“Let the little children come…” (Matthew 19:14). Though important religious leaders, government officials, and all manner of adults crowded and pressed in day after day, Jesus opened his arms to the littlest and welcomed and blessed them. At Tenth, we desire to have this same heart. For in a real sense, they are our children. At baptism, we as a congregation receive and acknowledge them as part of our covenant community. Further, we commit to aiding the parents in their Christian nurture. We rejoice and look forward with faith and eager expectation to all that God will do in their lives as they grow up in our midst. We welcome them to join us in Sunday worship with glad hearts.
The purpose of this article is to encourage parents to consider bringing their children to worship and will provide practical guidance for parents. For our purposes here, I hope to show that there is much children can learn from joining Sunday worship through participation, practice, and precept.
In Sunday Worship, Children Learn by Participation
Throughout Scripture we see that children are not just members in name, but that they are involved in the life of the covenant community. Many of Israel’s feasts, ceremonies, reading of the law, and various other services were collective gatherings which called for the participation of children. “Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear […] learn […] do […], and that their children […] may hear […] and learn” (Deuteronomy 31:12-13). We find this collective gathering again in Joshua 8:35. By joining with the older members, hearing the Word of the Lord for the people of God, they understood that they were a valued part of the community. Little ones also have something to offer. In Nehemiah, we find gathered, “Men and women and all who could understand what they heard,” (Nehemiah 8:2). By doing so, children learned the meaning of being members of the family of God. The rhythms that identified the life of God’s people were to become joyful overflow of obedience. Though we are no longer required to keep the feasts and ceremonies, the principles that led Israel to include their children are the same principles that encourage us to include them in Sunday worship today.
In Sunday Worship, Children Learn by Practice
“Little pitchers have big ears,” so the old proverb warns. Children are imitators, and parents learn quickly they must heed their words and behaviors lest their children mirror them—usually in the most embarrassing context! But the truth behind this proverb can also provide for us a positive invitation. Just as your children are listening to you, they are also watching! The example you set is often more powerful in shaping your children than the words you use. And this idea of example and imitation is a principle used throughout Scripture. We are called to imitate Christ’s example (John 13:15; Romans 15:7; Ephesians 4:32; 5:2, 25), the example of the apostles (1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1; Philippians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:6), and the example of all mature Christians (Philippians 3:17; 1 Peter 5:3).
In Sunday Worship, Children Learn by Precept
Many of the most famous and successful athletes and musicians began conditioning and training as small children. Children understand so much more than we often think they do, and this should not surprise us when we consider how God worked in and through young children throughout Scripture. Consider young Samuel hearing the voice of God (1 Samuel 3); Naaman’s servant girl who had such faith she was bold enough to send her master to God’s prophet for healing (2 Kings 5); and Josiah beginning to faithfully rule at just eight years old (2 Kings 22). Parents discipling at home combined with Bible School and Sunday Worship all work together in the critical formational stages of childhood. By training children early in participation and practice, the “impressions” of worship will already be stamped on their minds and hearts. Though there will be challenges at first, children will eventually grow in their ability to participate in worship.
A subsequent article will focus on helping parents on a practical level, but before concluding, please hear this encouragement: Training children is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time, patience, and so much prayer. If you feel God laying it on your heart to take this step of bringing your children to church, ask for help. Start by asking God for help, and then ask your church family for help. So many parents have done this before you and have experienced the whole spectrum of trials and joys (because there are joys!). Your church family committed to helping you when your child was baptized. Seek out and embrace that help. May we together, as the psalmists cry, pass on the mighty deeds of God to the next generation (Psalm 22:30-31, 78:4, 145:4, 148).
The Westminster Larger Catechism question 160 provides valuable instructions for worshippers that, by extension, can provide a helpful guide for parents.
It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer, examine what they hear by the Scriptures, receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God; meditate, and confer of it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.
Receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind
We start with the final phrase because it frames our overall attitude and how we should think of Sunday morning worship. Worship is about God, not us (1 Corinthians 10:31; Romans 11:36). We can exemplify this to our children by our attitudes and the humility with which we receive the truth and in how we love and serve our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our posture is not to be what we get out of church, but about how we offer ourselves up to the Lord and to one another (Philippians 2:3-4).
Attend upon it with diligence
This is difficult for all of us as we are restless and so easily distracted. Did someone’s cell phone just go off? I wonder why Sally isn’t in her usual seat… Is that a fly or a spot on the wall? But the catechism reminds us we need to be on guard (and fight!) and attend to the Word with diligence (1 Peter 1:13). Children will learn from your eagerness to worship, heartfelt praise, attentiveness to the preached Word, and your overall attitude toward the service and the people.
It is no easy task to get out of the house on Sunday morning. Our lives are busy. Meltdowns always seem to happen ten minutes prior to the planned departure time. There is no denying this. Know that worship is a spiritual battlefield—expect delays and interference (1 Peter 5:8). From week to week, identify those things that tend to hold you up and try to develop a plan. At the same time, talk to your children about why and for whom you are preparing. Here are just a few suggestions:
- Prepare throughout the week. It might be helpful to “practice” sitting quietly throughout the week. Have a quiet time of coloring or looking at picture books. Start small, set the timer for five minutes and explain they will need to wait to ask questions until after the timer goes off. Increase the amount of time each week. If you struggle to find time for personal devotions, this might be a great opportunity for yourself and training your children!
- Prepare on Saturday: Plan breakfast, outfits, and pack the diaper bag the day before.
- Sunday is special: Have a special “Sunday-only bag” of activities for each child. You might surprise them with the contents, or you might involve them in the shopping trip and let them choose what they want in the bag. It is great if you can focus Bible activities (e.g. coloring books, picture books, fidget toys).
Prayer is also a part of preparation! For bedtime prayers, pray for the pastor as he prepares to preach God’s Word (Colossians 4:4). Follow the example of the psalmists and pray that God would prepare your own heart and the hearts of your children to hear and receive (Psalm 25:4-5; 119:26, 33, 64, 68, 108, 124). Pray that God would be at work in the church (Ephesians 6:18). Pray for all those who serve. Through your preparation and prayer with your children, you can begin to shape how they see and orient themselves toward Sunday worship. And prayer can be done after the sermon as well! Were your children particularly restless? Talk to them about it and pray with them that the whole family would be able to “attend upon the word with diligence.”
Examine what they hear by the Scriptures
As you listen to the message, take notes of supporting passages or examples in the Bible (Acts 17:11). Use these later as you discuss the message with your spouse and family members.
Meditate, and confer of it in their hearts
We are challenged to hear the preached word and to leave meditating on it. We should pray that God would convict our hearts (Psalm 139:24). We ought to consider the message and how it applies to our lives (Rom 15:4). We must wrestle with how we should live as a result of what we have heard (Deuteronomy 29:29). And all of this can also be done with children. Ask simple, age-appropriate questions, and questions that can be answered by a variety of ages, about a statement the pastor made. Ask the children if there was anything they heard in the message that they have questions about. Discuss the implications of the message for the life of your family. Commit to some action or change as a response to the message.
God calls his people to grow and to learn how to worship in all different seasons and settings. Job had to learn to trust and worship God in suffering and loss. Joseph had to learn how to humbly worship God rightly in prison and success. David had to learn how to love and worship God while fleeing enemies and living in luxury and ease. We are no different. In some seasons of our lives, worship and obedience will feel far easier than others. But praise God because he knows our weaknesses and the challenges we face! What God asks of us is faithfulness and obedience and “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).
 Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (Eerdmans, 1976).
 For a helpful resource and more on the heart of worship, see Robbie F. Castleman, Parenting in the Pew (Intervarsity Press, 2013).
© 2024 Tenth Presbyterian Church.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page, or embed the entire material hosted on Tenth channels. You may not re-upload the material in its entirety. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Tenth Presbyterian Church.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Kelci Rose. © 2024 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org