At Tapestry Community Church we view children and children’s ministry a little differently than most churches. We don’t provide any kind of children’s church for ages 4 and up, but instead we bring them into the worship service. There are biblical reasons why we do this.
Our hope is that our members will see the biblical warrant for this approach to children’s ministry and will embrace it and become excited about it and see children in our midst in the way God intends us to—as a blessing, an honor, a responsibility. It’s for this reason I have taken the time to try and walk us through the various places in the Bible we get this from. I have argued that it is incumbent upon our church—and every church—to have a proper perspective on children—that children are truly a blessing. They are a precious gift from God, not just to parents, but to the church they are a part of. That God has brought children into our midst means that he is entrusting us with their souls. He has given us the honor and the privilege of ministering to them and pointing them to Christ. Thus, we should bring the little children into church on Sunday morning because the corporate gathering of the saints for worship is the visible manifestation of Christ on earth. The corporate gathering of the saints is the body of Christ. Yes, Christ indwells every individual believer, but it is all believers combined who comprise the body of Christ on earth. Thus, when believers come together for worship, that is the most powerful and palpable presence of Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 19:14, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them.” The corporate gathering of the saints for worship is the place where we most powerfully meet with Christ and worship Christ, and we dare not hinder the children from coming to him. In this third and final article I want to answer two questions: (1) What are the benefits little children receive by participating in the worship service? And (2) what is the biblical warrant for bringing them into the worship service?
God commands the covenant community to expose our children to His word in speech and example at every given opportunity. In Deut. 6:4-7, known as the “Great Shema” to Jews, scripture says: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them 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 up.” Notice three things from this text. First, God is addressing the entire covenant community. “Hear, O Israel”. Not hear, O fathers. Not hear, O parents. But “Hear, O Israel.” This is a command that goes out to the covenant community.
And what is that command? “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children…” The underlying Hebrew word for “diligently” literally means “to repeat”, “to say again and again” or “to sharpen.” It carries the idea of repetitiveness in order to sharpen. Thus, for example, if you want to sharpen a blade, you have to repeatedly slide it over the whetstone again and again until it becomes razor sharp. God desires the covenant community to be constantly sharpening our children by bringing the word of God to them again and again, and he provides an example of this in the text. “You shall teach them 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 up.” As the covenant community, we should constantly be talking to our children about God and about scripture and about the gospel. Too often the mistake parents make when they are alone with their children is that they merely want to find out who their friends are or what their favorite movie is. They want to get to know their child. Of course, there is great value in doing this and parents should certainly want to get to know their children. But the thing parents should be most focused on is speaking gospel truth into their child’s life. The subject parents should be talking about most with their children is God and the word of God. What better way to help fulfill that duty than to bring them into the worship service where their little ears can hear the word of God being sung and prayed and read and proclaimed? More than any other time during the week, this is where they can be most saturated with God’s word.
Exposing little children to corporate worship will provoke questions that can lead to theological discussions and the gospel. Deuteronomy 6:20-25 says, “When your son asks you in time to come, 'What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?” In other words, ‘Mommy, daddy, what are all these rules about? What was the pastor talking about this morning in church? What did that passage of scripture mean that he read this morning? What did that song mean that you all were singing this morning?’ (vv.21-25) “Then you shall say to your son, 'We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand [salvation]. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes [obedience], to fear the LORD our God, for our good always [sanctification], that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.” The more children are exposed to God’s word, the more questions it will provoke, and the more conversations parents can have with them about God and the gospel, about how God delivered them out of the bondage of sin, Satan, and death.
This is true not only of what little children hear, but of what they see and sense. In Exodus 12, right after the event of the Passover takes place, God speaking through Moses commands that the Passover feast be observed yearly. We read in vv.24-27, “You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, 'What do you mean by this service?' you shall say, 'It is the sacrifice of the LORD's Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.” The Jews were to use the Passover meal as a visual illustration to teach their children about the day God delivered them out of bondage. For the New Testament (NT) church, the Lord’s Supper is our Passover meal. We eat the unleavened bread which represents the Lamb of God who was killed for our deliverance. We drink the cup which represents the blood of the Lamb that covers and protects us from the wrath of God. Like the Passover meal, the Lord’s Supper should be used every Sunday as a visual aide to communicate the gospel to children who are in our midst, who are wondering why we do this. What’s this bread and juice all about? Every Sunday the elements of the Lord’s Supper can be used as an opportunity to explain what they mean and to share the gospel with the little ones who are in the worship service.
In Acts 16:1 we encounter Timothy for the first time. There we read: “Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek.” That Luke mentions that Timothy’s father was a Greek, implies that his father was not a believer. Apparently, his mother was a devout Jewish believer in Christ who made a significant impact on Timothy’s young life. We know this from what Paul writes about her in 2 Timothy 1:5. “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” Timothy’s grandmother and mother had a very strong faith, and Timothy grew up watching that—their devotedness to God, their passion for God, their love for God. Not only that, but in 3:14-15 Paul tells Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it [undoubtedly from his mother and grandmother] and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” From a very young age Timothy grew up being constantly exposed to God’s word and watching the devoted faith of his mother and grandmother. What better place for children to see that than on Sunday mornings, to see mom (and all adult women) worshipping Christ wholeheartedly, to see them flipping through the pages of scriptures trying to understand the message, to see them taking the Lord’s Supper with such solemnness. What an incredible impact that might have on a young child. It communicates to the children in our midst that what mom is doing—what these women are doing—is serious and important.
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Dads are given the primary responsibility of bringing their children up in the “instruction of the Lord.” Mothers are never given this command. But throughout the Bible, many times, fathers are commanded to instruct their children in the word of God. Fathers are enormously important and influential in the lives of their children. For instance, I was told by a seminary professor that when he was growing up there were a handful of times when he remembers waking up earlier than usual and walking downstairs. When he got downstairs, he remembers seeing his dad on his knees in front of his chair, with his Bible and a cup of coffee on the table next to him, deep in prayer. He said that image of his dad on his knees deep in prayer impacted him more than anything else his dad ever said or did. Imagine the kind of impact it might have on the children within church to see grown men, with hands lifted up, worshipping God with all their heart, listening intently to the sermon, and praying deep and reverent prayers. It would communicate to the littlest ones that what we do during the Sunday worship service really does matter.
Children can learn by hearing and seeing and sensing the seriousness with which we worship the Lamb. In Revelation 4, John is given a glimpse into the throne room of Christ where he is continuously worshipped day in and day out by the twenty-four elders, who represent the whole people of God, and by the four living creatures who each have six wings, who represent the heavenly hosts. And we are told that these creatures “day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (v.8). And whenever the living creatures sing this praise to Christ, “the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created’” (v.10). What goes on in heaven is the continual worship of Christ, which means that what we do on Sunday mornings is practice in the here and now for what we will someday do for all eternity--worship at the throne of Christ. Just as John was given a glimpse into the throne room of Christ, so also children are given a glimpse into the throne room of Christ on Sunday morning as they hear and see and experience all that is happening around them. There is much they can gain and benefit from this experience of watching and hearing and sensing the corporate body of Christ gathered in one place worshipping the Lamb of God.
These are the benefits of bringing little ones into the worship service and this is the biblical warrant for doing so. Little eyes are watching and little ears are listening, and they are absorbing far more than we realize, so let us do our best to use Sunday mornings to point their little hearts to Christ, and let us not forbid the little children from coming into the presence of Christ, from coming before the throne of Christ.