I was saved listening to a regular sermon on a regular Sunday when I was seven years old. I was in the second pew on the right at Sadler Baptist Church. I’d heard the gospel plenty of times. But that day God touched my heart, and I was awakened to my need for Christ. My eyes were opened to see that God loved me and that Jesus died for me. I believed and trusted then and there.
My eternity was secured on a regular ol’ Sunday in a small church.
If a child spends every Sunday gathered with the church from the time they are 5 until the time they are 18, they will have sat in about 676 services. If the services are 1.5 hours long, it will have consisted of just 0.89% (1,014 hrs) of their lives in that time. If they come for the education hour before the service too, then their Sunday morning time at church would ratchet all the way up 1.48% (1,690 hrs).
Dare we even compare the amount of time they spend in front of the television or iDevices?
Still, many parents struggle to bring their children to regularly gather with the church. And I get it. I have four little children myself (6, 5, 3, and 1½). Getting our kids to sit at the dinner table every night without constantly getting up is a challenge in itself. Church service? It can be difficult, for sure.
I don’t want to pounce on those as really bad excuses. They are poor excuses. But they are genuine concerns.
It hurts deeply when you are gathered with the church and someone looks at you as if to say, “shut that kid up” or “do they really have to be in here?” You can have a bad experience at Olive Garden or Target and never see those people again. But church? Well, we’ll be back next week.
Is it worth it?
Here are 17 reasons (every reason I could think of) why it is worth it to have your young children gathered with the church.
Your children see you listening to (and hopefully obeying through the week) the word of God. That is a powerful image. Parents always have a lot to say to their kids. It is a different picture to see their parents sitting and humbling themselves by hearing God’s word preached to them. It says to your children, “God is God and we are His creation”. It is an act of humility and reverence which shows your children that you are not ultimate. God is (Ecc 5:2, Ecc 12:1-8, Ecc 12:13).
I learned what the gospel was by hearing it over and over and over. Again, God opened my heart to believe the gospel in a Sunday morning service. The gospel is that powerful. We just never know when the news of the gospel may come, “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess 1:5).
We are commanded to not forsake the assembling together (Heb 10:24-25). As members of our local church, we each have the responsibility to gather together regularly. “Church” (ekklesia) means “gathered” or “assembly”. Regular participation with the church teaches our children the habit and rhythm of gathering with the church. It teaches our children that obedience and healthy spiritual disciplines are not limited to gathering with the church “when I need a boost…hoping the sermon has something special for me today.” Nor is gathering with the body about hanging out with the people who are my age. Gathering regularly teaches that gathering regularly is the special thing, which for one, helps us hold fast to the confession of our hope (Heb 10:23).
When I was a kid there were no kids’ coloring packets. No kids’ sermon guides. No “leave to get cookies” time (trust me, I would have remembered that!). The pews were old, squeaky, and wooden; just like the floors. No back cushions. We fight the consumeristic culture ourselves by learning to patiently sit, listen, and reflect on God’s word. These things have to be taught and modeled to our children. Our children are growing up in an increasingly consumeristic and advertisement-flooded culture. In worship service we learn to listen, focus, and reflect on God. Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is he who….mediates on his law day and night”. Gathering with the church is an opportunity to do that and learn how to do that on our own.
Children see the plate coming around (if your church still does that). It is a great opportunity to teach young hearts about the opportunity to give back to God a portion of what he gives us for the gospel ministry. It is a lesson in gratitude. It’s an image they won’t forget. They see the plate going around, and they see the church giving in unison. They see a thankful church in action every week (2 Cor 8:1-15).
There is no sound like the church singing. Children hear that and see that every week. They see faces stirred by God. They see hands reached high. They hear a group of people singing in unison. They hear the gospel in our singing. Not to mention, they are able to worship and sing themselves and have their young hearts encouraged (Eph 5:18-21).
We ought to be praying at home with our children. But in the congregational setting, they see other people praying. They see and hear us get quiet for a moment, bringing praise and making petitions. And most of them DO see it because rather than pray, often they are looking around at other people while we are praying (1 Thess 5:17). Important images.
We have a greeting time in our service. But this goes beyond that time to the time before and after the service. Children miss the opportunity to see their parents and the congregation welcoming strangers in they are dropped off in the back first. It helps them see how to treat others who are “foreigners”. They should see this in our homes and when we gather as a church. “And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in Egypt” (Deut 10:19).
If two parents are together, then children see their parents doing something together. They see their parents in harmony. Of course, the harmony of the marriage Mon-Sat is just as important. But the image of seeing parents hand-in-hand to pray, sing, and listen to God’s word is a strong and lasting image!
