In this Faith at Home series, I will be sharing some of the ways Jonathan and I have intentionally parented our kids (currently ages 7, 9, and 11) in a way that centers our Christian faith and faith-based values. My philosophy of pastoring and parenting is “That church would be an integral part of the life of the children, and that children would be an integral part of the life of the church.” Each article will focus on one way we strive to embody that philosophy. You can read the first three parts here, here, and here.
I was in 4th grade. The children of the church were to sing a song for the congregation: Twelve Men Went to Spy on Canaan. I had tears streaming down my face as I stepped up on the platform because, well, I always hated hand motions (“ten were bad and two were good!” as this song directed), and this performance was not helping my cause in making me look as grown-up as I felt at 10.
As a kid, I hated that I was relegated to “kid stuff” in worship — as though we could somehow only do things collectively as a group, and these things always seemed to involve hand motions — and it was abundantly clear that what we were doing wasn’t “real” worship. I always felt like it was something to make the adults feel good that there were cute kids in church. That’s probably why I feel so strongly that kids and youth should be incorporated into “real” worship… because it’s all real worship.
This is early June, the time of year when many congregations take stop offering children’s church for the summer, meaning pastors might have more kids in worship than normal. What an excellent opportunity to teach them about leading in worship! And of course, teens are probably usually in worship, which begs the question: when was the last time one of your teens led in some way (Youth Sunday doesn’t count!)?
Because my philosophy of ministry is that kids would be integral to the life of the church, and church would be integral to the life of kids, I am passionate about worship being for everyone. We often have two ways of thinking about worship: 1. It’s for adults, that sometimes kids come to and are expected to do nothing other than sit quietly, or 2. It’s for kids, that adults tolerate but don’t actually worship during (see: VBS).
The fact is, worship is not for “us” or for “them” — it’s a way to point all of us to God. And we are all, regardless of age or season of life, as much a part of the Body as the next person. So let’s take this opportunity to live into that! When we integrate kids and youth in worship, we function as a whole body of Christ, for all our parts are represented. And, as a bonus, by cultivating worship in a way that is engaging for kids, a lot of adults find themselves more engaged as well!
Here are some suggestions — share in the comments other ways you invite kids and teens to participate and lead!
Train some of the youth or older kids to help with the AV team (let’s be real: most teens are far more tech-savvy than most adults; why shouldn’t they run the PowerPoint for worship?!)
Have the kids lead some of the readings (Call to Worship, Scripture, etc). Sure, they might stumble over words. Sure, it might be a little slow. But then, they get more confident. They grow up and they see themselves as people who can lead in church… because they already are. The photo above is of my 11-year-old daughter, leading the Call to Worship at a friend’s ordination service. I’ve had so many people tell me how well she presents herself and leads, and I know it’s because we’ve been offering her opportunities to do so since she was very young. And, even when they’re young, instead of saying, “they’re so cute!” and leaving it at that, offer tips to help their confidence and competence (speak more slowly the you usually would, speak as though you’re talking to the back wall of the room, look up every few sentences, etc.). They will blow you away.
Ask people in the congregation (of all ages) to design bulletin cover art each week. A friend of mine actually has kids draw pictures of the whole text, then puts them on the PowerPoint!
Have kids (and adults!) read longer sermon texts readers theater style!
Use stories and examples that are relatable to kids and teens. Does that story have to take place in an office, or could it take place in a school cafeteria? Does the example have to be about spouses, or could it be a person and their best friend? Are your stories and language appropriate for children? How could you draw kids and youth into your sermons? (This is also helpful to think through if you might rely too much on the same form of imagery, that might not include people who are unemployed, adults who are not partnered or not parents, or who might not be as into sports or fishing or crocheting as you!)
Have the adults do the “kid stuff” too! Having the kids sing in worship as a group is not bad, of course (though some of us are less excited about hand motions than others…) so what would it be like to have one of the adult Sunday School classes to lead worship as a group, similar to Youth Sunday? Or have them collect offering one week if that’s what the kids usually do, and have the kids do something else?
Explain elements of worship! We appreciate things more when we understand them. Maybe this is a children’s sermon series, or a handout for kids. When I was a youth pastor, we always spent one Sunday leading up to Youth Sunday to talk about every element of worship, and why we do what we do. You might just find that the adults learn something new too!
Instead of using “Busy Bags,” offer this worship notes page for everyone!* Listen — kids know when they’re being given “busy work” to keep them quiet — they all have had this experience on days with substitute teachers at school. That messaging of “you don’t belong here, just sit and be quiet” can impact kids reeeeally deeply. (Then, of course, 20 years later, we wonder why they aren’t in church as adults…) And if you note, this is not titled “Worship Notes For Kids” — it probably would be helpful for some adults, too!
Expect kids to act like kids… but still have expectations. Sure, kids will be loud. Sure, they might move around. And that’s fine! But if you’ve spent much time in an elementary classroom in the last couple years, you’ll notice that schools actually have pretty high expectations for kids: what they can process, what they can think about, what they can do. Don’t expect kids to act like adults… but don’t expect them to act like toddlers, either. They’ll step up to the challenge!
Integrating kids and youth in worship doesn’t mean every week is like VBS. But it does mean that, from the earliest ages, they can envision themselves as full participants in the Body of Christ. Think of it this way: These kids are leaders now… and in 20, 30, 40 years, they’ll be deacons and elders and pastors. They’ll be teaching Sunday School and balancing church budgets. Get them involved now, and the Whole Church will be better off in the future.
** The thumbnail photo in this post is a notes-taking sheet for worship services I created – it is suitable for kids but not for kids only! I’m happy to email a .pdf of it to you; leave a message here or email me at revsaranavefisher (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll pass it along!