I want to make a case for what has been called “family worship.” Family worship, as it will be used here, means that individual families meet together with others to worship. In other words, I want to make a case for the need for the entire church -from young to old- to meet together at least once a week for worship.
Of course, though I am making a case for family worship, it would be difficult not to be critical of how “children’s church” can be practiced and the implications that can flow out of that practice. However, let me make a few things clear before we go any further. First, I’m not necessarily against the practice of separating children by age. I think Sunday School and similar teaching times that divide children by age can be beneficial. Second, I’m thankful for the hard work and gospel focus of those who are engaged in teaching and helping at children’s church throughout America. Many love children and are seeking to serve the Lord as they minister. And, third, it’s hard to doubt that children have been helped, brought to salvation, and matured by the means of children’s church.
However, with those things said, I fear the absence of family worship has led to devastating consequences that will only continue unless changes are made. Below are ten reasons why we need to return to family worship.
1. What the word “church” means. The word “church” (Greek ekklesia) has the meaning of “called out ones.” We have been called out of this world to come to God. It also has the meaning of “assemble” or “congregation.” What is the church? A church is a local body of Christians that have covenanted together to follow Jesus and meet regularly with each other to worship. A church “assembles.” That’s what the word means.
Here’s the problem: If a church has children’s church on Sunday morning, that church has basically made it impossible for the whole church to meet together at one time. They have made it very difficult to practice what the word “church” means. Yes, I know it’s rare for every member to be present on any given Sunday morning. But they are invited and it’s possible (if they can physically be there) to assemble.
What about nursery? Nursery is a little different because it’s often a necessity. Crying babies do not make it easy for others to listen. However, mothers should be welcomed to keep their babies in service with them if they’re not a serious distraction. It’s similar to a family with a special needs person. A church should be willing to accommodate any family who has a special needs person. Given all the different circumstances that exist, there can always be times when the right thing to do could be for some adults to miss the main worship gathering. However, the general rule should be that each week the church tries as a whole to meet together, both young and old. Family worship helps us to carry out what the word “church” means.
2. Some families never regularly worship together. A husband and wife have four children, ages 17, 13, 8, and 6. They belong to a local church that has Sunday School, Sunday morning worship, and Wednesday night Bible study. The Sunday school is divided by age. While the Sunday morning service is happening the church also has children’s church up to age 18. And on Wednesday nights the church also divides children based on their age. The family regularly attends all these services. What this means is that months could go by and this family may never attend one service together. Not one. Friends, this is shocking. But how many families are like this month after month? In a sense, a church is a macrocosm of the family. There are times when it’s good for the husband and wife to be away from their children. And yet certainly the whole family needs to be together, too. Churches can have times when children are being taught based on their age. But churches are missing a great blessing when they do not meet together as a whole. Family worship presents an opportunity for families to worship together each week.
3. It appears the Bible assumes that children will be in the gatherings of the saints. In Exodus we are told that when Israel observes the Passover meal that children will ask what this means (12:24-27). This is very similar to when a church takes communion. How can children see the practice of communion unless they are present when it is taken? In Joshua we find, after a reading of the law, “There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua did not read before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones…” (8:35). The “little ones,” or the children, were there. In Ephesians we find commands to wives (5:22), husbands (5:25), and children (6:1). It appears that because wives, husbands, and children are addressed specifically we see that each were assumed to be present in the church meeting, where the Scripture would be read and taught publicly. Family worship seeks to obey examples that are found in Scripture.
4. The main way children are taught the Bible is at home. There are some who may view family worship as not being helpful to children because that’s one service which children would not be taught (on this see the next two points). Their point may be summed up like this: The spiritual education of children is so important, that if children are to be present, they need to be taught on their age level so they can be benefited.