Kids gravitate to playgrounds! They’re kids. They like to play. They should play. I visited a church recently that has the largest playground I’ve ever seen in a church. It was waaaaay better than Chick-Fil-A’s. Our kids went nuts! You think they wanted to sit in the service with us? Fat chance. It broke my heart. But the church gathers to worship God, hear the gospel, mature believers, welcome strangers, worship together, minister to one another, and grow spiritually. If kids are given a playground to enjoy church when they are kids, they will think church is about adult versions of playgrounds when they are older.
The church is comprised of the whole church: the young, old, tattooed, wrinkly-grey-haired, single, married, black, white, brown, crippled, handicapped, weird, loud, quiet, outgoing, shy, former criminals and more. The church is a display of the supernatural uniting power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When children are tucked away during these impressionable years, they will develop the idea that “church” is having things tailored for me rather than a display of the supernatural uniting power of the gospel. They’ll see a play-pen rather than learning to enjoy the power of the gospel with people who are not like them at all.
Children spend so much time in sub-cultures of the church that they may not realize the rest of the church is for them too. This is why when many children turn 18 and go off to college or go start a career, they are not looking for a healthy church. Instead, they are looking for the church that has the right sub-culture for their stage of life. They aren’t looking for a full and diverse expression of gospel unity, they are looking for people like them--a special service. This can last through every stage of life.
Baptism. One of the first gospel conversations I remember having with my oldest son was to answer the question, “Dad, why did you give that guy a bath at church today?” Oh, man. So sweet. They will inevitably learn what baptism is as they watch and as you are given the chance to explain it to them.
Lord’s Supper. This is a touchy one for many parents. Many parents want their children to partake in the Lord’s Supper before they are baptized. Some find it difficult to see children excluded from the Lord’s Supper. We don’t want them to feel left out or feel like church is a place they are not welcome. But this, again, is a teaching opportunity. The blood is a sign of the covenant and so only those who have been affirmed as part of the covenant (baptized in name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) should partake in it.
God’s discipleship plan counts on the curiosity of children. Children ask questions. Several statistics say kids ask hundreds of questions a day. Gather them with the church and what will their questions be about? The church. It is a built-in discipleship opportunity.
In Deuteronomy 6, God is passing on the law to the second generation to come out of Egypt. He says, “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statues and the rules that the Lord your God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand’” (Deut 6:20-21). That’s the gospel! Baptism and the Lord’s supper are two testimonies of our salvation and covenant participation through Jesus Christ. Bring your children to gather with the church so they ask about these things we can say, “God has brought us out of sin with his mighty hand”.
Children see different people in different places in the church—whether it is a greeter or someone serving the food at a church family meal. Seeing them read scripture or otherwise participate in the service shows them that church involvement is not limited to service outside of the service. Also, it shows that ministry in the church is not a professional endeavor (only for staff). Rather, it is the church in fellowship and worship together. They see three things at once. One, they see the importance of God’s word through its being read. Two, they see the church obeying God’s word by reading it aloud (1 Tim 4:13). Three, they see members who sit next to them going up to read.
Church membership isn’t wholly wrapped up in the Sunday morning gathering. But there they see so many aspects of membership. They see the church gathered, baptism, the Lord’s supper, tithing, singing, praying, and submitting to leadership. These are some foundational aspects of membership. Seeing these, children can learn the difference between being the church and attending a church.
On that note, children see people serving as greeters and ushers. They see people taking up the offering. They see people volunteering on the worship team. They will see someone in the sound booth. They see the church serving in various respects and it teaches them over time that everyone is chipping in. Service is Christlikeness. Jesus said, “I came not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).
Kids cause a ruckus sometimes. That’s ok. Kids are fidgety and sometimes forget to whisper. It’s ok. Kids will ask several times, “Is it over yet?”. It’s ok. We all get it. They will learn patience and get into the rhythms with you over time. Children are a heritage, a gift. Certain members at certain times will mishandle all sorts of circumstances, including rascally children. But we forgive one another. We endure with one another and we discipline one another (Eph 4:1-5).
It is sung, prayed, read, and preached. God’s word is living and it encourages and convicts. The words from God’s mouth are life-giving. Jesus spoke words and Lazarus came out of his grave. Through the whole counsel of God’s word (Acts 20:27) children hear of God’s faithfulness, his strength, his sovereignty, his love and grace, and even his wrath. More over they hear of Christ as the preacher brings every text to its fullest meaning in relation to Jesus. They can learn faithful biblical theology by hearing Jesus intertwined in all of the bible. We each need to hear of Christ! For, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
At the very least our children learn a lot about the gathered church, her ordinances, and how God is worshiped. More so, in God’s sovereignty, the gathered church may be the very venue he chooses to open a child’s heart to his saving grace—like he did mine on a regular Sunday while listening to a regular sermon when I was sever years old.
For His Glory,
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