TOGETHER ON PURPOSE
Here at King’s Church, we practice “Family Integrated Worship,” where families attend our Sunday worship service together (rather than children or teens attending their own meetings separate from their parents). The only exception we see to this (both now and in the future) is to provide a safe place for the under 3’s in a nursery. However, we do not wish to segregate older children and teens from the rest of the congregation – sending them off to different rooms or buildings. Instead, on earth, as it is in heaven, young and old together, with one voice in unity, we the gathered people of God seek to proclaim His praises and hear His word together.
We do not make the claim that our way of worshipping is the only valid way to do Church on the Lord’s Day. Indeed, we believe there are times when it is entirely appropriate for specialized ministry to take place. One Biblical example of this is that older women are exhorted to teach the younger women (Titus 2:3-5), which presumably means that men are excluded from such a gathering.
However, while in no way wishing to be divisive or suggest, even for a moment, that we are the only Church in town obeying God, we practice “Family Integrated Worship” because of certain convictions we have. As we examine the Biblical data we find that throughout the centuries, this has been the normal way in which the people of God have gathered. This is clear from both the Old and New Testaments.
Deuteronomy 31:11-13 reads, “When all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 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.” Joshua 8:35 says, “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, and the sojourners who lived among them.”
Ezra 10:1 – “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.”
These and other scriptures testify to the fact that when God’s people assembled, it was normal for children to be included.
In the New Testament, children were present during Christ’s preaching and teaching ministry (Matthew 14:13-21).
When Paul wrote to the Church at Ephesus, he included a message for the children (Eph. 6:1-3). In doing so, a clear assumption was in his mind; that when his letter was read to the gathered Church, children would be present in the service to hear it. The same assumption can be found in Colossians 3:20, where we read, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”
In recent decades, many have practiced a very different model for doing Church, something called “age segregated worship” where the family is split up, fragmented and isolated from each other in the service. We have now had a great deal of time to assess the long term effects and fruit of such ministry. The results are in and what we have observed has not been good. While church growth did occur, at least initially in the short term; when teens become adults we see a severe lack of participation in the life of the local church. The percentage of teens in youth ministry who make the transition to regular, ongoing participation in the local Church as adults, is alarmingly low. That is tragic and heart breaking!
In the light of this, we need to ask an important question: Could it be that the model we have used may be a big factor in this?
We believe so.
While the age segregation model was adopted in hopes of it being a blessing to children and youth, the unintended consequence of this is a thoroughly ingrained notion in our kids that to do church, a person must be with people of a similar age. Sadly, in a very real way, this is what we have taught them.
THE SHEPHERD AND THE FLOCK
When a person, raised in an age segregated model Church leaves their teenage years behind, they might have gone through the entire course of childhood and never been with adults, couples and seniors in corporate worship. Let that sink in for a moment. They might even have been in the same local Church all that time and never known the pastor and elders. The pastor is an irrelevant figure in their lives. The child’s parents may know him but not the children. Oh, they might have perhaps seen the pastor’s photo a few times on a Church brochure. Maybe…. But they have had no personal interaction with him. They may never have (or very rarely) heard him speak. Given that the pastors/elders’ role is to shepherd the entire flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2), this is a very sad state of affairs and one that we contend is thoroughly unbiblical. Is it any wonder then that with no specially marked room for those in their young twenties to go to during the Sunday worship service, they feel very out of place when, perhaps for the very first time, they are now having to worship alongside people of a different age? This is entirely new to them. They have never had to do this before. It is very difficult for them to find any sort of connection with the gathered church because we have taught them to be disconnected. Because of this you will see the absence of age-graded ministries at King’s Church. This is intentional on our part. While there may be times for children to be gathered together in order to be taught; similarly with teens, there is no specifically segregated youth or children’s ministries here. We do not find such terms as “children’s minister” or “youth minister” in the Bible because the very concept is extra-biblical. Instead, Christian parents (rather than the Church) have the responsibility of providing their children a solid foundation in the things of God. Parents (especially fathers) are to discipline and train their children. It has been well said that parents who are relieved of their discipleship duties tend to become dependent on those who have taken over the job.
