It is has become increasingly common in our day for children to be missing from the main worship services of many churches. This is not because their parents have not brought them to church, but because they either have their own separate children’s service that meets during the main worship service, or because they have been ushered out of the main service during the sermon to receive their own age-appropriate Bible lesson. This has, by and large, become the standard practice of many, if not most, churches today.
One of the distinctives of Park Bible Baptist Church is that we welcome, encourage, and expect children to be a part of our weekly Lord’s Day worship gathering. This article is meant to briefly explore why this approach is biblical as well as beneficial for the whole church. For a more in depth look at the importance of family-integrated worship, see here. Many reasons are often cited as to why children should have their own separate “children’s church,” but consider the following key passages of Scripture which indicate that children have always been present with the rest of the gathered assembly for the public worship of God:
Joshua 8:34-35 (NIV)
Joshua read all the words of the law—the blessings and the curses—just as it is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the foreigners who lived among them.
Deuteronomy 31:12-13 (NIV)
Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. 13 Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”
2 Chronicles 20:5, 13 (NIV)
Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the temple of the LORD in the front of the new courtyard . . . All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD.
Joel 2:15-16 (NIV)
Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast.
Matthew 14:19-21 (NIV)
[Jesus] directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Acts 21:5 (NIV)
When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.
Ephesians 6:1-3 (NIV)
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
Regarding Ephesians 6:1-3, the Epistles (letters) of the New Testament were written to be read in the gathered public assembly, so for Paul to specifically address children in his letters to the churches in both Ephesus and Colossae (Colossians 3:20) indicates that he would have assumed their presence in the congregation. Each passage cited above demonstrates the clear expectation that whole households, children and youth included, would be present together in the public and corporate gatherings of the people of God, whether in worship, prayer, or other types of assembly. There is no precedent in Scripture for children to be separated or removed from the public worship service to their own special program.
Consider the following benefits of keeping children present for the duration of the worship service:
- It is consistent with the biblical and historic pattern of the people of God.
- It unites the families of the church in the public worship gathering.
- It allows children to learn to worship in song, by giving, and by hearing God’s word preached by observing their parents and their rest of their church family.
- It ensures that the overall ministry of the church reinforces the biblical order of the family.
- It resists the individualistic spirit so prevalent in our culture today and restores the sense of the people of God as a unified family.
- It reminds the single, widowed, and older saints that they too have a responsibility to the young ones in the body.
- It affirms the sufficiency of Scripture for the belief and practice of the church.
Children and the Sermon
Children that are dismissed from the worship service at the beginning of the pastor’s sermon typically go to their own age-appropriate Bible lesson, but while the motive to help children understand the Bible according to their age is appropriate, the practice of excluding children from the weekly preaching of Scripture is misguided. Consider what they are being removed from:
- The careful exposition of Scripture by the faithful Pastor who has prayed over, studied, and wrestled with the text all week.
- The ministry of the Holy Spirit who has guided the faithful Pastor in his sermon preparation to bring the word of God to the whole church.
- The example of their parents, older siblings, and family in Christ who model for them how to rightly listen and respond to the preaching of God’s word.
- The passionate gospel-plea of the faithful Pastor who points his people (including children) to Christ week after week.
When we remove our children from the influence of the pastor’s weekly sermon, we take much more from them than anything they might gain from their own separate Bible lesson. Pastors, parents, and church members must trust the sufficiency of Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit to do far more in our children through regular exposure to the preaching of God’s word than anything that might be accomplished in an age-graded lesson.
In summary, children are an important segment of the living body of Christ, so we welcome them in our worship services, and grant to them the blessing of worshiping alongside their parents, siblings, and family in Christ, singing the songs of the faith, giving to the ministry of the church, fellowshipping with the saints, and hearing the word of God faithfully preached, so that they may grow up into salvation (1 Peter 2:2).