Dr. Josh Mulvihill
Gospel-centered, Bible-saturated corporate worship is supremely important for your family and children. Hundreds of worship services with Mom and Dad during the child and teens years is extremely impactful. Let your children see you prioritize gathering for weekly worship over all other life options, singing to God with joy, giving your time and finances to the church, and submitting to the preaching of the Word. Worshipping corporately is critical as it will enable children to develop Christian fellowship and provide opportunities for serving, giving, missions, and engagement in the discipleship ministries of the church. If your children are new to corporate worship, here are a few suggestions that may be helpful as you train your children to worship corporately:
1. Understand the biblical value of teaching children to worship.
Your child was created to worship God. The prophet Isaiah points out this truth when he says, “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I have created for my glory” (Isa. 43:7). Worship is the most critical, the most urgent, and the most glorious action that can take place in a child’s life.
Parents carefully teach children many skills necessary to become a mature adult. We teach children how to be financially responsible, cook and clean, care for our bodies, work hard, and develop good relationships with other people. As important as these skills are, there is no greater task in life than training a child to worship God. This is true in congregational life as well as in the home.
Worship is the term we use to describe how we intentionally express the worth of God. God is worthy of our praise and honor in all places and at all times. We instinctively join with the cry of the Psalmist: “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker” (Ps. 95:6).
Although it is natural to have a consciousness of God, children do not innately know God or worship Him without the assistance of parents. The knowledge of God must be awakened because every child’s mind is capable of a dispassionate belief in God, and the heart is capable of focusing its affection on the wrong source. Congregational worship helps children develop a great and grand view of God, so their heart is not captivated by lesser gods.
2. Discuss worship expectations with your children.
Jen and I tell our children that we expect them to be calm, quiet, and pay attention. Three simple things. Some of our children learned quickly. Others tested boundaries and needed loving guidance with a whisper in the ear, a squeeze on the thigh, or even an invitation to join me in the hallway to be reminded of expectations. Children who did well were praised generously. If children are brand new to corporate worship, expect quick learners to do well after a few weeks, and slow learners to take up to a few months.
3. Provide tools, not toys.
We want children engaged, not occupied. It’s great that children are present, but our goal is their participation. Rather than bringing cars or coloring books, bring a notebook, Bible, and pen. We encourage young children who cannot read to draw pictures of what they hear. Older children are expected to take notes and listen attentively. For accountability, we often encourage our children to visit the senior pastor and show him notes.
4. Teach your children the music you sing at church.
We intentionally purchase songs that we sing at church and listen to them at home. We play worship music while children eat breakfast or clean, and in the process, they begin to become familiar with the melodies and lyrics. Guess what happens at church when they hear music they know and like? They sing! You can help your child by sitting in a child-friendly location so they can clearly see the front of the worship space.
Our goal for our children was always busy hands and quiet mouths to avoid disruptions. When the pastor began his sermon, we would pass out a lollipop to each of our children. The lollipop usually helped a child pay attention for about ten minutes. We would also strategically place the youngest children closest to a parent and the older children at the end, with Mom and Dad in the middle.
6. Say no to bathrooms and screens.
We learned quickly that some of our children suddenly had to go to the bathroom and couldn’t hold it during the sermon. We made it a practice to encourage children to go to the bathroom before the worship service and only gave permission to use the bathroom in rare instances. We initiated the “Are you going to wet your pants?” test to determine if the bathroom was necessary.
We also do not allow screens during the service unless it is to access the Bible or use an app to take notes. As parents, we try to set a good example by not texting, using social media or checking email. Our children learn the value and form of worship by watching us. We want the affection of our heart and our mind’s focus on worshiping Christ; therefore, we try to eliminate all distractions.
7. Ask questions on the ride home.
Invite your children to share what they liked most about the sermon or a comment that stuck out to them. Sometimes our children will laugh about a funny story that was shared, and this is fine! It means they were listening. Other times, children will ask a clarifying question about what a word or concept means. This is simply an opportunity for you to see how your children are processing the sermon and to see what really grabbed them.
Like learning anything, it takes time for young children to learn how to worship corporately. If worshipping as a family is new to you, just getting your children to sit quietly without embarrassing you or distracting others is a big win! As a father of five, I’ve been there. I’ve been given the evil eye as someone glanced over their shoulder at me due to a loud child. If that happens, just smile, and don’t take it out on your child. Be gracious to yourself, your children, and others who have children. This is a season where extra grace is required.
While we need an orderly worship service, the sounds of children are a sign of health for families and churches as they pass faith on to the next generation. If you are willing to do the hard work to teach and train your children to worship corporately, your children will reap the benefits of being part of the larger church body and learning to worship.
If you want to learn more about worshipping corporately as a family, I encourage you to purchase the book Parenting in the Pew by Robbie Castleman, which has many practical and helpful ideas. Truth78 created a children’s worship notebook that helps children follow along with a sermon, and our children have found this resource helpful. Of course, if you haven’t purchased a Bible for your child, consider getting one so the child can bring it to church for worship. May the Lord bless you as you train your child to worship God!
Dr. Josh Mulvihill is the Executive Director of Church and Family Ministry at Renewanation. He served as a pastor for nearly 20 years, serves on the board of Awana, and helps to provide leadership to the Christian Grandparent Network. He holds a Ph.D. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of Biblical Grandparenting, Preparing Children for Marriage, and Biblical Worldview. Josh is married to Jen, and they have five children. Josh blogs at GospelShapedFamily.com.