Children in Today’s Church: Worshipping Together

March 24, 2010

Third in a series of three discussions

Many years ago, as I was beginning my career in ministry with children, I arrived at church early on my first Sunday morning to prepare for the day’s worship and education. I was excited—and a little nervous—but also very eager to meet the children that day. Looking back, I think that a lot of the parents in that congregation were looking forward to meeting me, too—and some were quite eager to express their POV to me about including children in the worship service.

One set of parents stopped me outside the sanctuary to let me know that they “hoped I wasn’t going to change the church’s practice of having children 11 years and younger leave right after the call to worship because after all, Sunday worship was their time and children are a distraction”, stunning me with their vehemence. Hoo boy! First week on the job and already in the thick of it!

What did I do? I’ll get to that in a minute….

As I read and research trends in today’s church, I see a movement towards having the whole family worship together. Any congregation that embraces this approach must then deal with how to make worship engaging for all who are present, regardless of their age—and having made this decision, must then convince/persuade all church staff and worshippers that it can be done without sacrificing relevance for anyone. Worship planning can be exciting when you think of all of the possibilities for creatively engaging all ages in the holy worship of God!

Back to my first Sunday dilemma: I thanked those parents for sharing their thoughts with me and moved on to worship. I prayed mightily for wisdom and guidance. I met the most wonderful children that day, children who loved God and who wanted to be with both their family and their church family as they experienced prayer and confession and forgiveness and music and offering and baptism and communion and hearing God’s Word and wondering about what it all meant for them—not much of which could be authentically replicated in a “children’s church” setting.

What did I do? Baby steps. From that day forward, I worked diligently to increase the time children sat with their families, made our time together a continuation of the adults’ worship, and lobbied for [and won!] the practice of bringing the children back into the sanctuary after the sermon. After a time, the only moments children were not in worship were the moments during a spoken sermon, giving them a chance to witness and experience all the richness of the tradition and ritual of worship in that church. After a time, no one could remember that it had been any other way.

Can families with children worship together in your church? Yes! It takes prayer, intentional worship planning, lots of creativity, patience, communication, and time, but your church can transform itself from a Sunday-morning-segregated group into the whole family of God at worship together.

What do you think?


Children in Today’s Church: At the Communion Table

March 17, 2010

Second in a series of three discussions

Several years ago, while leading a communion seminar for children and their families, a father came to me privately and expressed his concern that he would not be able to truly discern his children’s sincere repentance of the wrong things they had done, and therefore he could not allow them to take communion. He then proceeded to bring his children to worship and in full view of the other families, who had participated and graduated from the seminar, forbade his children to partake, passing the elements right over their heads.

How sad we all felt as we gazed at the bereft faces of those children!

One of the challenges in any congregation that wishes to be inclusive of children in worship is coming to an understanding or agreement about inviting children to the communion table. Every Christian congregation has its own set of understandings about when children should partake of the Lord’s Supper. Certainly denominational churches are governed by guidelines for worship; non-denominational churches usually develop their own policies.

Here are some thoughts:

“In the early church, baptism was the required admission to the Lord’s Table. This is still clear to us in the baptism of adults. But even to the early Christians, baptizing children and then refusing them communion would be like giving birth to a child and then withholding food until the child is old enough to ask for it and understand its significance.” [“A Theology of The Lord’s Supper” by Catherine Gunsalus Gonzalez]

“The balance is a delicate one: on one hand, parents want to be sure that their children understand and appreciate the Lord’s Supper before the children begin receiving communion; but on the other hand, participating in the Lord’s Supper is one of the ways we gain understanding of and appreciation for the sacrament.” [“God’s Family at the Table” by Thomas G. Long]

When are children ready?

1. Children between birth and 3 years old can begin to learn about the Lord’s Supper while communion is being served. Parents can talk about what is happening with simple words such as “when we eat and drink we remember the special meal Jesus had with his friends.”

2. Children 3-5 years old are often quite curious about communion elements. Parents can share that “God’s people share a meal together as God’s family.”

