First, a story.
Some years ago, my husband and I were leading worship with about a dozen children in quite a traditional setting.
We taught the children a little about the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross and what it meant for us today. As soon as we started to sing, there was an incredible sense of God’s presence in the room. I gently explained to the children that although we couldn’t see Jesus, He had given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us know He was real, and it was His presence we felt. We quieted ourselves, singing a very simple song of adoration. All the children had their eyes closed, many had their hands out, and one was kneeling.
One boy of about eight started to weep gently. Was he upset? No. He was experiencing God’s powerful, manifest presence in a way he hadn’t before. Did I panic and think, A boy’s crying! (or worse still, What will his parents say?) No. I recognized God’s presence and let him be. It was a sweet time and was an example of my expectations being blown away. A traditional setting, mixed age range of children, a short limited time, no “working up” period with a big band belting out songs—just two adults and one guitar, but God was surely among us.
What do you think children are capable of when it comes to worship?
In one church I visited, after about 25 minutes in worship of all ages together, it took quite a while for vast numbers of children to exit for their age-specific group time. The sense of relief as the children left was palpable in the air!
Does that resonate with you?
Have you ever felt that the presence of children is hindering you from the presence of God?
I was in a service once where the worship leader said: “Once the children have left us for their groups, we will begin our time of worship.”
I don’t think it was meant to come out the way it sounded, but such words act to reinforce a stereotype of children as ‘distracting’, preventing ‘the real stuff’ from happening.
What if instead we saw children as avid, hungry young worshippers who want to be with us and learn from us and show us their experience of God?
Look at Mathew 21 and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. There are some great insights here in verses 15 and 16 when the children are seen in the temple courts.
In Greco-Roman culture; children were not very important and were not key people involved in temple worship. In fact, they were probably just waiting outside for their parents in the courts. But when Jesus arrives they shout out spontaneously: “Hosanna to the Son of David.” (15)
Earlier, in verses 10 and 11, the shouts “Hosanna to the Son of David” take place outside the city, and in verse 10, we notice that the adults in the city were asking who Jesus was. They saw Him as a prophet from Galilee, yet the children in the temple courts (15) cried out His name using His lineage, which was very important in Judaism as an identifier. Jesus the King!
Listen to Judith Gundry, Professor at Yale Divinity School:
“Children are not mere ignoramuses in terms of spiritual insight in the Gospel tradition. They know Jesus’ true identity. They praise Him as the Son of David. They have this knowledge from God and not from themselves.”1
Mathew wants to show that Children saw Jesus as God’s Son before other people realized who He was.
They saw Him as one to be praised and their praise was loud, spontaneous, and natural.
Notice however that the children’s praise annoyed the religious teachers, and their cries were offensive to the priests. Jesus quotes from Psalm 8 to the indignant priests and teachers – words they would have known well.
“From the lips of children and infants, you have ordained praise.” Psalm 8:2
We need to be really careful today as adults in the church not to be like the priests and the religious leaders in Mathew’s story.
Children are worshippers.
When children worship something opens up. I have witnessed some incredible things happen when children are free to truly worship.
Children worshipping has a powerful influence on the adults who are present. It’s one of the main reasons that we believe in worship for everyone.
There is a purity in children’s worship that touches those who see it at a deep level, and I believe spurs adults on to connect more of themselves with the Creator. To worship as a child means to laugh, cry, dance, shout, whisper, run, or kneel (in short: total freedom!). To worship as an adult means the same.
Heartfelt, fully embodied, holistic, spontaneous, real, spirit-led, praise and worship that is directed at Jesus.
Worship is truly for everyone.
1. Judith Gundry, “To Such As These Belongs the Reign of God: Jesus and Children”: in Theology Today, Jan 2000: pp.479-480.