“Assemble the people, the men and the women and children . . .
so that they may hear and learn and fear the LORD your God,
and be careful to observe all the words of this law.”
Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding (ie, children) . . . and read from it.
I’ve always loved this picture of Ezra, in Nehemiah 8:2, standing before the assembled people of God with the Scroll of the Law in his hand reading to them from God’s Word. For many, this was the first time they’d actually heard the Word read to them personally. Ezra then went on, with the help of teachers he had trained for this purpose, to explain it’s meaning, making sure everyone had a chance to understand exactly what God was saying. But what is really striking to me is the fact that this great assembly, who were being taught to cherish, understand and obey God’s word, was made up not just of men alone, nor only of adult men and women, but men, women and children – “all who were able to listen with understanding.”
Passages like this (and in Deut 31:12 above) are one of the reasons we believe our children should participate in worship with us. So while we do have a nursery available for babies who are too young to understand, we believe that every child who is old enough to begin comprehending what is being said to them should worship with the rest of the church.
That does, of course, present some challenges for parents as well as for the congregation as a whole. As a congregation, we have to put up with little disruptions from time to time as our children are learning to sit still and listen. And that will be true as long as we have children which, Lord willing, will be always! But we believe, in the end, that it’s worth it. Our children gain much from participating in worship with us, much more than they would in a so-called “children’s church.” By being included in the worship of the church as a whole, they have the opportunity of seeing their parents submitting to the Word of God, hearing the same messages and singing the same songs. Handled right, this can provide many opportunities for further discussions and rich experiences parents and children get to share together.
And yet, there are some things parents can do to help their children get the most out of these times. Let me mention just three here this morning.
(1) Review the expectations you have of your children with your children each week. Children, and especially the younger ones, tend to forget what you expect of them if you don’t tell them. So remind them each week that it is our privilege to come together to worship God like this, and not everyone gets to do it. Remind them that they are expected to participate, to stand and sing the songs, to sit quietly and listen when the time comes for the message, and to try to understand what is being said. Teach them to expect that God just might speak to them through His word and show them something very important.
(2) Prepare them for the message each week. You can do this by reading the passage to them ahead of time, if you know what it will be, and discussing with them what they think it means. This is one reason I try to publish the text ahead of time on Facebook and Twitter. But since we’re usually working through a book of the Bible, you can usually assume that the next passage will be whatever comes next. Also, encourage your children to take notes, as they get older. Help teach them good habits of listening and understanding.
(3) Review what they have heard with them later. Ask them over lunch or later in the evening which songs they liked and why. Ask them what they learned from the message. Check to see what they wrote as they took notes and discuss it with them. And share with them what God may have taught you.
Practices like these will help our children get the most from weekly worship.
Learning to be Disciples of Jesus!