With Reverence and Awe (and Kids)

I love having children in the worship service. It always makes my heart happy when I see children singing with their parents. As a preacher, I am encouraged to see children focusing during the sermon, even if they may not fully understand everything they hear.

I try my best to make children feel included in the service because they are our covenant children. The Scripture clearly teaches us that the promise of the Gospel is to our children as much as it is to us (Acts 2:38-39). Furthermore, our Lord Jesus also said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these (Matthew 19:14). Because of this, I share a short message to children during the service before I preach the “main” sermon. I want our children to know that Jesus cares for them when they come to church.

At the same time, Scripture also emphasizes order and sobriety in worship service (1 Corinthians 14:26-40). The Bible clearly teaches us that worship is a solemn and reverent time as we come to meet our Lord (Psalm 89:7). We come to hear God through the reading and preaching of His Word. Spiritual health and salvation itself are on the line, as Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 90 explains:

“Q. How is the word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?”

“A. That the word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.”

Obviously, this puts every church into a healthy yet difficult tension regarding children in worship. On the one hand, we want to have our children included in the worship. On the other hand, we want to make sure the worship is observed with reverence and undivided attention.

What should we do? Here are four considerations for this complex issue.

1. Childcare Facilities 

First, we must admit that infants and almost all toddlers of young age do not have the intellectual capacity to understand what their parents are doing in the church. Much more so, we must recognize that children of young age simply cannot sit through a long worship service. As such, the church may want to provide facilities or services to ensure the parents and other believers have quality worship time on Sunday.

For example, if a church has a nursery or cry room available, parents may want to use their discretion to utilize such facilities. This may mean parents might need to walk in and walk out of the cry room as needed with their children. This may mean that the parents might want to keep their children in the nursery so that they themselves could focus and worship God in the Sunday service. 

2. Worship Aids

Second, churches should think hard about how to help parents and children fully engage during worship. For example, should parents decide to use a cry room or nursery, the church should provide a way to stream service so that those in the room could still hear and engage with the congregation. Where I minister, we do not own a church building where we could have a designated nursery, so we are unable to set up a stereo system for parents who wish to listen to the service when they decided to use a cry room. To remedy the issue, we decided to bring a laptop to the cry room and live-stream the service. This is not the perfect solution to the problem, but the parents appreciate that they can still listen to the sermon and be part of the service.

A church could also provide good and engaging resources so that the parents and children could be engaged in a worship service. Especially for children of older ages, a church may want to purchase or create a separate children’s bulletin that has relevant activities to the sermon texts to occupy children. A pastor may also want to spend a short time during the service for a children’s message. And even if not, pastors should still speak to children during his sermon with illustrations and questions. If this becomes a regular pattern, a pastor and parents could encourage children to see when the pastor would speak to them.

3. The Weight of Worship

Third, we must teach our older children about the importance and weightiness of worship service. In other words, parents should help their children to understand that they have gathered in the church to meet with the living God. After we joyfully sing before the Lord, we quietly sit and listen to Him speak to us. Just as we must be reminded of this great privilege called worship every week, this is something our children can and must learn from their parents. 

4. Compassion and Understanding

Lastly, I believe a body of Christ must understand and show compassion to the parents and children struggling during the worship service. No matter how many good resources a church provides to parents, our children will, at times, simply lose their patience. We must understand this is a very natural manner on children’s part because an extended worship service can be tedious, boring, and anxious. We cannot blame our toddlers for wanting to walk and explore their neighbors' aisle. We must understand crying children who are told "No" when they rather want to be outside and run.

When the children have a hard time sitting in the worship service, their parents have an even harder time as they desperately attempt to pacify the chaos their children are causing. For this reason, congregants shouldn't be quick to complain or cast judgment. Instead, try smiling at the children (and their parents), and realize that parenting through a Sunday service can be a difficult task.

To Us and To Our Children

It is particularly easy for a church to think that the Sunday worship service is for grown men and women. Perhaps a long and purposefully written liturgy with a sermon of intricate contents raised the bar for our perceived audience within the church. Nonetheless, the Scripture teaches us that worship service belongs to children as much as it belongs to professing believers in the church. Moses declared in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever…” Worship service is where we learn about the things revealed by the Lord.

As such, we must not ignore our children, but rather ensure they are involved and cared for when we come together on Sunday. Let's wisely and carefully consider the issue, so that we all might attend to the things of God "decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40).

Seob Kim is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church ARP, Grove City, Pennsylvania.

Related Links

Podcast: "Children, Church is Not Boring!"

"Is Family-Integrated Worship the Historical Norm?" by Aaron Denlinger

"Sitting with the kids!" by Paul Levy

"Family Worship Is a Matter of Prudence" by Calvin Goligher

Let The Children Worship by Jason Helopoulos

p/c Kristin Brown