Should we have children in worship? Should we have a separate worship service for children? Learn why worshiping with children is so valuable.
Table of contents
- Why the Need to Explain Having Children in Worship?
- Having Children in Worship Is the Biblical Pattern
- We Should Have Children in Worship to Foster a Positive View of Children
- Don’t Argue from Silence Against Children in Worship
- Having Children in Worship Is not an Essential
Growing up I played soccer, basketball, and baseball. When I was in junior high and high school I switched to football, wrestling, and track. When I was an elementary schoolteacher, I coached high school and junior high wrestling, and elementary school flag football and girls basketball. In all my experience playing and coaching, I found that football coaches receive by far the most criticism. The reason is play calling. Whatever plays the coach calls there will always be fans convinced the coach should have called another play instead.
Katie and I attended a small school. There were less than twenty guys on the football team, which meant that if you had a pulse, you probably played offense, defense, and special teams. On offense I played running back and I had my own thoughts about the play calling. There were times I thought it would have been better if the coach called a different play.
But then something happened that changed everything for me. I overheard the coach explaining the play calling. He said, “We run this play to set up this play. Then we run this play to set up this play. And if they respond this way, then we run this play, but if they respond this way, then we run this play.” And just like that I understood what our coach was doing. Hopefully this post serves the same purpose and helps you understand why we would have children in the worship service.
Why the Need to Explain Having Children in Worship?
We tend to be convinced of whatever we first experience. This is why people raised Buddhist typically stay Buddhists, people raised Mormon typically stay Mormons, people raised Pentecostal typically stay Pentecostal, and the list goes on.
If you go into many churches across the nation, the norm is for parents and children to be separated for events and activities. There is a worship service, and the kids are removed for children’s church. There is a midweek service, and the children go to youth group. Because this is so common, it is what many people first experience. They become convinced it is right because it is all they know.
A paradigm shift can be required for people who never thought about church any other way. They are not opposed to having children in worship. Instead, they’ve never seen it differently, so it’s not on their radar. Many people might be surprised to know it was the norm throughout most of church history and it is still the norm throughout most of the rest of the world today for families to worship together.
We are part of a Christian hospitality network we highly recommend called, “A Candle in the Window.” A Chinese family stayed with us. They came to the United States so the father, Peter, could receive pastoral training and return to China to plant churches. He said they had always seen children in worship until coming to the United States.
A pastor friend, Cary Green, and his wife, Lois, were missionaries in Germany. They came to the United States when they were told they could no longer homeschool. They shared about church life in Germany, and that children are in worship.
But even if the norm throughout human history and throughout the world today is having children in worship, that’s not what we should base our decision on. We want to answer this the same way we answer everything: What does God’s Word say?
Having Children in Worship Is the Biblical Pattern
Children Were Present When Rejoicing
Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the Lord your God blesses you. And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter… “You shall keep the Feast of Booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your winepress. You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter.Deuteronomy 16:10-11, 13-14
They were to celebrate the Feast of Weeks and Booths as families with their sons and daughters present.
They offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.Nehemiah 12:43
They finished building the wall around Jerusalem, and the children were also present rejoicing.
Children Were Present When God’s Word Was Read
Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”Deuteronomy 31:12-13
Moses wanted everyone present while the law was read, including the children, There is a Hebrew word for children: bēn. But the Hebrew word for “little ones” is ṭap̄, and it means, “little children.” We are not talking about teenagers or even older children. God wanted toddlers present.
Twice it says the children “may hear [God’s Word] and learn to fear [Him]. There is an unfortunate and unbiblical belief that children can’t hear and understand God’s word. The idea is they’re too young to understand or pay attention. But this is a strong declaration about God’s Word working and transforming them.
Moses was confident God’s Word would go out, wash over these children, and cause them to fear God. We should have the same confidence. We are not confident because we think our children are so smart and can understand everything. Our confidence is not in them. We are confident because of God’s Word. We know it is powerful and can change their hearts.
Many people in my congregation would testify to this. Over the years they have shared with me wonderful truths their children have learned from the sermons.
There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones (ṭap̄), and the sojourners who lived among them.Joshua 8:35
Joshua read the law and even the youngest were present. I can’t imagine what people would say today if the whole law was read with their children present: “I’m sorry, but this isn’t going to work. My kids are going to be bored. They’ll never understand. They can’t sit still. This will go over their heads. Where are all the games?”
Children Were Present When Seeking the Lord
After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle. Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar” (that is, Engedi). Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.2 Chronicles 20:1-3
Jehoshaphat was attacked by many enemies. This was a terrifying moment that looked like the Jews would be conquered. Even Jehoshaphat was afraid. He decided to seek the Lord.
Meanwhile all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones (ṭap̄), their wives, and their children.2 Chronicles 20:13
This might seem like a time to keep the children away, but Jehoshaphat wanted all the children present while seeking the Lord.
Children Were Present When Confessing Sin
While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly. And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.Ezra 10:1-2
Ezra brought the people together to confess the sin of marrying Gentiles. If you had to choose one time you would expect the children not to be present, this would be it, because the children didn’t contribute to the sin. But Nehemiah still wanted them at this time of corporate confession.
