Five Reasons we like Kids in Worship

One unfortunate trend in churches is the increasing age segregation of worship. Children are placed in kids’ programs from an early age and can even grow into adulthood having never worshiped with people of different ages. Even if we could have the most exciting kids’ ministry possible during our service, we wouldn’t want to do that. Why? Because we believe letting our children worship with us is one of the best ways for them to learn to love God. 

Here are five reasons why we like our children to worship with us:

 

We will all worship together in heaven.

Dividing up people by ages for worship stands in direct contrast to the picture of ideal worship we see in Revelation 7:9:


After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. 


The picture of heavenly worship is marked by both unity and diversity. While there is no reference to different age groups, the principle is clear: heavenly worship involves all God’s different people worshiping together in unity. We should ensure our worship reflects this ultimate worship service. 
 


It helps children see the world is bigger than them. 

When children worship with others, they learn that life is about more than just them. When a child grows up in an environment that caters to his or her needs, it can subtly teach that the world revolves around them. But Christian worship means taking our eyes off ourselves and focusing them upon God. When we exclude children from our worship, we miss out one one of the few places where our lives are put into perspective as we encounter a living God. 


 
It gives your kids an opportunity to see your love for God. 

Many of us desire to have some type of family devotionals, but it’s hard. Life is busy. Participating as a family in worship on Sunday mornings gives your children an opportunity to see your love for God. Your kids notice you singing and listening to God’s Word. When they see your eagerness and love of worship it rubs off on them. Remember how many bad habits our kids pick up from us! Kids are natural imitators. Why not let them learn some good habits from us? Why would we miss out on the opportunity for our kids to mimic our worship of God? If children never worship with parents, they miss seeing them practice what they preach. 


 
It allows your children to see a community loving God.

When children participate in worship they get to see other members of God’s family express their love for God. A parent's faith isn’t just something that they’ve made up, or do in isolation. In other words, our faith is not just something our family does, but something a community participates in together. 
 


God works through ordinary means

There isn’t a simple five-step plan to ensure children grow up to love God. One of the tenants reformed worship is that God works through ordinary means. Through God’s word, prayer, and the sacraments, God brings extraordinary change. These are simple things, things that will constantly be attacked as outdated or out of touch. Indeed if it were simply about how powerful these things were by themselves they would be outdated! But God promises to use our ordinary acts and combine them with his supernatural power to bring real change in people's life. It’s not about our skill (or lack of it) that brings genuine Christian growth. The public worship service is one of the places where God’s ordinary means of grace all show up. We trust those are good enough to bring real spiritual growth in adults. But they are also good enough to bring real spiritual growth in children. Why would be want to take our children out of a place where God promises to work? 
 


Concluding Thoughts

We don’t want to be a church that is only welcoming to those who are committed to keeping their kids in Church. Many factors can make this difficult for families. For some, the idea of kids in church is new. Others are single parents or come to church without a spouse, and it’s hard to both manage children and participate in worship. Children have different temperaments, and some will struggle more than others. As church we want to be sensitive and welcoming to all families.

We think of children's ministry during the worship service as a series of steps to help our kids make the jump into worship with everyone else. The first step is nursery for children up to three years old. Here, children get used to coming to the church and start building relationships with other children and people here. From ages four to six they can participate in a program called Stepping Stones where they stay through the first half of the worship service. This gets them used to being in the service without having to sit through all of it. The third step is for children over six. They participate through the whole worship service, but we offer snacks and kids’ bulletins with worship related activities to help children stay engaged. These are all optional; in the end each family decides how they want their kids to participate in worship. 

Every one of us makes a big difference too. Parents notice when we have a welcoming attitude toward kids in worship.. A loving smile or word of encouragement helps a parent who worries about the noise their child is making. In the end we want to be a church that reflects God’s kingdom when we worship. And that means people of all different backgrounds and ages coming together to show our love for the God who is making us new. 

In Christ,
Pastor Jon

Christianity Is a Team Sport

This past Sunday we started a series through Nehemiah called “Forward.” In the opening chapter Nehemiah hears of the struggles in Jerusalem. It is striking how much Nehemiah identifies with these distant people. Their problems are his problems. Their sins are his sins. This thinking is the opposite of the individualistic way we approach spiritual growth: “If I’m spending some time reading my Bible and praying, I’m good.” But Nehemiah’s spiritual health is tied to the spiritual health of all God’s people. The theologian Don Carson says, “Lone ranger Christianity won’t make much sense of the book of Nehemiah.” 

