Involving Children in Church Ministry
September 21, 2020
The last time I had the privilege to sing on the worship team at my church I witnessed what may have been the most pure worship I have ever seen. As I stepped up to the microphone, I looked down and saw a little boy who couldn’t have been more than 2 years old standing at the edge of the stage. His little body swayed and bopped to the music as he stood there, just taking it all in.
Yes, it seems all little kids love music and he could have been simply reacting to rhythms he heard. However, something inside me told me to just watch him. I couldn’t help the smile that crept widely across my face and the swelling within my heart. This little boy couldn’t have cared less about the people all around watching him, or whether he knew any of the words to the songs. He was there at the front of the worship center, ready to participate in worshipping his King.
Jesus actually has a lot to say about children in the community of faith. He says that God has revealed understanding of who Jesus is to little children when even those who are wise and learned cannot comprehend it (Matthew 11:25.) He says the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are like little children, and therefore Jesus welcomes children into His presence. (Matthew 19:14 and Mark 10:13-16.) He says whoever welcomes a child in His name actually welcomes Him, and the Father from whom He has been sent (Mark 9:35-37.) Jesus also quotes a verse from the Old Testament saying that God the Father has called forth praise for the Son from children and infants (Matthew 21:15-18.) He even says that unless a person becomes like a child, they cannot even enter the kingdom of heaven. Those who are greatest in the kingdom of heaven are actually those who take the humble position of a child (Matthew 18:2-6 and Mark 9:35-37.) Obviously, Jesus holds children in very high regard, even saying that anyone who causes a child, or one like a child to stumble will be severely punished (Matthew 18:2-6.)
So in light of such weighty testimony, how should we treat the children in our faith communities? In response to what we read in scripture, we should treat them respectfully, especially since they may understand what we adults do not. We should welcome them into times of worship as true worshippers and not hinder them from responding to God as the Spirit leads. John 4:23 says, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” Are children displaying the exact posture Jesus alludes to in this conversation with the Samaritan woman?
And yet, God calls for orderly worship, and children are often unruly. How do we rectify this paradox? We must both protect them and be intentional about how we influence and train them in the church. In Proverbs 22:6 we are told to, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” We have the responsibility to teach them how to be self-controlled in behavior even while expressing worship. We teach them to show love to others around them by not trying to distract others during worship. This is no easy task, but Proverbs 13:24 tells us that whoever fails to correct their child hates their child, and the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. Nevertheless, we have to remember that children have limits and it is also our job as parents to be sensitive to those. In Ephesians 6:4, we are told not to exasperate our children; instead, we are to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Children are often prone to acting up when they are sick, hungry, or tired. If we are honest, this is also true for grown-ups! As the responsible adults, however, we have to be purposeful about our children’s needs if we have expectations of being orderly in worship. Expecting a child to cooperate during a nap time, meal time, or when feeling unwell is as reasonable as taking your cat swimming: you can try it, but it probably won’t work out for you.
When children are trained to respect God and others in worship, we can enjoy immense blessings from them in our faith communities. After all, Jesus blesses the little children (Mark 10:13-16.) Children who are empowered by God can serve using their gifts even in their youth. There are many children who served the kingdom of God in remarkable ways throughout scripture. We read about the child King Josiah who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord in 2 Kings 23 and 2 Chronicles 34. We see a young Joseph who was already receiving visions in youth in Genesis 37. The popular story of David slaying the giant Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 took place when he was still a boy. What’s more, Samuel the prophet was called to service by God when he was still a child under Eli’s care in 1 Samuel 3. John the Baptist even responded to Christ in his mother’s womb in Luke 1! Jesus was recorded to have been discussing God in the Temple long before called to his adult ministry in Luke 2. Finally, Mary, the mother of Jesus was probably between twelve and fourteen years old when she gave birth to Jesus, according to Jewish tradition.
I believe we should rethink how we include children in church today. It does a great disservice to the Kingdom if we look at their church experience as just being kept out of the way of the “real” church stuff. May we train our children to be useful servants of faith even in their youth. Though these words were given by Paul to a young church leader named Timothy, I believe they are relevant to even children: 1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” May we leave a legacy that long outlasts our own lives in the way we treat our children.