The American church has, in many ways, gone the way of the American culture. One of those ways that I want to focus on is the trend of the past 20-30 years of emerging children’s and youth ministries and how it has damaged the work of the local church. The American government is always looking for ways to provide for its citizens in ways so that the citizens won’t have to provide for themselves. We see this in the way of: free lunches at public schools, welfare, financial aid, forgiven student loans, and public education. Of course, all of these resources offered by the government are very much a godsend to those who genuinely need it. However, we have also seen an abuse of all these services and how it has truly exhausted the country’s finances, and in turn, place a greater burden on its citizens in many ways. The reason I am using this as an example is because the American church has followed very similar and unfortunate trends. Sunday school classes, which originated in the 18th century in England during a time when working children were able to get a free education on Sundays (a non-workday) provided by the local church, have been a longtime traditional staple in American churches for parents to send their children to learn Bible lessons. One thing to clarify, I am not advocating for abolishing all children’s and youth ministry programs in local churches, I am hyper-focusing on the issue that, because of the prevalence of these ministries, children of all ages have been wrongly absent in Sunday worship services from most churches for a long time now.
As a result of children in churches spending much of their childhood and adolescence not observing their own parents regularly in the worship services, the statistics of children who supposedly “grew-up” going to church are largely denying the Christian faith altogether at climbing rates as they enter adulthood.
I certainly advocate for Sunday school classes that occur either before or after the worship service, but I am convinced that it is clear, biblically, that children should participate in the worship services with their parents as a normative practice. As a result of children regularly sitting with their parents during the worship services, we would see an overall much healthier trend in the Christian households and local churches in America.
Here are 5 reasons that I can think of, biblically, as to why children (of all ages) should regularly be in the worship services with their parents:
- To emphasize the parent’s biblical role in their children’s lives
“These words I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
When parents are able to simply pass-off their children to the nursey, children’s ministry, or youth group during the worship service, they are essentially teaching their children that the worship service is not for them. Although Deuteronomy 6:6-7 is not necessarily referring to a worship service, it is making the point clear that it is the parent’s responsibility to spearhead the spiritual teachings for their family. The vast majority of professing Christian parents do not hold consistent devotionals with their children at home or even regularly practice teaching a biblical worldview to their children during the week. It is safe to say that it is far more common for the entirety of a child’s biblical education is restricted only to what they learn on Sunday mornings (or midweek youth groups).
When parents sit with their children in the worship service, their role as the spiritual leaders in their children’s lives is emphasized because then the entire worship center would ideally be filled with entire families sitting together in the worship service. It is no longer the children’s teacher or youth pastor’s job to make sure that other people’s children pay attention and behave during church, it is the parent’s responsibility.
2. To positively hold parents accountable (positive peer pressure)
“Be on your guard against false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit…A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit.”
When parents sit in the worship service with their children, it serves as a form of positive peer pressure. Parents who are not used to regularly sitting in worship services with their young children, are often embarrassed by their children’s behavior, because they are not used to sitting with the adults during church. The children’s ministries and youth groups do a great job of entertaining them and making church fun while they are attempting to teach them spiritual truths from God’s Word. The main problem with this, is that the parents and the local church is setting themselves up for failure in that they are conditioning the younger generations to believe that church has to be entertaining for them in order for them to benefit from it. This mentality has also resulted in many adult worship services being largely focused more on entertainment than on an environment of Christ-exalting, biblical, worship.
The positive peer pressure for parents to sit with their children in the worship service should begin on that Monday before the Sunday service. Parents should be mindful of how they are (or not) prioritizing Christ in their home during the week, and not just waking up on Sunday morning after not hearing any form of biblical teaching or Christ-centered conversations from their parents and expecting their children to automatically behave during church. Part of children being with their parents in the worship service is that it is an opportunity for them to see their parents passionately desire to worship God and to hear His Word preached. As a pastor, it is painfully obvious many times when parents are sitting in a worship service and are the least bit interested to be there. Families worshipping together allows opportunities for positive peer pressure to take effect because it should make Christian parents more mindful of what their children are seeing in their behavior between the walls of their home and the walls of the church.
3. To have a more biblical representation of the local church
But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name”
As Christian parents should naturally seek for their children to receive Christ by faith, sitting together in the worship services reinforces the fact that no matter what age they are able to repent of their sins and place their trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they undoubtedly become another member of the family of God. They are, essentially, a brother/sister in Christ to their earthly parents!
When children are confined to living out their church lives with other children and a select few adults who are their Sunday school teachers, they get the view that they only belong around other children their age. The community they actually belong to is much larger than they think, but they would never know that because they are only spending time around other children.
Children should also learn that there are many other godly adults in the church that can minister to their souls besides their parents. Likewise, the adults in the church should be able to identify who the children are in their midst and to recognize the families that make up the congregation.
4. To convince parents they can do what they are supposed to do
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, because this is right…Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
Parents often feel ill-equipped to be the spiritual leaders in their homes. They often compare their biblical knowledge with that of pastors, theologians, church leaders, and Sunday school teachers. By sitting in church with their children, parents can be encouraged that God equips them for the job they are to do as Christian parents. Parents don’t need to have all the answers for their children when bringing them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. In fact, I believe it is more significant that children see within the walls of their home that their parent’s love and desire for God is genuine in the form of observing them in regular-personal devotions, prayer, and commitment to Christian conduct.
Including children in the worship services reinforces to parents and families that everyone is able to benefit from hearing the preaching of God’s word together as a family. For those who are not old enough to understand the sermon or do not have much knowledge of the Scriptures, can rest assured that their parents heard the same thing that they heard, and can ask them questions later. Even when parents do not have the answers for the questions their children ask, they are still modeling a healthy model of what it means to learn together by sitting together in the worship services.
Something that parents should always be able to share with their children is how God is actively shaping their lives. In Deuteronomy 6:20-25, God instructs the parents that, when their children start asking questions about their faith, they are to simply share what they observed God do in their ancestors lives in the form of freeing them from Egypt through miraculous means. Certainly, any Christian parent should be constantly aware of the ways they have seen God deliver them from sin and death. This does not mean they need to share every detail if it is inappropriate, but they can tailor their testimony to their own children as is appropriate for them.
5. To evangelize to unbelieving guests & visitors
If there is one aspect of the American culture at large that is severely suffering, it is the family unit. The rates of divorce, single-parent homes, absent fathers, abuse, foster care, adoption, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and homelessness, are ever-increasing and are the source of much of the stress that families are suffering from. Christian families sitting together in worship services can serve as an excellent form of evangelism for any unbelieving guests and visitors in the worship service. As Christians are called to be the “salt and light” in the world, one of the most effective ways we can do that is by modeling God’s goal for the family. By normalizing families together in worship services, the unbelievers in the midst can observe parents who actually love being around their children!
Even for any blended families or single-parent families that my be present among the Christians in the church, they too are a biblical example to the unbelievers in that they are proof that God is able to redeem anyone from any situation and they are made acceptable in His sight only because of the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross!
The lost souls in this world need a place where they can see what hope, mercy, and grace looks like. One of the best ways they should expect to see those things is within the walls of a church during their worship services.
Parents, one of the best ways you can love your children as God intends is by prioritizing your homelife around Christ so that they are better prepared to sit with you during Sunday services. They need to see you singing, listening, and enjoying the worship service. Most of all, they need to see that it is genuine! Your children know better than anyone else on earth what is truly important to you. They likely have seen you at your best and your worse within privacy of your home. Take your role as your children’s spiritual leader seriously and know that God is gracious in you are constantly learning and growing into that role.
Grace and Peace to you in Jesus Christ,