Ed Corke, Worship Pastor at Holy Trinity Cambridge, UK.
In Part I, I talked about the difficulties and frustrations that can make the worship for everyone idea hard to pursue. Fortunately, God meets us where we’re at but is kind enough not to leave us there! As He moves us forward in His vision of worship, our goals and targets change.
In my initial culture shock of all-age worship, my aim was damage limitation for my embarrassment. I still remember being petrified to ask my non-Christian university friends along to church lest they see me acting like some sort of spiritual Teletubby (“Perhaps you’d prefer the evening service?”). Then I graduated to the aim of just making our church “family friendly”. But since people wiser than me encouraged me to learn to make true ‘worship for everyone’, God has been teaching me about His aims for worship for everyone which, needless to say, are a lot more exciting than mine.
Most of these aims you already know about, so I’ll just pick out one. The most exciting thing for me personally is that all-age worship – which so often lags a few years/decades behind contemporary worship, which so often gets relegated in terms of church resources or airtime, which I so often saw as getting in the way of the “proper” Sunday morning set I spent so long preparing – that same all-age worship can lead the way for the rest of our church’s worship life to follow.
I probably should have figured this out long ago. Isn’t it the children in Jerusalem who get Jesus’ identity: “Hosanna to the Son of David”, while the Pharisees (even the disciples) are squabbling? Didn’t Jesus tell us to become like little children, not vice versa? Then why not in our worship? Here are a couple of examples of how I’ve seen this on my and my church’s journey.
First, it has led the way in expression. When I read the Bible every example of worship involves an expression that overflows from the heart. Perhaps you don’t have the same problem, but in my context we are ‘Anglicans’ and, to be honest, as adults, we aren’t always very good at expressing ourselves in worship sometimes. Not so with many of our children, who feel and express that feeling almost indivisibly.
Maybe this is one of the things Jesus was getting at when He told us to become like children. As we’ve given all-age worship (and children) a platform in our services, they have become the bridge between where we are and where we want to go in expression. We all began to feel as though we had permission to worship God with our bodies, and where the actions used to be largely performed or observed, now they’re something we all do (even Alpha members the other day!). We’re yet to see the complete transition to our conventional worship, but that’s my point: our all-age worship is ahead of the curve of our conventional worship and beckons us to become like children.
Second, it has led the way in creativity. All-age songwriting has taught me the value of indigenous creativity in the local church. I mentioned in my last post that the “I’ve just been to…” dynamic can be a challenge. We want our own unique, creative expression of praise, something that we can call “ours”, for God. Some of the songs that we have composed might not be as good as others, but they’ve worked because they’re ours, and from young child to old worship team member, everyone wants something to call “ours”. I hope this will continue to bleed into creativity in other services because, again, conventional worship is lagging behind!
I have to admit at this point that all-age worship has also led the way in my own aim to have a heart of worship, especially in composition. It’s easy to have mixed motives here, because there is a real esteem for our most prominent writers and role models (and rightly so). But when I found my God-given creativity getting muddied by ambition, and at the same time really wanted to write for my church, I decided to write all-age songs because I knew it wasn’t as cool, but it might serve my Lord and my church. What God has taught me through that has fed back into all my writing. I have found all-age worship the gift that keeps on giving to my team and I in our desire to grow hearts of worship and make God, not ourselves, famous.
Third, kingdom work. Maybe the biggest highlight for me in my involvement with all-age worship so far was when our children’s worker Matt told me this story. A mother and daughter who come to our morning service were distraught about the girl’s father who wasn’t so interested in church. Whilst praying together on the way to church, the mother felt God lay Psalm 139 on her heart, that God’s presence is everywhere, and that they were all surrounded by the Lord. Later that morning, we used a new action song written from within our church based on, you’ve guessed it, Psalm 139:
“If I go down low to the sea
Even there Your presence is with me
If I fly up high to the sky
Even there You are my guide”
In tears, the mother was assured that God knew her family and their troubles intimately, and was in control. God used our time of worship for everyone to build His Kingdom in a way I would never have predicted when I first dipped my foot in the water. And how wonderful that one simple prayer opened the gates to a family – and all of us – being encouraged in the Lord.
We have a lot to learn in letting the children lead us in worship, but I have learnt to change my centre of gravity. Seeing what God has done through our stumbling efforts has persuaded me to expect more from all-age worship than Bible verse memorization or cheap childcare. I’ve discovered that in God’s eyes, worship isn’t something we reluctantly extend to include children if they’ll become like us. It’s a party we’re invited to by children, and we get to come in if we’re prepared to become like them. Sometimes we need to step aside and let the mini-worship leaders have a go, to join their song of praise: “Hosanna to the Son of David”.
Over to YOU:
- Where’s your centre of gravity in all-age worship?
- Do you want to become like children or make them become like you?
- Do you believe children can see breakthrough in the Kingdom of God? How can we encourage that?
- Do you encourage a unique creativity in your church or seek to mimic the way other churches do things? How do we learn from others but also have something to call “ours”?