At Faith Church we welcome children ages four and up to participate with adults in Sunday's worship. Why do we do this? Isn't this outdated? Isn't this impractical? Isn't worship just for adults? These are all great questions. We certainly live in a time and place where it's become increasingly difficult and abnormal to put children and adults together in a worship service. If you're a parent of young children and you dread the thought of trying to manage a high-energy child during a worship service I certainly sympathize. But let me take a moment to offer some rationale. There are at least two reasons to include children in public worship:
Children need worship
To worship the Lord is the deepest need of every human being - children included. In a culture that increasingly marginalizes children it's easy to think that children can't have a meaningful worship experience with God. Perhaps even that children cannot interact with God at all until they reach a certain age. But where did we get this idea? Not from Scripture.
Psalm 71:6 teaches that God is present in the life of a child from even before their birth.
Matthew 21:16 speaks of nursing infants and babies praising the Lord.
Exodus 12 describes the Passover service that was to be performed each year. This service included children of all ages.
Children can have a meaningful, albeit different, worship experience. Children, like adults, have prayers to pray, songs to sing, and gifts to offer. They can also have ears to hear. But what's perhaps more important is that we want children to learn how to participate in worship for the rest of their lives. What better way to teach them than to include them and model worship for them?
Worship needs children
Our children need us. They need, in many ways, to become like us. We're mature adults who worship God and our aim is to help them become mature adults as well. But it's equally true that we need children. And according to Jesus there is a sense in which we need to become like them.
In Matthew 18 the disciples ask Jesus who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus put a child in the midst of them and told them to turn and become like the child because the one who is humble like the child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Children have much to learn from us, but what Jesus meant in Matthew 18 is that we have much to learn from children. Their presence in worship helps us all realize a little bit more how we need to change. The presence of children in worship requires sermons to be a bit simpler, less highfalutin. It requires sermons to be more illustrative and focused on story-telling. It requires everything that we do from song to sacrament to be a bit more approachable and a bit more "humble". When we try to create a worship environment "for adults" it can often become too cerebral and unapproachable. So the presence of children in worship helps us all become a bit more like them. And this, surprisingly, means that we all become more mature.
A worship service designed for both children and adults will be different than what we're used to in many modern evangelical churches. But it's certainly worth pondering - what do we lose in worship when we design worship with only adults in mind?