If you have kids within the 10 to 18 year old range, you may have heard statements like these concerning corporate worship with your local church:
The sermons are too long/boring/confusing.
The pastor isn’t funny/relevant/engaging.
I can’t sit still for that long.
I don’t like the music.
No one my age is there; it’s only old people.
You’ve likely heard statements like these because kids in church make them all the time. You can relax a little bit, it’s not just your kids.
It’s not uncommon for kids to struggle with corporate worship. The reasons for this can vary. Sometimes there is room for the church to improve in how they disciple kids in their gathering. It is easy for pastors or leaders to ignore the fact that kids are present in the worship gathering. It isn’t unusual for kids to go unmentioned, unspoken to, or all-together ignored in the preparation for and practice of the various elements of the church’s worship service.
Most of the time, however, I think the problem lays within this one reality: our kids are immature, untrained, unformed. Our children are, well, children. They need to be taught, trained, and prepared by their parents if they’re going to derive any benefit from corporate worship. Kids need to be discipled by their parents if they’re going to gain anything from the discipleship of their church. It will be difficult for any kid to benefit from their church’s discipling efforts if their parents’ discipling efforts are weak or non-existent.
So, what exactly can parents do to help their child go from enduring church to enjoying and growing from it?
Teach Them About the Church
What we belief about the church will determine how we relate to the church. If the church is a spiritual grocery store, we need only visit her when we are lacking some spiritual commodity and can ignore her completely if we don’t. If the church is simply a place to get spiritually juiced (i.e. inspired) then we need only participate inasmuch as we need a-juicing. If we can get juiced from Christians Podcasts or YouTube they we need not bother with church at all. Our participation with the local church (or lack thereof) is downstream of our beliefs about the local church. If you want to your kids to participate with the church, you must ensure they understand the truth about the church. Your kids won’t value church unless they learn what it is and why its valuable. They won’t learn unless you teach them.
Teach your kids that the church is God’s family that he’s adopted believers into (Galatians 4:4-7). Help them understand that God saves believers into his family (the church; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13) and that he commands them to love his family (the church) like he does through using their gifts to practically help members of the church follow Jesus and grow up in him (1 Corinthians 12:1-11). Explain that God want to bless and grow our faith and love through the church’s ministry of preaching, teaching, ordinances, singing, fellowship, and pastoral care (Colossians 1:24-28; Ephesians 4:11). Make sure your kids understand Jesus’ love for the local church, our responsibility to the local church, and the blessings God gives us in the local church. In great love, God doesn’t want us to live like spiritual orphans, but to join and enjoy his family, the church.
Once your kids begin to understand the nature, necessity, beauty, and value of the local church, it will begin the important work of changing the way they approach worshiping with her on Sundays.
Train Them to Worship With the Church
Just as someone having a good understanding of marriage doesn’t mean they’re personally ready to have a healthy marriage, so having a good theology of church doesn’t mean someone is equipped to have a healthy relationship with the church. Your kids don’t only need to be taught sound doctrine (1 Timothy 6:1-3), but they need to be trained how to live according to sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). After teaching must come training.
The best kind of training is based on this invitation: “Imitate me.” The best way to help your kids make the most of corporate worship is by watching you do it. Try telling your kid, “Hey, I know church can sometimes be hard for you, but I want you to watch and imitate me to learn how to make the most of church on Sundays.” Tell them to watch how you listen to the sermons (leaning forward, undistracted, writing down notes, nodding along), how you sing lustily and contribute your voice along with the rest of the congregation, how you pray, and how you fellowship with other believers. Then, after they watch you, take some time to talk about what you were doing and why.
Some are uncomfortable to tell other believers, even our children, to imitate us, but we shouldn’t. Paul told the Corinthians, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1) and gave the same command to the Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9). The author of Hebrews says that all believers should imitate the faith of their pastors and leaders (Hebrews 13:7). Yes, you’re not perfect, but you are the most influential figure in your child’s life. If your worship on Sunday morning isn’t worthy of imitation, then it’s time to stop fooling around and repent. But if you give yourself fully to your church family on Sunday, then it’s time to loving look at your kid and say, “Follow my lead as I follow Christ.”
To give you some more to practical counsels to consider on how to actively participate with your church, check this very helpful piece out.
Prepare Them for Worship With the Church
Even if your kids have the right knowledge about the church and good training for how to worship with the church, they still need your regular and consistent help to prepare them to make the most out of corporate worship with the church.
Toward that end, here are some practical tips:
Take care of practical needs before service. Sleep, breakfast, and restroom. Your kids aren’t floating souls, but embodied souls. The state of their body will affect the state of their souls. Help them get enough sleep the night before, enjoy a sufficient breakfast to keep their tummies from rumbling, and guide them to the restroom before service begins so as to avoid a mid-service exit.
Supply your kids with helpful materials. Bible and pen at least. Maybe a notebook? The more your kids can use their eyes and hands along with their ear, the more they’ll take in. Also, writing notes inside their Bibles is a great way to help track with the sermon and stick close to the text.
Read the Scripture passage your pastor will be preaching from together. Assuming your church knows what will be preached beforehand, consider reading the passage Saturday night with the family. Ask them what stick out, what’s confusing, what’s interesting, and what they hope to hear. This will help them have things to listen for in the sermon and give them a better familiarity with the text.
Pray as a family before you leave the house for church. Pray that God would draw close to you as you all draw close to him (James 4:8), that he would teach, rebuke, correct, and train your family and your church family through his word (2 Timothy 3:16). Pray that he would make you ready to fulfill the works he has prepared for you at church (Eph. 2:10). Pray for your pastor, the sermon, the overall worship. Pray!
Work hard to make Sunday morning unhurried and peaceful. Rushed, hectic, or harsh mornings will dramatically affect Sunday worship. Wake up early enough to help serve your family prior to church. Ensure that all the morning’s needs are prepared to be fulfilled in an orderly and peaceful fashion so that you can peacefully get to church 15 minutes early rather than chaotically show up 30 minutes late.
Give your kids specific “missions” to accomplish during and after service. If your kids need a bit more guidance, give them little “missions” for different parts of the gathering. Tell them to write down the main message of the sermon in one sentence. Ask them to come up with a question or two about the text/sermon that you could ask the pastor about afterward. Encourage them to introduce themself to one new person during the greeting time. Come up with concrete, specific goals to accomplish so they’re trained to be actively, instead of passively, involved.
Share how God blessed your heart during worship. After worship, share genuine ways God blesssed you. Maybe a certain song, prayer, text, or part of the sermon affected you. Share it with your family. Savor God’s grace in front of them. This often becomes an invitation for them to do likewise in the future.
I am sure there are loads of other ways you could effectively help prepare your family to make the most of corporate worship. Consider leaving some other ideas in the comments. But, the point is clear: there is great wisdom and love in preparing your family to worship God in Christ with the church.
If your kids are struggling to enjoy or benefit from corporate worship on Sunday morning, avoid blame shifting (the pastor is boring, the youth ministry is ineffective, there isn’t the right program, etc.). Instead, ask yourself this question: “What can I do to teach, train, or prepare my kids to make the most out of corporate worship?” Once you get some answers, onward!