Children Were Present When Praising the Lord
Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven.Psalm 148:12-13
This Psalm is about praising the Lord as you can tell by the beginning of many of the verses (Psalm 148:1-5, 7, 13-14). The psalmist called the people together to praise the Lord, including the children.
Children Were Present When Repenting
The Lord declares, “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments…Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants.Joel 2:12-13, 15-16
Joel 2 is famous because Peter quoted it on the day of Pentecost. It describes the great and terrible Day of the Lord. Right after that, the people are called to repentance so they can avoid the judgment. Even “nursing babies” were to be at this “solemn assembly.”
Some people argue that we shouldn’t have children in worship, because it is “a solemn assembly.” The children will make noise and be a distraction. But God still said “even nursing infants.” At Woodland Christian Church we love to have infants in worship, even though we know they will make noise. We try to leave the foyer free for nursing mothers (or anyone for that matter – whether mother, father, sibling, or helpful young lady – who wants to help with a crying baby). If mothers are uncomfortable nursing in the foyer, we have the nursery available and we are working on getting the service streaming on the television in there.
All ye Pilgrims with your wives and little ones, do gather at the Meeting House, on the hill…there to listen to the pastor, and render Thanksgiving to the Almighty God for all His blessings.William Bradford’s 1623 Thanksgiving Proclamation
William Bradford wanted his people to live according to God’s Word. His quote sounds like the above verses because he saw that as the pattern in the Bible.
We Should Have Children in Worship to Foster a Positive View of Children
I’ve heard terrible stories of women who shared that they were pregnant and then they received worldly responses making fun of them and discouraging them from having more children. But the responses weren’t from worldly coworkers or neighbors. They were from people in the church.
Christians should never have this attitude toward children. Instead, we should view children the way they’re presented in Scripture:
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.Psalm 127:3-5
Because Scripture presents children so positively, we should view them very positively.
When My Son Learned We’re Expecting Our Tenth Child
Something sweet happened this past week. We wanted to surprise our kids at church with the announcement that Katie is pregnant. I took the youngest kids with me to Walmart to get groceries and pick up Katie’s Zofran prescription. Zofran is the medication Katie takes for her nausea.
We were in line at the pharmacy and one of my sons, Johnny, looked at me and said with a smile, “Why are you getting Zofran for Mommy? Is she pregnant?”
I couldn’t keep it from him at that point. When I told him the news, he got emotional. Then I got emotional. I grabbed him and pulled his head toward my shoulder and we both stood there looking like a couple of babies. You’d think this was the first time we had a baby. Apparently, it’s not getting any less exciting for us.
Because Scripture has such a high view of children, I want my children and the church I pastor to have a high view of children. One of the best ways to facilitate this is to have children around. It’s hard to grow in our appreciation for children if we send them away.
Don’t Argue from Silence Against Children in Worship
The Bible contains a consistent pattern of having children in worship, and there is no contradictory pattern, or even examples, of having children separated from worship. One argument I’ve heard is, “Scripture doesn’t forbid children from worshiping separately, and if it was that big of a deal God would forbid it, so it must not be forbidden; therefore, we can have children worship separately.”
This is as an argument from silence, and it is a poor way to argue, especially over spiritual matters. We shouldn’t try to build arguments from what Scripture does not say. We should build arguments from what Scripture does say. Just because Scripture doesn’t forbid separating children for worship is not an argument for separating children from parents for worship.
Having Children in Worship Is not an Essential
In Scripture, the main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things. Having children in worship is not emphasized like other topics, such as prayer, forgiveness, repentance, and service. Two common mistakes we can make with Scripture:
- Failing to strongly address topics that Scripture strongly addresses.
- Strongly addressing topics that Scripture does not strongly address…such as having children in worship.
I have met people who almost seem to put having children in worship on par with the gospel. They act like if churches have children in worship then everything in the church will be perfect. But this simply isn’t true. As much as I love having children in worship, it’s not the gospel, and it’s not going to save our children. It would be better having children out of the worship service hearing the gospel, than having children in the worship service without the gospel.
Because this is not an essential issue, when I describe Woodland Christian Church, I say, “We generally do things as families,” versus, “We do everything as families.” Here are some things we do that wouldn’t be considered family integrated:
- Moms Night Out
- Nancy Campbell’s Above Rubies Retreat
- Ladies’ conferences
- Men’s breakfasts
- Saturday morning men’s group
Woodland Christian Church will never follow the youth group model, but I’m glad to see our young people doing things together. My kids have friends their ages and they get invited to their houses, and we have their friends to our house. Even though we like to keep families together, we never say, “Your whole family has to come over,” or “You better invite our whole family. If you can’t have all thirteen of us over, you’re out of luck. That’s right, my mom lives with us now, so she’s part of the deal. It is thirteen or zero. You choose.”
I think we should have children in worship. There is a biblical pattern for doing so and it helps foster a positive view of children. But it must be viewed as a nonessential, or second-tier issue.