Conservative Christianity, at its heart, is committed to preserving transcendent ideas rooted in the very nature and character of God. It seeks to accomplish this goal through the conservative of a tradition that has nurtured the expression of those ideas for ages. If our goal as conservative Christians is to conserve biblical worship and continue to cultivate worship forms that best foster ordinate affection for God, then we must be committed to transmitting these worship forms to our children.
In Dueteronomy 6, God commands his people to teach their children how to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and might. In essence, he is commanding his people to teach their children how to worship. This is clearly a trans-dispensational principle, but if there is any doubt, we find a similar command in Ephesians 6 where Paul commands fathers to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The bottom line is that it is the responsibility of families—and, by extension, church families—to teach children, not only what to believe and how to live, but also how to worship.
Who Created the “Generation Gap”?
No one can deny the impact of the so-called “generation gap” upon the “worship wars” today. Yet what more may be quick to deny is that it is the Church that has at very least contributed to the problem.
Consider the typical children’s ministry philosophy of most churches today. From the time our children are born, we segregate them from the “adult” worship of the Church into their own age-specific groups. Our motivation appears good: we want them to learn about the Bible at a level that is appropriate for their age. And then we give them “their” music separate from “adult” music. Again our motivation appears good: we want them to sing music that is immediately accessible to them at their age. And then we provide for them activities and crafts and games and object lessons and visual aids and puppet shows and magic tricks—all with some Christian theme (it is Church, after all)—to keep them occupied. Once again our motivation may appear noble: we don’t want our children to think church is boring, and we don’t want the adults to be distracted. Then when our children progress to teenagers, we give them a new gathering separate from the adult gathering and their own music different from the “adult” music and activities to keep their interest.
Then one day we expect them to grow up. We expect them to know how to worship. We expect them to appreciate the rich heritage of worship we have. We expect them to take the baton of conserving biblical worship into the future. Yet we have not taught them how to worship at all.
So we—we—have created the generation gap in our churches. Is it really any wonder that “worship” today consists of short, pithy, entertaining devotionals or even stand-up comedy routines? That’s what we have trained our children to expect. Is it any wonder that “worship” today is filled with trite, silly, irreverent songs? That’s what we have trained our children to expect. Is it any wonder that “worship” today is filled with all kinds of innovation to keep people’s attention and make them “enjoy” worship? That’s what we have trained our children to expect.
How Else Will Our Children Learn to Worship?
When we talk about worship, we are working on the level of the affections, sensibilities, and aesthetics. Worshiping God acceptably is not something you can learn in a book or even through standard teaching methods. The only way children can really learn to worship is by worshiping—by participating in and observing responsible, adult worship. John Piper observes,
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.1
This is not to say that there is no place for age-appropriate teaching in certain circumstances, although even then we must be careful what we are teaching them through our methods. But the only way we can expect our children to grow to actively participate in adult worship is for them to experience adult worship. Piper further explains,
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. Is there such a thing as children’s thunder or children’s lightning or the crashing of the sea “for children”?
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 6 and 12 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.
It will probably be harder to acclimate a 10- or 12-year-old to a new worship service than a 5- or 6-year-old. The cement is much less wet, and vast possibilities of shaping the impulses of the heart are gone.
The primary motivation behind pulling children out of the main worship service is a concern that they will grow to think that church is boring. However, it’s natural if our children think church is boring—because it is boring if their measure of what is boring is the entertainment of popular culture. We need to teach our children not to expect to be entertained in church. We need to reshape their perception of what is boring. And the only way to do that is to exemplify for them that the Church’s worship is not boring.
And what is at stake here is that our children have sensibilities that have been developed and nurtured to love the Lord their God and to worship him with forms appropriate for that worship. It is no more appropriate for a child to express irreverence to God than it is for an adult. And what is at stake here is the conservation of the faith once delivered to the saints. When we teach our children to love what is worthy of loving, they will fight to conserve it, for we fight to conserve what we love.
When I was pastoring in Rockford, I began to teach all the children in our church, from age 3 and older, the same hymns we all sang in our worship as a church. I had some resistance from some parents at first, but soon the very parents who had complained said to me, “My kids are singing hymns in the car and at home and everywhere, and I realized that now when they grow older, they’ll look for a church that sings the same things.”
Exactly! But even more than that, some of them will be the very leaders who will have to decide whether they will innovate and allow pop cultural forms to characterize their worship or whether they will commit to Scripture-regulated worship and forms that have been nurtured in the Church to foster religious affections.
- “The Family: Together in God’s Presence” (http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/1995/1560_The_Family_Together_in_Gods_Presence). [↩]