This is a topic that is more related to parents than congregational worship leaders, but I thought it was worth addressing. Helen wrote in to ask about recent experiences she’s been having with her children at home. She’s noticed a decreased lack of fervor in her 8 and 9 year old as they meet in the morning to sing God’s praises and read Scripture together. She wrote:
Did you ever go through this with your children? Is this something we should force them to do? We recognize that worship encompasses much more than singing with our voices…are we putting too much emphasis on this part of worship?
The topic of training children to worship God is much broader than I could possibly address here. But here are a few thoughts.
Training children to worship God is primarily the parent’s responsibility, not the church’s. Obviously, there is a place for churches to take a more active role when parents are non-Christians or unresponsive. However, God’s design is that parents lead their children in a knowledge of and love for the Savior. (Deut. 6:6-9; Eph. 6:1-4) Here are four areas we can focus on (although there are no doubt many more):
No aspect of training can replace our example. What our children see is what they’ll tend to do. For a season it may appear that they’re understanding and participating responsively, but they don’t miss inconsistencies in our life. Do we say that we value worshipping God but easily lose our temper when they don’t respond? Are we more enthusiastic about TV, magazines, and hobbies than personal devotions, the church, and evangelism?
Our children should easily see in us that worshipping God involves the way we live and what we do when we meet together. However, although worship is more than singing God’s praise, it isn’t less. Psalm 92:1 says that it is a good thing to sing praises to God’s name. Our example should make it clear why.
When a child’s enthusiasm for spiritual things begins to wane, it’s usually because other things (idols) have become more important to them. Competing gods include what their peers think, being comfortable, and pursuing worldly pleasures. Parents have the privilege of explaining why any joy that is pursued apart from God is secondary, derived, temporary, and potentially destructive. We have the responsibility to show them the superior beauty, majesty, splendor, attractiveness, and glory of the Savior.
Practical steps can include taking time to talk about the words we sing, asking questions that draw out meaning and application, and finding out how much our children really understand of what we’re doing. By the way, these conversations always seem to be more fruitful outside a family time than during it.
Family worship times should be enjoyable, appealing, and filled with grace. It pains me to remember how many times I used to spend the larger part of our family Bible and worship times correcting my children. Not exactly something to look forward to. Punctuality, posture, and participation all need to be addressed at different times. But the way we deal with them should never overshadow the joy of knowing, following, and exalting the glorious Savior.
Children can go through mental, physical, and spiritual changes rapidly. What “worked” last week, may not work this week. Especially as children reach the pre-teen years (8-12), they begin to put together a perspective on the world – what’s important, why they do certain things and not others, who is in authority, etc. It’s important that we regularly evaluate whether or not what we’re doing to train our children is effective.
Early on, children need to understand the importance of our authority and their obedience. As they get older, it’s more important that they act from the heart, out of a sincere desire, rather than simply comply with our commands. It’s not particularly helpful to insist that your 11 year old raise her hands or sing loud if her life shows that she has no interest in spiritual things. That doesn’t mean there’s not plenty a parent can do! We can still insist on their participation, but we must spend more time asking them about their values, hopes, longings, desires, and responses. We need to ask whether we’re testing their endurance by lengthy family times, or failing to help them adequately search their hearts.
While teaching our children to worship God is one of the greatest privileges of parenting, only God can breathe life into a dead soul. Before, during, and after our parenting years, we should be constant in prayer, crying out to God to enable our children to know and pursue the riches he has given us in Jesus Christ.