In our sermon on Sunday I challenged each person to ask if they are living as if Christianity is an individual or a team sport. The book of Nehemiah and the rest of Scripture show that Christianity is much more of a team sport than an individual one. 

David and Goliath – 1 Samuel 17

Growing up in the church, I remember being taught the story of David and Goliath. Afterwards, my friends and I tried to create slings.  We all dreamed of being like David, defeating giants with only a stone and sling. (I never did face a giant, but it there was one window that didn’t survive!)

Fun as that was, the story of David and Goliath makes more sense through the lens of a team sport. It’s like a sudden death shootout at the end of an overtime soccer game. The star player kicks the ball, bottom left corner of the net, score! The whole team wins! David’s success (or failure) against Goliath was the success (or failure) of all the Israelites. If David won, Israel won. 

When we read it this way, we see the story is less about us being like David and more about how a true hero brings victory for all the people. That takes us right to Christ, whose victory over a power even greater than Goliath--evil itself--brings victory for us all. In fact, our salvation is only possible if we see this is a team sport. 

The Body of Christ – 1 Corinthians 12

In this passage, Paul describes the church as a body made up of people with different gifts. Often people interpret this as Paul speaking about a single church, made up of various people with various gifts. But we know Paul is speaking of all Christians because in verse 13, he addresses those who were baptized “into one body by one Spirit.” Paul is talking about all who have been baptized with Christian baptism. He goes on, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (12:26) Think about this literally. If you break your big toe you can’t just go on functioning like everything is fine. It affects all of your life. Paul's point is that all believers have this organic connection. We cannot ignore the pain of other Christians any more than we can ignore the pain from a broken toe. 

Growing In Christ  – Ephesians 4:15-16

Here Paul tells us how to talk to Christians who are carried away by every new teaching or belief: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  Every Christian has a responsibility to grow in Christ, and we grow in Christ by speaking the truth in love. In other words, while officers of the church ought to equip people for ministry (Eph 4:11-12), all Christians ought to speak truth in love to each other. Every one of us has this responsibility. God’s model for the church is not to have a few people who provide spiritual care; no, every person is called to ministry. In other words, the Christian life is a team sport. 

Implications

There are many implications from these passages, but I want to focus on the question I started with: are you living as if Christianity is an individual or team sport? A simple diagnostic is to look at how are you invested in the spiritual growth of those around you? Husbands, we cannot say we are doing well spiritually if we are not investing in the spiritual growth of our wives. Parents, likewise, we cannot say we are doing fine if we are not invested in the spiritual growth of our children. And for every member of the church, our spiritual health is tied to the spiritual health of those around us. So what impact are you having on the spiritual growth of those people around you? Are you praying for their growth in Christ? Are you speaking the truth in love to them? Small groups are a great way to be invested in the spiritual growth of others. Each person in our church, from the youngest to the oldest, has the ability to make an eternal impact in someone's spiritual life. 

All this ties into our vision; we are on a journey to know Christ. My dream is that we would be a church where, when we make it to the end, we will look back and see that we made it not so much because of any one person, but because of our community and the thousands of often small things we did to encourage one another in Christ. 

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Kids in Church Part 2

This month, we continue our series on passing our faith on to the next generation. One thing that is often overlooked is that, if we want our children to have an authentic faith, we must have an authentic faith. In the Old Testament God desired authentic love. (Psalm 51:16-17, Hosea 6:6) Outward acts of sacrifice, when divorced from a heart of repentance and love, were actually offensive to God. We may not offer physical sacrifices or burnt offering like the Israelites did, but we do offer other types of sacrifices and offerings to God. We sacrifice our time by volunteering in the church, and we give offerings of money. But there is a danger in these becoming empty forms of worship if they aren’t accompanied by a heart that loves God. God wants authentic worship. God wants us to love him, and when we love him, we will give him all of our lives. 
 
So how does this apply to our children? Sometimes children's programs in the church can become like empty sacrifices and offerings. It’s easier to put our kids in Sunday school or youth group than it is to cultivate a genuine love for God in our own hearts and then share that with our children. But in Deuteronomy 6, God calls for parents to display a love for God in every corner of their lives. This is much harder than dropping your child off at the child check-in, but it also offers something much more lasting. 
 
