Union, and Sunbeams and prayer meeting on Wednesday nights. We learned children’s songs and Bible stories. We learned about missionaries and how they gave their lives to share the gospel with people in other lands who never heard the name of Jesus. We memorized Bible verses and Bible passages. We had sword drills.
I loved everything about church. I loved my Sunday School class being with children my age and learning about God. I loved our teachers. And I loved big church. We didn’t have a separate children’s church – children’s church was big church. And my parents did a great thing in training us.
They talked about preparing for the Lord’s Day. They gave clear expectations to us about behaving – but more importantly about expecting God to speak to us. About His noticing our presence in the congregation. About letting children come to Him. Sundays were and still are my favorite day of the week. It’s still set apart, different from the rest.
Maybe we didn’t have children’s church for other reasons, but I would like to think that the reason was because our church and my parents believed there was no substitute for us being with and seeing our parents worship God with the body of Christ in “big church.” I’d like to think it was because my mom and dad thought it was important for us, as soon as we were at least kindergarten age, to be in church together – magnifying the Lord with them.
In fact, I think young children can be trained to be in big church. I think with some teaching, some explaining, some forethought – young children can be excited about being big enough to be there! I not only think it, I know it from my own personal experience growing up in big church.
Worshipping with God’s people matters. It’s in big church where children see their parents model worship through singing great hymns of the faith with God’s people, model listening to the teaching and reading of God’s Word, model praying and giving, where they see baptisms and the Lord’s table, and other ordinances believers hold dear.
It’s the perfect place for questions about God and His ways to enter their minds. Why do those people go in the water? What is that juice? Why do you put money in that bag? Why do you open your Bible? Why are those words on the screen? Why? How come?
But here’s the challenge. Today, so many do not have a heritage of going to church, so many do not understand basic Bible doctrine, so many do not understand any thing about church. And it’s even harder today to help parents because even adults have no idea the purpose of the Lord’s Day, the whys of corporate worship, who God is – it’s a different day from the days my siblings and I “played church.”
And yes, it is a challenge to help children learn to be in big church.
I remember long worship services with four young children in tow. I remember being called to get a fussy baby from the nursery and having no place to go – and trying to keep my children focused on what big church was all about. I remember crayons rolling on the floor under the seats, children whispering, “How much longer?” and all the wiggling. I remember a child’s snoring, loudly. I haven’t forgotten.
But instead of thinking things like, “Why did I even bother to come?” (which, I confess, did enter my mind occasionally), I wanted my children to know about worship and Sunday – I wanted them to realize how very, very special this day was. I wanted to be with God’s people even if sometimes that meant walking the halls and/or serving in the nursery or children’s classes all morning.
But I also wanted to make it to the day when my children would love the worship service in the worship center and that they really would learn to magnify the Lord with me, that we really would exalt His name together.
So with lots of prayer and advice from those who LOVED the Lord’s Day, who had walked before me, I came to discover that I needed to train my children for worship. And yes, Carl and I worked on this together especially in our early years, before he was a senior pastor. Those were the days we would sit together in worship and if one of our children wasn’t getting it, one of us would exit and deal with it and then come back. And oh yes, we sat near a door in the back. We didn’t want to be a distraction by parading in and out.
But most of the time I was on my own because Carl became a senior pastor. By that time, however, I did have an 8-year-old who had loved the Lord’s Day and who was very, very helpful to me.
So over time, I learned a few things about training children for worship and I hope my experience will help you and I want to give some practical suggestions.
But first, I want to say a few things about children’s ministry and age-segregated classes for younger children.
I love both. While I believe that overall in Christendom and in our culture at large, there is too much age-segregation, I believe there is benefit in having children’s classes at church. Let me explain.
It is appealing to children. It is great fun for children to learn about God in children’s ministry.
It is a wonderful way for young mothers to use their teaching/serving/administrative gifts in the body of Christ teaching and loving children. Using our gifts in children’s classes stretches us and helps us hone our abilities even further.
Serving in children’s ministry allows our own children to see us involved in the body-life of the church. They see us care about others - they see us reaching out to other children, helping them grow, loving them – and we provide a ministry for parents who don’t know yet how to teach or serve.
I loved it when our children were small and I love it now that I have grandchildren.
I remember the wonderful women in my church when I was growing up. I don’t remember a lot of their names but I remember their care. I remember their dedication. I remember knowing that church was a safe place.
And now? I am so grateful for the people who teach and love my grandchildren. I am reminded of this every time my grandchildren visit and go to church with me. Wow.
So many women bring excellence to their ministry each week, and our children learn deep spiritual truths in ways that are fun, simple, true, and crystal clear.
I am impressed – touched - by all the teachers, all the helpers who serve our great God in this way. Serving others is an act of worship.
I love children’s ministry and I am so thankful for those who make it happen. It enhances everything we try to help parents do with their children. It enhances worship, it enhances home discipleship, BUT it is not a substitute for either.
- Practice at home on Saturday. Set up your living room as a mini worship room and pretend. Assign roles to the children. When our children were young, Carl would go through his sermon (on their level) during this time.
- Teach them that we don’t “have to go to church” - we “get to go to church.” But don’t expect them to grasp that attitude if you’re not excited about church. If you’re not, ask God why. Ask Him to renew your heart – to renew a right spirit within you. He will do it. He is so faithful
- Teach them about the Lord’s Day. Use the Ten Commandments and then tell them that after the resurrection of Christ, God’s people met on the first day of the week – Sunday. If you feel you don’t quite understand this, listen to my husband’s sermon titled,
- Tell them that God wants to speak to them through His Word.
- Set apart a special church tote – only to be used on Sunday. I filled ours with felt books and the only time they could look at the books was during big church. Eventually I transitioned them from this to taking notes.
- Give clear expectations.
- Sit near a door, in the back, when you are beginning with a new child. The goal is to train your child so that you can sit anywhere and worship together. But everything takes time – so while you’re transitioning – remember there are other people in the worship center and your child doesn’t need to be a distraction. If you’re having trouble, use the worship training room temporarily.
- Build up to your child how special it is to be in big church! He’s growing! She’s big enough! It’s special!
- I personally think it’s fine to reward your child when he/she does well. A new Bible. A new pen for note-taking. A new tote for Sunday things.
- At lunch, talk to your child about how it went and what could go differently next week. Ask questions like, “What did you learn today?” “What was your favorite part?” And tell them what you learned, what you liked. Don’t criticize or be sarcastic – the Bible warns us about the effects of coarse jesting.
- Tell them what you admired about their behavior.
- If they didn’t quite live up to your expectations – tell them what they can do better next time
Give it time. Remember how important this is. God the Father delights in our praises. He instituted the church and He loves it when we gather with our families to worship Him together and as we serve His people in children’s ministry.
“O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.”