Yes, the spiritual education of children is of vital importance. However, the main way that children are taught is at home by their parents. The church certainly helps in this in many ways. One way that most churches help is by having Sunday School or Wednesday night classes for kids. But the main way that the church helps children is by building up the faith of their parents so that they can then teach their children at home. Parents must first and foremost be concerned about the teaching at their local church that they’re receiving, not their children, because the parents are responsible to teach their children the way of God at home (Deuteronomy 6:7; Ephesians 6:4). Parents need to find teaching that builds them up so they can then instruct their children. Family worship helps to remind parents that they have the great responsibility of teaching their children.
5. Children need to see that God, the Bible, life, and the church are to be taken seriously. I fear most children services do not convey this, especially when compared to the main gathering. Children need to see people cry soberly, shout joyfully, listen carefully, pray seriously, and preach earnestly. Children have time for play. They have time to be away from parents. They have time to be with their own age groups. And parents need to make time for them to be with the godly in the main gathering. They need to see the preacher at times shed tears while proclaiming God’s Word, a brother pray as if he is in the presence of God (because he is), and an elderly saint testify about how good God has been. Children need to know that the things of God are to be taken seriously. This will happen, on the whole, more regularly in the main gathering than in children’s church. Family worship helps children to know that the things of God are to be taken seriously (for more on this, and on the need to meet together as a church, see this article from Desiring God).
6. Children learn better than we think at times. I remember when I was young, maybe around 12 or 14, picking up a gospel tract in my home church’s foyer and being troubled by what I read. One of my children, who is now 7, has told me brief things about what I preached in the main service. We often are surprised by children in what they can do. Why not let them surprise you by how much they can learn from the main gathering of the saints? Family worship gives children opportunity to learn in the main service.
7. We don’t want some of our most dedicated Christians missing the main service. If a church has children’s church on a Sunday morning they have to have at least two adults (if not more depending on the amount of children) missing the main service each Sunday. And sometimes it will be almost the same people every Sunday missing the morning gathering because of a lack of people who can or will do children’s church. Family worship helps to allow the most dedicated to be in the main gathering.
8. The danger of creating a church within a church. If a church doesn’t have family worship they are in danger of having an isolated group of children on one side, and an isolated group of adults on the other. After having Sunday School, Wednesday night, and Children’s Church where children and adults are separated, can we normally expect anything different? We have two “churches” in one. One church does things very different than the other one. One church has different music than the other has. One church has different teaching, possibly both in the way it is presented and in substance. This is a “good” recipe for disaster.
What happens when children who have spent years in children’s church, listening to their music and having their own style of services, grow up and it’s time to go to “big” church? Sometimes it will mean that “big” church will have to change or the young people are going to leave. Is this not one reason that we see as much foolishness in our churches today as we do? Children have been entertained in children’s church (not that every children’s church is like this) and when they grow up they must continue to be entertained in “big” church or they won’t go.
Churches must take the long-view and desire to be a healthy church over the temptation of instant numerical growth. The simple truth is that we need each other. The older need the younger. The younger need the older. Family worship can help bring us together as one.
9. Pastors should want to preach to children. Think about it. If a church has Wednesday night classes for kids, Sunday School, and children’s church on Sunday mornings, the pastor probably never has a normal way of teaching the children in the church he pastors. This is shocking. The man or men who watch over the souls of the people, including children, may not have a normal way of teaching them. Family worship helps to ensure that each child gets to be taught by his pastor.
10. The history of the church. Children’s church, by and large it appears, is a new development. It’s dangerous to begin a practice that for 2,000 years the majority of the church has not done. Though I think we are already seeing some of the fruits of this practice, I fear more is to come. We have much to learn from the generations that have come before us, not only when it comes to family worship, but on so many other topics. Family worship helps us to align ourselves with the history of the church.
There are many different ways to do children’s church, and some ways are better than others. There are also different circumstances that may lead a church to think that children’s church is needed. Not every church that has children’s church faces the same problems that others may. However, we need to think seriously about this topic and what the Bible would have us to do. In my view, family worship is a great need of the church and the above reasons show on what basis I say this.