SPEAKING OF FATHERS
In Psalm 78: 5-7 we read, “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.” Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
We wish to be clear here. Church ministry provides a vital role for the family. Yet it is a specific one in serving the family by training parents to bring up their children in the things of God. Churches should teach fathers how to be family shepherds. Rather than placing the burden of children’s and youth ministry on a few “paid professionals” Churches are to equip parents to teach, train, disciple and evangelize their children. The parents’ responsibility in discipling their children is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week assignment from the Lord. It is an entire way of life. Speaking to parents, Deuteronomy 6 says, “You shall teach them (God’s words) diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
PARENTS AND CHILDREN
In an article entitled, “The Family: Together in God’s Presence” here is a lengthy quote from John Piper:
“The greatest stumbling block for children in worship is that their parents do not cherish the hour. Children can feel the difference between duty and delight. Therefore, the first and most important job of a parent is to fall in love with the worship of God. You can’t impart what you don’t possess.
Togetherness… Worshipping together counters the contemporary fragmentation of families. Hectic American life leaves little time for significant togetherness. It is hard to overestimate the good influence of families doing valuable things together week in and week out, year in and year out.
Catch the Spirit… Parents have the responsibility to teach their children by their own example the meaning and value of worship. Therefore, parents should want their children with them in worship so the children can catch the spirit and form of their parents’ worship. Children should see how Mom and Dad bow their heads in earnest prayer during the prelude and other non- directed times. They should see how Mom and Dad sing praise to God with joy in their faces, and how they listen hungrily to His Word. They should catch the spirit of their parents meeting the living God.
Something seems wrong when parents want to take their children in the formative years and put them with other children and other adults to form their attitude and behavior in worship. Parents should be jealous to model for their children the tremendous value they put on reverence in the presence of Almighty God.
Not an excessive expectation… Children can be taught in the first five years of life to obey their father and mother when they say, ‘Sit still and be quiet.’ Parents’ helplessness to control their children should not be solved by alternative services but by a renewal of discipline in the home. Not all over their heads… Children absorb a tremendous amount that is of value…. Music and words become familiar. The message of the music starts to sink in. The form of the service comes to feel natural. The choir makes a special impression with a kind of music the children may hear at no other time. Even if most of the sermon goes over their heads, experience shows that children hear and remember remarkable things.
The content of the prayers and songs and sermon gives parents unparalleled opportunities to teach their children the great truths of our faith. If parents would only learn to query their children after the service and then explain things, the children’s capacity to participate would soar…
Sunday worship service is not useless to children just because much of it goes over their heads. They can and will grow into this new language faster than we think—if positive and happy attitudes are fostered by the parents.”
Each of us as parents are to train our children in the worship of God. That means that children learn to sit in the service quietly. This is not an unrealistic expectation for a child who has been raised to obey his parents.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
The formative years of a child are when patterns of behaviour are instilled by the parents. Part of that training involves the family in worship together on the Lord’s Day. This time is different – sacred in fact. It is set aside as the day and time when all in the family engages in the worship of God, along with the rest of the gathered saints and therefore, it is the task of parents to be teaching this to our children, both by precept and example.
Again Dr. Piper writes, “Children absorb a tremendous amount that is of value; this is true even if they say they are bored. I suspect the accumulative effect of over 850 church services spent together up to the age of 18 would be incalculable. Music and words become familiar. The message of the music starts to sink in. The form of the service comes to feel natural. Even if most of the sermon goes over their head, experiences show that children hear and remember remarkable things…
Not everything that a child experiences has to be put on their level in order to do them good. Church services are not useless to children because much of it goes over their head. They will grow into it faster than we think – if positive, joyful and earnest attitudes are fostered by parents. As a church we need to be careful from reinforcing ideas that you only go to church if it is interesting, or that the service is good up until the sermon – then you can leave. A deep moving of the magnificence of God can come to a young heart through certain moments of great songs, Scripture saturated prayers or authoritative preaching… There is a sense of solemnity and awe which children should experience in the presence of God. This is not likely to happen in children’s church… A deep sense of the unknown and the mysterious can rise in the soul of a sensitive child in solemn worship — if his parents are going hard after God themselves. A deep moving of the magnificence of God can come to the young, tender heart through certain moments of great hymns or “loud silence” or authoritative preaching. These are of immeasurable value in the cultivation of a heart that fears and loves God.
