Imagine a worship service without children. No little ones crying or talking during the sermon. No chance of unwanted artwork on the seat fabric or worship books. No more fish crackers to dig out of the chair creases. No wasted visitor cards. No need to answer a dozen questions during the liturgy. A worship service without children would be orderly, quiet, and peaceful.
And it would be a sign that something in the life of the church is terribly wrong.
Children are never out of place in congregational worship. Since the beginning, God’s people have known that worship was an event for the whole covenant family (Ezra 10:1). Jesus welcomed children to himself, and he used them to illustrate what it means to belong to God’s kingdom (Mark 10:13–16). God expects children to be present in worship, hearing instructions, promises, and encouragements written directly to them (Eph. 6:1–3; Col. 3:20).
Parents need encouragement that outweighs the challenges involved in having children with them in church.
But a bare belief that children should be welcome in worship is not enough to invigorate us to wholeheartedly embrace them as Jesus did. Parents also need encouragement that outweighs the challenges involved in having children with them in church. We must help Christians see that including children in worship is not only proper biblically, but it’s also one of the most important things we can do for them. How can we say that?
1. Worship gives children an early sense of spiritual belonging.
Children of believers aren’t outsiders. As members of Christian households, they are set apart (1 Cor. 7:14). As fellow image-bearers and recipients of divine promises (Acts 2:39), believing children are able, with God’s help, to worship him in the congregation (Matt. 21:15).
Worship isn’t like an amusement park ride with strict height requirements or a university with rigorous academic benchmarks. Somehow the disciples missed this; they thought children should meet Jesus only when they were older and smarter. But Jesus wouldn’t have it: “Do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14).
Bring your children to join the great cloud of witnesses in worshiping the true God. Having them in church with God’s people is one of the best ways to bring this truth home to them. Even very young children in our church sing along with Psalm 1: “That man is blest who, fearing God, from sin restrains his feet, who will not stand with wicked men, who shuns the scorners’ seat.” The children can’t define all those words. But they’re learning—along with older saints—to be God-fearers, not God-scorners. They’re being catechized to live “like a tree set by the river’s side.” Simply by being included, they’re learning to consciously participate in the body of Christ.
2. Worship embeds essential habits in children.
For those of us who grew up spending every Sunday in “big church,” some of our earliest rituals are singing psalms and hymns, listening to sermons, and praying with God’s people. Children develop patterns younger than we might realize. If you doubt that, try changing some of your children’s routines; they’ll let you know!
Timothy began learning the holy Scriptures from infancy (2 Tim. 3:15). Researchers assure us that children’s bodies remember experiences from their first days. Their early participation in worship can shape them to be lifelong followers of God. Puritan William Gouge writes, “By educating children well from their infancy much labor may afterward be spared, for constant practice of virtue makes it a settled habit.”
Children develop patterns younger than we might realize. If you doubt that, try changing some of your children’s routines; they’ll let you know!
The well-known parenting verse, Proverbs 22:6, also has implications for worship. Children who have been trained to worship will not easily forget the liturgical paths they began walking early in life. I’ve sat at the bedside of old believers who have forgotten nearly everything but their childhood memories. And yet they have joined me in singing words from Psalm 23, words they learned a lifetime ago in the congregation.
3. Worship will introduce children to the God of glory.
God promises to meet with his people in a special way as they gather for worship. The old hymn is true: in worship, “God himself is with us.” The hymn goes on to describe the proper response of worshipers: we adore him and with awe appear before him. We keep silence, prostrate with deepest reverence. We join with the angels and saints singing, “Holy, holy, holy!” Why would we not want our children present for this glorious meeting with Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant who has washed away our sins with his blood (Heb. 12:22–24)? After all, “From the lips of children and infants [God has] ordained praise” (Ps. 8:2; NIV, 1984).
Jesus quoted Psalm 8 to prove that children can sometimes worship better than adults (Matt. 21:12–17)! And while we’re each personally responsible for glorifying and enjoying God, corporate worship is a divine stimulant for offering God his well-deserved praise. With few possible exceptions, what is good for older worshipers is also good for younger ones.
Including children in church isn’t easy. But it is right. And like any hard but right thing, it can yield bountiful fruit to those who have been trained by it (Heb. 12:11).
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The back-to-school season is stressful for moms and dads. New rhythms of school, sports, and other extracurricular activities can quickly fill up a family’s already busy calendar. Where do busy parents look for resources on discipling their family well? Aside from prioritizing church, what else can Christian parents do to instill healthy spiritual habits in their household?
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