Question: How is it that we embrace children professing their faith in Jesus the one who died for them and yet they are not usually included in services where they sing of Christ crucified…or help crush palms into ashes… or where they assist Good Friday in taking away the altar décor and drape the cross in black? Is it that we as adults want to “protect” them from the cruelty that was the crucifixion, or are we preventing the children from participating as a part of the body of Christ and using them for our own enjoyment?
Throughout history, children have been regarded in various ways from warmly to warily. David Lancy, in his book The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings lists three: the cherub who is overly romanticized and can do no wrong, the “children should be seen and not heard” chattel idea of children as completely unworthy in the presence of adults, and the suspicious idea of children and teens as so mercurial and unpredictable that they cannot be trusted. I would add one more way I have seen children and teens treated within the church: as cheerleaders. We bring them out only at times of the year that are joyful like Advent, Christmas, Palm Sunday, and Easter so that we can smile and applaud them. We do not necessarily applaud each time an adult reads scripture or sings as if it is a performance and not a participation in God’s message of the day….
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In Ezra 10:1 where he is making a prayerful plea for forgiveness on behalf of God’s people, the children are present in scripture mourning alongside everyone else.
While Ezra prayed and made this confession, weeping and lying face down on the ground in front of the Temple of God, a very large crowd of people from Israel—men, women, and children—gathered and wept bitterly with him.
Other scriptural examples tell of children standing with their parents when the 10 commandments are given (Exodus 19:11), standing with them to enter into covenant with God (Deuteronomy 29:10-12), in the face of peril (2 Chronicles 20:12-15), or leading lions and lambs, symbolic of God approving of them as leaders (Isaiah 11:5-6). Perhaps there is another view of children that the church should consider adopting instead of cherubs, chattel, changelings, or cheerleaders: children as chosen.
If we begin to view children as chosen with the imago Dei within, we embody the fact that children and their gifts should be treasured and trained, as adults are, to lead in worship; children are capable of embracing the full Christian Year, capable of leading in both somber and celebrative elements of the four-fold worship model weekly, and capable of being Christocentric—possessing the maturity needed to lead without requiring adulation but instead resonating glory to Christ, through Christ, and for Christ. How often should we choose children and youth to be leaders in worship? As far as in groups and choirs, yes, that may take monthly or bi-monthly seasons to prepare. However, if we think outside the box of “performance” or choir appearances and include them through non-presentational participation, we could choose them weekly. Below are some of those outside the box ideas. Choose children. Choose them warmly, choose them wisely, and choose them weekly for that is the rhythm of how often they are among us in worship.
Multigenerational worship means more than “just” worship; it means worship seeking to be just—both inside the walls and out. Intramural worship (inside the sanctuary walls) calls for worship buddies for families with active children; we need all ages involved more than sporadically in worship elements; we need children to feel purposive at all times of the year. I began a group at First Baptist Church of Crossville, TN, with only 5 children ages 3-14. We called ourselves the Kingdom Kids. We had two adults in the congregation volunteer to be Worship Crafter Counselors to organize the “tools” they would use each Sunday. The participation was either during the prelude or during the first hymn—every Sunday. I am gone three years now from that church, and the Worship Crafters yet continue. Here is our covenant and ideas for including all ages on any Sunday as well as Special Sundays.
Kingdom Kids Worship Crafters
- All items Kingdom Kids use in worship are to be treated as TOOLS not toys.
- Leading worship is about what will draw attention toward Christ and away from all distractions including ourselves
- After worship, store all items used on seats along the back wall to show good stewardship.
- Work with the adult Crafter Counselors between 9:25 and 9:35 to prepare each Sunday
Ideas to Lead in Worship:
- Use instrument(s) to chime after the prelude
- One person to open the Bible after chiming each Sunday;
1st and 3rd Sundays = Children’s SS 2nd and 4th Sundays = Syzygy (Youth SS)
5th Sundays = one bring Bible in to table and one other person open it
- Helping when asked to take up the offering, read scripture, or read for Advent
- Take turns with bells or try adding triangles or streamers so more people can participate
#1 Bells: any C E G bells–Ring three times for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from the front table (or tower swing 3 times)
#2 Bells: any G A B D E bells –Ring from all around the back of the sanctuary from left to right then all together at the end tower swing
#3 Boomwhackers: G A B D –Needs an adult to sing the chorus of “Showers of Blessing”; the B person begins softly tapping their own rhythm first then the others follow with “raindrop” rhythms of their own until the singer begins and finishes the chorus
#4 Triangles and streamers: –Needs a keyboard player; ring rapidly hitting around the insides of the triangle while the organ or piano plays the melody only of the Doxology and ring on each syllable of “A-MEN” to end it or use the song “Oh, How I Love Jesus” and everyone rings once on the last word “me”. Use streamers to make large circles, especially for “O” how I love Jesus. Congregation can be invited to sing too.