3. Children aged 6-8 years old are reading and are often able to think both historically and symbolically so parents can talk about how we remember Jesus when we share communion. Engaging them in baking bread for communion, or helping to clean up afterwards, appeals to children of this age and helps them to feel included if they are not receiving communion in their church.

4. Children aged 9-12 years old are more skilled at abstract and symbolic thinking as they grow. They are gaining understanding of the presence of Jesus in the sacrament and that as we participate, we are receiving God’s love and forgiveness and saying thank you.

Learning about the Lord’s Supper is a life-long process. The most effective way we learn about anything in life is by doing it. It is the same for the Lord’s Supper. We do not really understand it until we participate in it.

In “Welcoming Children to the Lord’s Table”, David Ng says, “We now understand better that children, because of who they are, bring special gifts to the community of faith. Child-like faith is simple, direct, and trusting. It is not faith that is earned or learned, but faith that is a gift from God…. Indeed, Jesus used the faith of children to remind his disciples of the nature of faith.”

When we combine what we know about the Lord’s Supper with what we know about children, we find that children can participate with wonder and meaning, and can increasingly contribute to the entire community’s celebration.

What do you think?

Helping Children Wait for Easter

February 24, 2010

A child prayingIt occurs to me that most Christian adults navigate Lent through some pretty serious spiritual practices by reevaluating their lives, rededicating themselves to God, and engaging in often tough disciplines such as daily prayers, personal deprivations, special service projects, and fasting. But can we help children find meaning in such Lenten practices?

Already in stores we see signs of “Easter”…plastic eggs and baskets, stuffed bunnies, candy—all items that can derail a parent’s commitment to making Lent a spiritual journey for everyone in the family. How can we include children in the Lenten preparations for Easter?

In Gateways to Worship, Carolyn C. Brown suggests that we teach children that, “Lent is a time to wait for Easter by finding ways to be closer to God. Purple is the color for both Advent and Lent because in both seasons we wait for the coming of the King. Unlike Advent, Lent includes no special songs, stories or rituals that are obvious to children. Therefore our goals are simply that children recognize Lent as the time we wait for Easter and know its color to be purple. Children are already familiar with a variety of prayers we use in congregational worship and they should be grasping the concept that we can worship and pray at any time and in any place.”

A good prayer focus for your children during Lent is learning the Lord’s Prayer. Read Matthew 6:9-14 and tell the story of the time when Jesus’ friends asked him to teach them how to pray. Each week of Lent you can focus on one line of the prayer. Ask children what they think the words of the prayer mean. Make placemats for your dinner table and write the Lord’s Prayer on it; use the prayer for your mealtime thanks and grace.

Faith at Home advises that “In addition to the typical Lenten activities, which young children will probably not understand fully, enrich your family life during Lent in other ways. Choose activities, stories, and play that highlight things coming to life, or the sparseness and simplicity of the season, or themes of Easter to come. A twig’s green wood underneath a scraped-away outer layer. Budding and blooming plants. A simplified home décor. Quiet evenings enjoying each others’ company without the television. Delicious, simple meals of good soup and bread. Finally, begin to look ahead, in your storytelling, playtime, books, and more, to the great stories of Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter.”

Keep Lent simple and focused: get close to God and stay close to God…through prayer and simple family activities.


A Valentine for Children

February 10, 2010
Red Grammer

Image courtesy of

I love Red Grammer. He writes and sings songs for children. I like that he loves and respects children and that his songs are about oneness, character, conflict resolution, and community. One of my favorites is “I Think You’re Wonderful” and it goes like this:

If we practice this phrase in the most honest way
And find something special in someone each day
We’ll lift up the world one heart at a time
It all starts by saying this one simple line…

I think you’re wonderful
When somebody says that to me
I feel wonderful, as wonderful can be
It makes me wanta to say the same thing to somebody new
And by the way I’ve been meaning to say
I think you’re wonderful, too

When each one of us feels important inside
Loving and giving and glad we’re alive
Oh what a difference we’ll make in each day
And all because someone decided to say…

I think you’re wonderful
When somebody says that to me
I feel wonderful, as wonderful can be
It makes me wanta to say the same thing to somebody new
And by the way I’ve been meaning to say
I think you’re wonderful, too

Teaching Peace © 1986 Smilin’ Atcha Music, Inc.

