Christian parents, do you realize the most important thing you can ever train your child to do in this life is to worship the triune God of grace? Because of this, I want to encourage you to include them in the public worship of your church. I also want to help you do this.
The best help I can offer is first to convince you that this practice is consistent with the examples of the Old and New Testaments. Children were present in public worship in Moses’ time (Ex. 10:7–10; 12:26–27; 13:8, 14–15; Deut. 31:12–13), in Nehemiah’s time (Ezra 10:1; Neh. 8:1–3), in Jesus’ time (Matt. 18:1–5; 19:13–15; Mark 10:13–16; Luke 18:15–17), and in Paul’s time (Eph. 6:1–4; Col. 3:20). They were included because they belong to the corporate, covenant people. This was true not only in the Old Testament but also in the New, which never revokes this relationship of believers’ children to the covenant community. Your children belong to the body of Christ, and letting them join you in public worship from the earliest age manifests this fact.
Another help is knowing how beneficial this practice is. Public worship is the nursery of faith. To bring your children to public worship is to bring them into the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. He creates faith and converts hearts through the preaching ministry of the gospel (Rom. 10:17). Our children have the same spiritual needs as everyone else in the world: they need their sins to be washed by the blood and Spirit of Christ. Your children need to be born again; they need the gift of faith to embrace Jesus as their Savior. If this is the case, bring them where the Holy Spirit especially does that work—public worship. Don’t underestimate the Holy Spirit by thinking your children can get nothing out of worship and preaching if it is not relevant and fun. The Holy Spirit is sovereign and irresistible, and He cannot be frustrated by our limitations (John 3:1–8). Don’t underestimate your children, in whose minds and hearts the Holy Spirit is working.
The benefit of welcoming children in worship can be seen in its cumulative effect over their lifetime. At the church I serve, the congregation gathers for worship in the morning and evening every Lord’s Day. That’s 1,872 occasions, between infancy and going off to college at age eighteen, of being in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
“But it’s so hard to have my children in church with us.” I understand, especially as one who did not grow up seeing it modeled. But it’s easier to raise your children in church from infancy so that they are trained in it like everything else than it is to put them in a children’s church for years only to bring them into worship later when they’ve never been in worship before. The sooner you begin to mold clay, the easier it is to shape; the longer you wait, the drier and harder it gets, and the vast potential of shaping it is lost. The same is true of children.
To bring your children to public worship is to bring them into the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit.
Let me also offer some practical advice on how to begin the practice of worshiping together with your children.
Embrace your responsibility to train them to worship.
Embrace the difficulty that is squirmy and noisy children in worship.
Have an eternal perspective on the blessings that you, your children, and the congregation receive in worship. The Lord’s Day is not only a day of earthly, temporary, and physical rest (which may even seem impossible when you have little children), but it is also a day in which our time in worship is time in the presence of the triune God of grace. It’s a day of heavenly, eternal, and spiritual rest. Public worship is first and foremost God’s service to us in which He brings us into communion with our Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit through preaching, sacraments, and prayer.
Reorient your mind. You’re not just “going to church” with your children to simply sit quietly and not be a distraction. You’re “going to worship” or “going to the Lord’s service.”
Change your attitude that your children interfere with God’s purpose on His day. Jesus’ disciples once thought this as well. So Jesus rebuked them. He brought little children near to Him and blessed them.
Start training your children at home. Train your little ones to pray in worship by sitting quietly and holding hands for just a moment while you ask God’s blessing on a meal. Train your toddler to listen to a sermon by sitting on your lap while you read a Bible story. Train them to sing some of the familiar songs from church by singing before putting them to bed.
Prepare for worship. Since the Lord’s Day is the “Christian Sabbath” (Westminster Confession of Faith 21.7), our hearts and our bodies must be prepared. Get enough rest. Sing the “song of the month” as a family. Read the Scripture texts that will be read on Sunday before you come to the service. Arrive with plenty of time to spare. Sit where your child can clearly see the liturgical furniture—pulpit, font, and table. Talk about what may be a special part of the service this week: a baptism, an ordination, the Lord’s Supper.
Participate in worship. As age allows, give them a bulletin/prayer book, hymnbook, and a Bible as it helps a child feel like a participant in the service. Make it a habit to join your child in reading or reciting short prayers, responses, and Scripture recitations in worship such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Ten Commandments.
Training your child to worship the triune God of grace is the most important thing you can teach them in this life.
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde is pastor of Oceanside United Reformed Church in Oceanside, Calif. He is author of several books, including the forthcoming Grace Worth Fighting For: Recapturing the Vision of God’s Grace in the Canons of Dort.