By Lisa Cooke
Part One - Why It’s Taught
True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
We know from this verse that God seeks worshipers, those who will worship Him authentically and accurately. Currently in the church worldwide there is tremendous emphasis being placed on praise and worship, and most adults in the Body of Christ are aware of God’s desire for their adoration. But what about children? Can they also worship God in spirit and in truth? Does their age preclude them from what Joseph Garlington described as a "holy function enjoyed by angels, men and the entire created universe?"
In her book, It’s All About You, Jesus, Fawn Parish states, "Children do not have a junior Holy Spirit." But what children do have is an age-appropriate ignorance (lack of knowledge) easily remedied by lessons taught in children’s services. John Owen said "Unless men see the beauty and delight in the worship of God, they will not do it willingly." Children’s ministers therefore have a responsibility to teach the "beauty and delight in the worship of God" so that even young children are able to be "the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before Him in their worship." John 4:23 (The Message Bible)
The main reason we teach about praise and worship is because God deserves it! Praise and worship is our eternal occupation that begins the moment we realize He is worthy of our awed recognition of His divine power and majesty. As we grow in knowledge and experience of His greatness and goodness, the desire to express our grateful love to Him increases.
Children also have experiences in God, such as answered prayer, for which they will want to express their gratitude. One of the little girls in our children’s church had an asthma attack one night at home. The mother heard something, came into her daughter’s room, and saw her standing on the bed with her arms raised, worshiping God. She told her mother that she had stopped breathing and was afraid, but then Jesus came to her, took her in His arms, and told her she was going to be alright. When the mother walked in, she noticed the presence of the Lord was very strong in the room. The little girl told her mother that she had been learning about praise and worship at church, and that now she would be able to praise and worship God even better.
Another reason we teach about praise and worship is that it provides an atmosphere and environment in which we draw near to God. James 4:8 says, Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Psalm 73:28 says, But it is good for me to draw near to God… Children need to know the benefits of living their lives in the presence of God, that there is fullness of joy there (Psalms 16:11), safety (Psalm 91), and that times of refreshing come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19). As they experience His presence through times of praise and worship, children should be taught that they can continue in the "awareness of His nearness in their everydayness." If children will enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise as Psalm 100:4 tells us, then they won’t only sing about it, but they will personally come to know that better is one day in His courts, than thousands elsewhere. (Psalm 84:10)
Children can be taught about worship through a variety of methods. Object lessons are an excellent choice since many children are visual learners. In one service I taught from Psalm 22:3 using a Japanese translation: "when we praise God we build a big chair for God to come and sit in." This phrase makes "Oh thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel" much easier for a child to comprehend. While the children were involved in praising and worshiping God, I had some teachers walking around the room with a huge, red, inflatable chair lifted over their heads. We imagined that our praises were building a chair for God to sit in, right there in the room with us.
I have used binoculars to illustrate the fact that God seeks worshipers, that He’s looking for people who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. A lesson on Psalm 34:1 included stuffing my mouth with clean marshmallows (representing words of praise) to demonstrate that "His praise shall continually be in my mouth." This of course left no room for the dirty marshmallows (I rolled them in syrup and then in dirt) which represented wrong or bad words, to fit in my mouth!
It is very important to be mindful of using "kidspeak" or "kid level" words and phrases to describe spiritual things. "Praise" can be defined as bragging on God, telling God what you like about Him, or giving God compliments. It has been said that "we praise God for what He does, and we worship God for who He is."
Telling God how you feel about Him can be a way to explain what kind of words you would use when you worship Him. Your words of worship can be like a hug to God, a common physical expression of love in a child’s world. Worship makes God the "center of attention" and children are very familiar with that coveted position.
It is good to explore various translations of a scripture being used in a lesson to find the one that would be the most easily understood. Mark 7:6 in The Message Bible reads very well for a child to understand the importance of worshiping in spirit and truth. "These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it. They act like they are worshiping me, but they don’t mean it." We talked about how it "hurts your feelings" when someone only "pretends" to like you. Children understand pretending and getting their feelings hurt. That translation of Mark 7:6 makes it easier for a child to grasp the understanding that truthful worship is important to God.
Another way to make learning interesting is to teach them the various meanings of Greek and Hebrew words for praise and worship using "kid level" definitions. For example, the Hebrew word Yadah means to revere by stretching out the hands. To make it understandable to a child you could say "When we raise our hands we’re telling God, ‘You’re the boss of me’ or ‘I surrender to you.’" Worship can be described as "blowing kisses to God" since "to kiss toward" is a definition of the New Testament word proskuneo, or "worship."
It is very important to explain the physical actions we use in our praise and worship of God to the children. Whatever they might see in "big church" should be explained to them or validated using scripture. Their understanding of what they see in adult services can be funny for some but frightening to others. Be sure they understand that these are actions that we choose to express our praise and worship, not something God forces us to do without our consent.
Let me also say that if God doesn’t make us do these things, then neither should a teacher force a child to raise their hands, kneel, etc. Be sensitive to a child who may be trying to worship but may not "do it right." Remember from Mark 7:6 that God isn’t looking for the act of worship but for the heart that worships. Rick Warren said, "We can worship God imperfectly, but we cannot worship Him insincerely."
One of the lessons I taught the children was called "Behavior in the Courts of the King." I explained how there are books written to help people know how to act when they are in the same room with a King or dignitary such as our President. This lesson was to help them know how to behave when they were in God’s presence during praise and worship. We addressed issues such as being respectful to God and to the teachers through obedience (an act of worship in itself), giving God your full attention, being real in your worship, not being silly to draw attention to yourself. We talked about when to shout, when to be quiet, and how to know the difference during the praise and worship time.
The location of your children’s services may not allow for certain activities for safety reasons. If the children are crowded, you may even need to choose motions for songs carefully. I recommend that the "rules" for expressing praise and worship (which could include dancing, running, lying prostrate on the floor, or other very physical expressions) be well explained to the children before it begins so that any embarrassment or even injury can be avoided.
In some of the worship services we have had with children, while we were singing, they would all come down to the front to be closer to the stage, similar to what the youth did in their services. This can really help with facilitating participation, but you must have enough room to accommodate everyone. Teachers must be watchful so that the smaller children don’t get crunched by the older and bigger children. Moshing and crowd-surfing were prohibited.
Children should be taught why believers worship God, the joys and benefits of praise and worship, and how God wants us to worship Him. This understanding will bring an increase in the purposes of God being fulfilled. We would often have spontaneous ministry time following the praise and worship, especially in the realm of healing. The children’s hearts are much more receptive to what God has for them at that time, and I know some children even received a call to ministry during those "God moments."
John Stott said, "Worship is the highest and noblest activity of which man, by the grace of God is capable." Brother Lawrence said, "We should dedicate ourselves to becoming in this life the most perfect worshipers of God we can possibly be, as we hope to be through all eternity." Providing children with an understanding of and an opportunity for praising and worshiping God in their children’s services facilitates their growing relationship with Him into deepening devotion.