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How do children learn to worship?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present a special library lecture on the topic of family worship. I emphasized the importance of both welcoming children into corporate worship and encouraging families to worship together at home.

Any concerned, Christian parent is committed to training his or her child to be obedient to the Lord and His Word. From the earliest of ages we inundate our children with Bible verses, we make sure that they faithfully attend church, and we seek to instill in them Bible truths that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

I wonder, however, whether Christian parents are really training their children fully. Do we realize how, exactly, our children are influenced and what is influencing them?

It is my fear that most Christian parents do not recognize that before a child can even comprehend facts, his affections and imagination are already being shaped. In fact, I would suggest that most Christian parents never really even consider the moral imaginations of their children. Sure, we say we are targeting their hearts, and by teaching them biblical truth their hearts are certainly influenced.

But do we realize that a child’s heart is shaped far before he or she has the capacity to comprehend truth?

In other words, far before a child can comprehend his need to love the one true and living God, far before he or she can comprehend the concept of a god at all, the child learns how to love.

Far before a child can comprehend his need to fear and reverence God, the child learns how to fear and reverence.

Far before a child can comprehend his purpose to worship God, the child learns how to worship.

What happens with most parents, though, who see only the need to teach their child’s head, is that in order to teach such truths, they are willing to use almost whatever means necessary to do so.

So they use puppets to teach Bible stories, never realizing that their children are learning to view biblical truth as something light and trivial.

Or they use cartoons to teach moral lessons, never realizing that their children are learning to view morality as something silly or “adventurous.”

This problem is seen most acutely with children’s music. Christian parents, educators, and publishers have the noble goal of teaching their children about God, his Word, and how to obey him rightly, but they set such truth to irreverent, trivial, or even downright banal music, forgetting that far before their children learn these truths, they must learn how to express themselves rightly toward those truths.

I do not question the noble motives of these people for an instant. But I do question their understanding of how children are taught to worship.

Children learn to worship God primarily through participating in rightly ordered worship.

Children learn to love God by first learning how to love.

Children learn to reverence God by first learning how to reverence.

Children learn to fear God by first learning how to fear.

Each of these are transmitted not primarily through teaching truth to the mind, but through worshiping with our children, both on Sundays and during the week at home.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

5 Responses to How do children learn to worship?

  1. Good thoughts, Scott. In an ADHD world, it is hard to get much beyond the “B-I-B-L-E” song with the yelling and screaming. We seek to teach our children good hymns at church, teaching through the meaning of the text, and have found that they develop an affinity for those hymns when asked for “favorites.” At home, we are currently learning/memorizing Priest and Victim, Jesus Dies, and our kids enjoy it, particularly this week during the Passion Week. We are not perfect parents, by no means, and have a lot to learn, but we are seeking to implement some things to help shape our children’s affections toward God.

    Do you think there is any room for any kind of “children’s church” today?

  2. Thanks for the comments, Taigen.

    Personally, I am not opposed to any and all age segregation in church necessarily. So, for example, I think there may, in some circumstances, be a place for a children’s Sunday School class, assuming the teaching methods employed are consistent with the weight of biblical truth. So I’m not a full “family integrationist” when it comes to all aspects of church life.

    However, when it comes to the primary corporate worship service of a church, I am opposed to any “children’s church” that would take children out of the service. Even if the “children’s church” is reverent, mimics the “adult” service, and is intended to train the children for “big church,” they are still missing the most significant means of how they will be shaped into mature worshipers. The best way to grow children into worshipers is through mature formal worship. I also think it is really important that children worship with their parents.

    So no, I do not believe there is any room for “children’s church” today, although I wouldn’t be necessarily opposed to other “classes” specifically targeted at children.

  3. I agree with all of your points but I think our family would implement these principles in a radically different way. I believe strongly that teaching children to love, fear, a right response to awe and wonder, etc. involves getting them out the of the house rather than something taught in the house.

    I like C.S. Lewis’ quote about fear. “I do not see how the ‘fear’ of God could have ever meant to me anything but the lowest prudential efforts to be safe, if I had never seen certain ominous ravines and unapproachable crags.”

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