Imagine a worship service without children. No little ones crying or talking during the sermon. No turning of heads to locate the source of the commotion. Neither do parents need to crack their heads over how to occupy their young ones while the service is in progress. It will be orderly, quiet and peaceful. And it would be a sign that something in the life of the church is terribly wrong.
Recently, two people have spoken to me regarding the noise that the children are making during our worship services. One said that he looks forward to worshipping God on Sundays only to be distracted by the children. Another said that she felt sorry for the preacher who had to contend with the disturbances caused by the young and restless ones.
Every 1st and 5th Sunday of the month, we will have intergenerational worship where all our children and youths will join us for service. Our youths have been encouraged to attend the 8.30 am service every Sunday and thereafter they can attend Youth Zone (YZ) meetings at 11 am. As for the children, from Nursery to Primary 6, they will be with us once or twice a month.
We have also encouraged the parents to bring their infants and toddlers to service every Sunday. This is possibly the group where the rackets come from because sometimes, they become a bit fussy and may suddenly scream to get their parents’ attention.
I am glad that more and more parents are willing to bring their little ones to church. This is great! Previously, they were not keen because they thought that it was a waste of time since their children would not be able to understand what was going on during the service, and they would also be a pain in the neck when they caused such a din in the sanctuary.
When we worship, we participate in the life of the triune God, and when we, as God’s people, participate in worship, we are formed and transformed to be more like Christ. That’s why it is so important for us to faithfully practise this spiritual discipline of corporate worship every Sunday, not as and when we feel like it or skipping it when it poses the slightest inconvenience to us.
Just as those born into an Israelite family were under the Old Covenant, those born into a Christian family are under the New Covenant where parents are to disciple their children so that the latter will know God as their God, and they as God’s people.
Recall each time we conduct infant baptism, as members of the church, we will raise our hands to solemnly promise that we will help in the raising of the child and provide an atmosphere of love and concern for the child and the family. Wouldn’t welcoming them into the worship space be one concrete way we can fulfil our vows?
However young they are, they are never too young to participate in the life of the triune God, never too young to be formed to be more like Christ and therefore never too young to be part of the congregation in worshipping the Lord.
Jesus in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem witnessed children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” While the chief priests and the scribes were indignant about the noise the children were making, Jesus acknowledged the children’s praise and linked it to Psalm 8:2, “Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise.” (Matthew 21:15-16)
Of course the service is over the heads of these tots, unless they are gifted in language. It is supposed to be over their heads. They are beginners. Cognitively, they may not understand much but long before children fully understand the words said and sung in the service, they are absorbing tremendous amounts of valuable experience.
They may be walking about doing their own things at the back of the sanctuary but they are listening. The music and words become familiar. The message of the songs starts to sink in. The liturgy starts to feel natural. That’s why it is not surprising and a great pleasure to hear them sing the 3-fold Amen or hum part of the Doxology or mouth portions of the Lord’s Prayer.
For the older children, parents can learn to engage them after the service on what they have heard during the sermon in particular or during the service in general, and in the process explain spiritual truths to them that are valuable for their long-term growth in the knowledge of God.
Even if all of the above does not happen, at the very least, it is good for them to grow up knowing that coming to church to worship God as a family is a priority and an every Sunday affair, come rain or shine.
It is also good for our little ones to see how the adults worship the Lord, especially their own parents. The greatest stumbling block to our children’s worship may be us, especially when we ourselves are distracted because we are constantly on our phones or we are incessantly complaining about the worship because it is not done to our liking.
Our children are very sensitive beings. They know whether we love being in the house of the Lord. They can feel the difference between duty and delight. Values are often caught rather than taught.
I really hope the children in our midst will have good role models when they look at their parents as well as the uncles and aunties in the congregation. Do we rush into the sanctuary long after the service has started? Are we singing joyfully? Are we listening attentively? Are we praying earnestly? Are we fully participating in the worship service?
If the children are never with us, they will find what we do during service rather strange, or even boring, when they finally come of age and join us in worship. It is no wonder that they will start to become disinterested and subsequently leave church.
As the different age groups worship together, let us be mentally prepared that the worship space will not be as quiet as we desire it to be – expect that there will be noise. But let us exercise love in being willing to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).
Please leave the last two pews for the parents with infants and toddlers to occupy. I know those who come late are very tempted to sit in those pews because you don’t want to disturb the rest of the congregation but no, please move to the front, especially those who have a low threshold for noise, sit as far front as possible as there is usually ample space in the front.
Do not be too quick to turn your heads at the slightest sound generated from behind so as not to give parents unnecessary pressure.
As for parents, you also need to be considerate. If your children are making a lot of noise, do make some effort to silence them, and if they cannot be silenced, do take them to the cry room. Once they have calmed down, they can be brought back into the sanctuary again.
If they are screaming, and we let them continue to scream without doing anything about it, that will really be distracting for everyone, including the speaker who is trying to preach God’s Word.
If we strive to look to the interests of others, we too will grow in our discipleship as we bear with each other and make space for the young and old to worship together.
“When we practise worship that includes all ages, we are living more fully into what it means to be the body of Christ.” (Valerie Grissom)