Recently as I listened to this lovely song, I wondered: how many of us love others conditionally? Most parents know and understand the value of affirming cooperation and positive behavior in children. We seek to find accomplished tasks to applaud and conduct to praise on the road to building obedient, productive, responsible children. Good job, Tommy! Nice picture, Billy! Thanks for taking out the trash, Greg!

Does God love us because we just are or because of what we do?

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1 New International Version)

God is love. If we keep on loving others, we will stay one in our hearts with God, and he will stay one with us. (1 John 4:16 Contemporary English Version)

It doesn’t matter if you are a Greek or a Jew, or if you are circumcised or not. You may even be a barbarian or a Scythian, and you may be a slave or a free person. Yet Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. (Colossians 3:11-12 Contemporary English Version)

I could keep listing scripture, but you get my drift: nothing in these passages about being loved because of good work or taking out the trash. What we read is a reassurance that God has always loved us, goes on loving us no matter what, and wants us to actively love others just as God does.

I know, I know. Valentine’s Day is basically a Hallmark holiday…regarded as a romantic time for couples. But hey, how about joining me in expanding the usual Valentine message about love? This Valentine’s Day, reflect the unconditional love God has lavished on you onto those around you, especially your children. Take a moment to lift a child’s heart by saying “I think you’re wonderful”… period.


Learn more about the importance of healthy, Christian relationships by viewing “God & You & Me” a new webinar from The LOGOS Ministry. Go to for more description and price.

Acceleration: Parenting in a Fast-moving World

February 3, 2010

I don’t own a Toyota car. Never have—no special reason, just never have. These days, however, I am glad that I am not dealing with a car that can accelerate out of control.

Imagine starting off on a routine drive, only to find yourself careening down the highway with your children in the back seat, unable to stop your car. Unthinkable. Horrifying.

Sometimes being a parent can feel like you are in an out-of-control car. Each stage of growth and development brings its own set of issues and challenges. How do parents find their way through these issues and challenges while needing to…continuing to…steer the family?

God provides all that we need to be the person God means us to be. God also surrounds us with all the resources we need to be effective parents. We are to live boldly, and openly seek out those resources that can support us as God’s children, and as parents of our own children.

Are you living up to God’s loving expectation for you?
What kind of example do you set for your children?
Does your life as a parent feel out of control?
Who inspires you to be a better parent?

Toyota advises drivers to shift into neutral when they find the accelerator stuck. Good general advice for life! This week, when family issues threaten to send you careening, shift into neutral: find a quiet time and space and spend some time with God. Give thanks for your life and ask God to reveal to you the people and resources you need to be fully the person God intends, and the loving parent your children deserve.


Two resources that can help support the spiritual growth of your family are available from The LOGOS Ministry: LOGOS @Home [$9.95 for 52 sessions for family nights; go to] and the FREE heartfelt online newsletter [monthly; sign up at].

Enduring Pain

January 27, 2010

Finding the balance between responding to tragedy and compassion fatigue

It’s been two weeks since the earthquake in Haiti. Images of injured, hungry and homeless people still fill the nightly news. PSA’s, fund-raisers and telethons invite us to keep helping, to keep sending money.

I must confess that last week, I wept over each news report—this week, I have begun to avoid the news altogether.

It is almost too much to watch or think about, especially as we each go about our own daily routines, handling our own daily challenges, even though those challenges may be much less frightening or enduring than those of the people of Haiti. And Haiti is only one place that is full of suffering today.

How should you respond when faced with tragic and overwhelming events? Before you begin to help others:

• Take care of yourself physically. This includes eating nourishing food, getting enough sleep, doing mild exercise.

• Increase the time you spend with family members. Play together. Go for a walk together. Work on a household project together. Take time to appreciate each other with smiles and hugs and words of appreciation.

• Talk with other adults, which will help lessen your feelings of isolation and anxiety. This also provides a “reality check” on your reactions, helping you realize that your feelings are normal. Talking with others also helps bring feelings of helplessness or fear you may be experiencing back to reasonable parameters.

• Spend time with people you enjoy, doing things you enjoy.