#5 Use the children’s lyre to play “O When the Saints” songsheet and ring any bell one time at the end
#6 Ring-Along Handbell Books: Needs at least 8 ringers and an adult to help start the singing; choose a hymn and ring/sing it with the adult Crafter Counselor
#7 Tambourines or Boomwhackers: Needs a Crafter Counselor to read Psalm 150; pop the tambourine or boomwhacker in your hand after the words “Praise Him” or “Praise the Lord”
So what are some ways to choose children throughout the church year? Begin an introduction to the Church Year as a winter retreat before Ash Wednesday or weekend retreat. Children do need instruction; the worship of God must be taken intentionally, no matter the age of the participant. Though incorporating children as leaders may cause some to imagine complete chaos, the opposite is actually true. Many children and youth want to be asked to participate, but will not participate if they do not know exactly what to do. Training and treasuring of the signs and symbols of the Christian faith will equip them to use their gifts and their presence in Christ’s service. One way to begin is to have the children or youth present to burn last year’s palm leaves into dust to prepare for Ash Wednesday.
Once the training on the reason for the ashes is complete, begin a formal effort to incorporate children at the next Palm Sunday service. By beginning at Palm Sunday, the Ash Wednesday service and their involvement of burning the palm leaves will have immeasurably more significance once they understand why palm leaves are used. In fact, the burning leaves process will be a visual and olfactory memory of loss and help prepare them for the somber, reflective season of Lent that is to come.
Palm Sunday: palm processional
- Maundy Thursday: stripping of the altar; foot washing with older children/youth
- Good Friday: make the stations of the cross tactile not only meditative; if a Tenebrae service is done, have older youth pound an anvil for hammer strikes, have children rip cloth to symbolize the temple curtain, have children extinguish candles
- Holy Saturday: Taize service (esp. “Wait on the Lord”; set up Passion Stones for Easter Morn (find stone with a hole in it and another to cover it; can also be done with shells if you are near the beach to find some)
- Easter: have children move Passion Stones to reveal the empty tomb; children singing, ringing, leading in the Memorial Acclamation; and lead in “Christ is Risen/He is risen indeed!” Easter Bells: Ring any C D E G B C bells on Easter seven times, the holy number in the Bible; work with the Crafter Counselor to use small gold/white flags and larger banners
- Ascension: time of blessing of and by children
- Good Shepherd Sunday: 4th Sunday of Eastertide; children/youth surround deacon body and bless their ministry using Hebrews 13:20-21; offering that day is white cotton T-shirts
- Pentecost: children with red, orange, and yellow scarves or flags as first hymn is sung; gifts of the Spirit recognition day in Sunday School
- Trinity Sunday: banners, doxology, Sanctus from NICAEA tune or We Bow Down
- Tithing around the Table 10th Sunday after Pentecost
- Creative Arts for Christ Camp (C to the 3): colors/ iconic symbolism history and church/town tour or virtual ppt tour; Chrismon making; banner and flag making; how to read scripture effectively; chimes training; older children youth footwashing Bible study
- World Communion Sunday: Embodied Lord’s Prayer; show them The Blessing by John Waller missions video
- Christ the King Sunday: Hosanna by Carl Tuttle
- Advent and Christmas
Advent/Christmas/Palm Sunday Bells: any F A C bells–Ring five times for the Christmas Star or on the Sunday before Easter because the number 5 in the Bible symbolizes Jesus’ humanity (like our five fingers); work with the adult Crafter Counselor to use streamers for Advent or Christmas and Palms for Palm Sunday
If there are adult handbell ringers in your congregation, use a multigenerational group to do any of the above. May God bless your worship weavings as you nourish one another at His table. Fire up your worship creativity to help all ages embrace the welcome arms of the Lord to His children of all ages.