When a genuine love for God emanates from parents’ lives, their children notice. We can sometimes wonder why our kids pick up certain habits or mannerisms. But most likely they picked up these things by observing us! Children are observers of all our actions–even our unpleasant ones. Angela Duckworth, in her book Grit, talks about how much influence our actions have. She describes a psychology experiment at Stanford University in which the children observed the adults playing with toys. Half of the children watched them play with tinker toys the entire time. The other half of the children watched them play with the tinker toys for a few minutes, but then the adult turned and started hitting a life-size inflatable doll. The adult yelled and screamed at the doll and eventually kicked it out of the room. 
 
Next, the children were given opportunities to play with the same toys. Those who watched the adults play peacefully with the toys did the same. But those who watched the violent outburst were aggressive towards the doll, sometimes even copying exactly what they saw the adult do. Much of a child’s learning takes place through informal observation. So parents must ask themselves what their children are observing. Do their children see parents who love God in their thoughts, words, and deeds? 
 
When we understand this organic way our children grow it both simplifies our task as parents and makes it much harder. It simplifies our task because faith is often best passed on to your children through simple, ordinary means, such as conversations around the dinner table, prayers together, and making church a priority. Little things like this over the course of years add up to something substantial. 
 
But this organic way of raising our kids is also harder. It means we must actually love God. We must live a life that reflects what it means to be a follower of Christ. Is it any surprise when a grown child walks away from the faith after observing his parents make hundreds of little decisions that show a priority of sports, vacations, and other things over the regular worship of God? Unfortunately, I sometimes get the impression that parents who seek the most exciting church experiences for their children do it because they are trying to give their children something that they have not actually experienced themselves. The decision a child makes regarding his faith doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is often the fruit (whether good or not) of the spiritual environment they grew up in. 
 
In the next months we will get into some of the practical ways we help our children grow in Christ, but it must start with us and our authentic love for God. This is the foundation for everything that follows. 

In Christ,
Pastor Jon

This is adapted from the booklet “Helping our Kids Grow in Christ.”  It is freely available on the JVC website.  

Kids in Church

Over the next couple months we will look at what Scripture has to say about raising children in the faith. People outside the church often ask me about our kids’ ministry. I get the impression they assume that the best way for a child to grow up to know Jesus is through a vibrant children's ministry and fun youth group. But when we look at Scripture, God doesn’t tell  us to have these things. This doesn’t mean they can’t play a role, but they aren’t foundational. Instead God gives some of his clearest instructions in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NLT):

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Moses is telling the people what they need to do in order to ensure the generations after them continue to experience the blessings God has promised. He calls for wholehearted commitment to God and tells them how to pass that on to the next generation. Notice that Moses doesn’t say the children need to be enrolled in Sampson's Hunting Club or David’s Music School; on the contrary, the things we typically associate with kids’ ministry are absent. These things are not wrong, but God’s design for passing on our faith to the next generation is less about programs and more about authentic displays of God’s word in all of life. Notice the commands: “repeat them,” “talk about them,” “tie them,” “wear them,” “write them.” Now notice the locations and situations: home and on the road, going to bed and getting up, on your hands and foreheads, doorposts of house and gates. Moses is talking about creating an environment, an environment that encompasses the child’s whole life. The idea of sectioning off part of your life for God--this day or this hour--is foreign to God’s design. Moses is calling on people to live spiritual lives where every action is done for God’s glory. 

Christian faith is best passed on to the next generation through authentic Christian environments. Certain programs fit into that, but a program is not an environment. Programs end; they have boundaries. God calls Christian parents to something without boundaries. We are to raise our children in a climate where God is loved.

Let me illustrate this. For several months I lived with a family in Hawaii. About the time I showed up the family planted a banana tree in their front yard. A few months later the banana tree was producing bananas. For a guy who grew up in the high elevations of Colorado this was shocking. It took over ten years for my family to get our new apple tree to produce fruit. Hawaii, though, was an excellent environment for bananas. A good habitat fosters growth. A really good youth group can act like fertilizer, but a plant cannot survive on fertilizer alone! For lasting growth, it needs an entire environment with water, good soil, sun, the right temperature, and so much more. Likewise, the key for a good spiritual environment is authentic love for God; it’s like sunlight, water, rich soil, and a good climate all at once. 

Authentic love for God must undergird everything we do if we want to see the next generation grow up to love Christ. Everyone in the church has a role to play in this. Over the next several newsletters we will look at some of the ways in which we all can show our children this love for God through family activities, worship, children's programs and more. 

In Christ,
Pastor Jon

This is adapted from the booklet “Helping our Kids Grow in Christ.”  It will be freely available in the coming weeks on the JVC website and resource wall.