• Give yourself permission to be distracted. It is equally important to be kind toward others and tolerant of ways in which their coping needs may differ from yours.

• Avoid real and symbolic tragedy for a while. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the television images, listen to the radio, or avoid news sources altogether. Periodically, you can ask others if there is any significant new information you should know.

• Engage in activities that reaffirm your sense of yourself and others as members of a caring community. Involve yourself in worship and prayer. Join a small group Bible study where you can feel free to explore how God wants us to live with one another.

• Work in a charitable organization within your own community. This can help lessen your feelings of helplessness in the face of so much need.

When you have taken care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually, you can then comfort and assist your children:

• Remain alert to the cues children will give about their thoughts and feelings, so that you can provide ongoing support for them.

“Will there be an earthquake here?” “There could be. We should check our plan for what to do and where to go. Having a plan will help us make sure we have emergency supplies, too”. OR “There are usually no earthquakes where we live. But this is a good reminder that we should have an emergency plan and extra supplies for our family. Let’s make a plan now.”

• Remember that it is important to answer the questions children and youth are actually asking and not the ones you think they are asking.

“Who will take care of those children on TV?” “There are lots of people from all over the world who are helping the people in Haiti and they are making sure that every child will have a place to live, just like you have lots of family and friends who would look after you. Let’s make a list of people who would help our family.”

• Most importantly, you can listen to what children and youth have to say, not only in order to minister to them, but in order to learn from them. In crisis situations children will frequently express what others are afraid to say, or will give voice to emotions adults have hidden, even from themselves. Children and youth, as well as adults, are capable of a profound ministry in the face of tragedy.

“If you were in Haiti now, what help would you want? How do you think our family could be ready for an emergency? How do you think our family can help others?”

It is perhaps one of the most difficult things we do, to let go of our fear. However, in our Christian journey, we are reminded over and over, to trust God. That doesn’t mean we will be spared from tragedy. It doesn’t mean our lives will always be serene and simple. It doesn’t even mean we will always have an easy, peaceful feeling. It does mean that no matter what happens, we know that because of our relationship with God and our place in the Body of Christ, the resources will be there to give us comfort, faith and hope and we will get through it.

And when we have arrived at this knowing, we can be God’s truest and most helpful ambassadors to others.

You can read more about how to respond to frightening and overwhelming events in the free LOGOS Ministry resource “Terror and Tragedy: Responding to Our Children and Youth”. Send your email request directly to

Passing the Parenting Test

January 20, 2010

I remember when each of my babies was placed in my arms, only minutes old. I was overwhelmed with love and with feelings of protection. But by the time I arrived home from the hospital, those feelings were accompanied by a big load of panic. How will I know the right things to do? What if I make a mistake?

I blundered forward and despite myself, my babies grew into smart and spirited children. But of course, I worried about their physical and emotional health, I worried about their education—and I worried about their spiritual life. So I fed them healthy food, encouraged their schooling, and took them to worship and to Sunday School and to LOGOS….

Last week I read this article in Christianity Today “The Myth of the Perfect Parent: Why the best parenting techniques don’t produce Christian children” by Leslie Leyland Fields. * Leslie writes, “Our most consuming concern is that our children “turn out”—that is, that our Christian faith and values are successfully transmitted, and that our children grow up to be churchgoing, God-honoring adults.”

My children have grown up to be wonderful adults with families of their own. Their values and ethics are Christian, they are involved in productive work, enjoy great friendships, but do they have faith? Did I fail parenting?

Leslie says, “The question we ask of ourselves must be reframed. We need to quit asking, ‘Am I parenting successfully?’ And we most certainly need to quit asking, ‘Are others parenting successfully?’ Instead, we need to ask, ‘Am I parenting faithfully? Faithfulness, after all, is God’s highest requirement for us…. Parenting, like all tasks under the sun, is intended as an endeavor of love, risk, perseverance, and, above all, faith. It is faith rather than formula, grace rather than guarantees, steadfastness rather than success that bridges the gap between our own parenting efforts, and what, by God’s grace, our children grow up to become.”

May God help us all to be faithful parents….

*You can read Leslie Leyland Fields’ entire article at