We do not believe that children who have been in children’s church for several years between the ages of six and twelve will be more inclined or better trained to enjoy worship than if they had spent those years at the side of their parents. In fact, the opposite is probably the case.”
While we believe it is a wonderful and healthy thing for families to be together in worship, certain objections are sometimes raised against this idea. In this lengthy quote by Pastor Jeff Durbin of Apologia Church, Tempe, addresses five of the more prominent ones:
1. Children are distracting.
Yes, they are. That doesn’t give us a license to ignore the clear pattern of Scripture for how corporate worship is to be done. Further, we should give grace to children and patiently instruct them on how to show reverence to the worship of God. This is an excellent opportunity to work on our own hearts and make a commitment to train children on how to worship God. It’s hard work. There’s no question about that. How we respond to this says much more about us than it does about noisy children.
God called noisy, crying, booger-picking kids into His sacred assemblies. He is apparently fine with it and wants it. We should too. Sanctification is a process in which our hearts desires are conformed to His.
2. Children are not capable of understanding.
Respectfully, this is one of the weakest arguments I have encountered. The Bible has many examples of instruction to children and Jesus called us not to forbid children from coming to Him to learn from Him. When I hear this objection, it grieves me. Many Muslim children are encouraged to memorize the entire Quran at very young ages. We need to trust the clarity of God’s Word, the power of God’s Spirit, and we should believe that God is able to communicate His truth (even the deep things) to small children. We should be allowing our children to wrestle with the deep things of God from a young age. We ought to teach our children to be rigorous in their thinking for the glory of God. That isn’t to say that we don’t bring things to their level, it’s to say that we shouldn’t be comfortable with constantly dumbing-down the faith for young children. This, I believe, will ultimately hurt them. Could it be that this is the means of how so many professing young ‘believers’ end up abandoning the faith when challenged with some of the weakest and worst arguments when they get to college? Further, what do we think is the best model for creating a pattern of life that our children learn from infancy: seeing their parents participate in corporate worship or being separated from their parents so as to not see it?
Finally, there are lots of things that many adults don’t fully grasp from the pulpit. Do we then create new programs and church structures for all of the people who just want the ‘easy stuff’?
3. They disrupt the service.
Again, God is very comfortable with this. He invited these little noise-makers. If it is a severe problem, then commit to a period of time in which through love, patience, and discipline we train them to not disrupt the worship of God. This has a sanctifying effect on them and us. It takes time. Be patient with them.
Let me ask this question: If Jesus showed up for worship on a Sunday, would we separate our children from service?
4. I just need a break.
This, again, says more about our own hearts than it does about children in service. Also, what is worship about? Is it about us or God? Again, He invites them. Why don’t we? Finally, it’s important to remember that ‘getting a break’ so that ‘I’ can worship means that there’s a group of people who don’t get to worship and get fed so that they can watch my kids and “I” can worship.
5. They will get bored.
Then spend time talking with them about the blessing of knowing God and hearing His Word. This is an excellent opportunity to teach our children about the blessing of God’s Word and the grace of God in giving it to us. This is an opportunity to talk about what was taught during the message and apply it to our lives. We should model a life-long pursuit of hunger for the things of God. Teach your children to develop a taste for the things of God. Reverence for God’s Word is both taught and caught.
Worshipping God is a privilege and flows from the grace of God. Children should be taught this from a very early age.
While much more could be shared on this subject, it is our hope that these brief words provide something of a window as to why we do what we do at King’s Church. We welcome children in our services with open arms. Each one is precious to us and precious to the Lord. We greatly desire children to become vibrant disciples of Jesus, and to know and embrace a biblical gospel, as well as become fully engaged participators in worship, all for the glory of God. Our prayer is that God would open up their hearts to Him at a very tender age. In our eyes, children are not merely the Church of tomorrow; they are, very much, the Church of today.
For more on this theme, here is a short interview discussion with Dr. John Piper found at this link.