In over 20 years of ministry to kids, I have seen several different moves come and go. I’ve also seen a few “Christian fads.” I have experienced many times of frustration in my ministry over what I felt were unmet expectations with the way children entered into (or didn’t enter into) worship. I used to really beat myself up with those frustrations until God began to give me wisdom about the season we called childhood. And so I offer the following in hopes that it will help you in your quest to raise up kids who are worshippers.
Dynamic #1: God’s expectations may be different from our expectations. We often do ourselves a disservice when our expectations for the kids may not be what God is expecting from them at all. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 3:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” I’ve found myself feeling very “unspiritual” or “not really with it” when worship seems not to be happening or is taking place on a very limited basis. I know that many feel the same way.
I’m reminded of one lady that volunteered in our elementary class and seemed very disheartened after only a few times in class. I asked her what was wrong, and she vented her frustration, “Some kids are looking around and just not entering in during worship,” she said. It was all I could do to keep my composure in order not to embarrass her. Immediately I thought about the many times I have observed adults in the worship service. Adults are easily distracted, their minds occupied in far away places. Some chomped their gum as though they were in a contest with other gum chompers. Some entered in to worship with all of their heart. Adults will behave like adults. Kids will behave like kids do. She over-spiritualized the way the kids would respond in her own mind before she had really ever participated in a kids’ praise and worship service.
I believe she, like so many, had unrealistic expectations. Now, don’t get me wrong. To be in children’s ministry, you must have a vision and a picture in your heart of what you want to see happen with your kids. My concern comes when what we have in our hearts is something that got there because someone told us of other groups of kids responding in an extraordinary way during worship. We’ve all heard the stories (and I don’t discount the stories) of kids worshipping God with all of their heart, the Spirit of God moving in a unique way that is awesome and exciting. I’ve witness that kind of worship among children, and it is wonderful. Yet, it is more important to me that I have the heart of God for what He wants to accomplish in our kids, not someone else’s.
The problem occurs when we seek for the same experience, yet it doesn’t happen. Jesus said that an evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign. Then when they receive none, they do crazy things to “get an experience.” We teach our kids (as our pastor teaches our congregation) that we worship God simply because He is God! If we will worship God, we may have an experience or we may not, but He is still God. Don’t let “pie in the sky” thinking put you at a deficit in your goal to raise up worshippers. Remember that it is a process of consistent training.
I once had a parent come to me with a concern about their recently saved child. The child was giving them problems about doing his homework. The parent thought that since he just got saved, he should have a good attitude doing his homework. That is an unrealistic expectation. I’ve been saved for 23 years, and I still don’t like doing my homework. When we realize that kids are not “little adults,” we will approach the way we handle worship accordingly.
Dynamic #2: Different seasons of life have different focuses. Think about this: The focus of infancy is survival. The focus of childhood is learning. The focus of adolescence is self. The focus of maturity is reproduction. We should be focusing on the foundational aspects of worship and be less concerned about the results.
In ancient Middle Eastern culture, after mashing food up or chewing it partially themselves, mothers would take the food and put it on the roof of their baby’s mouth. Much like we would with peanut butter on the roof of our mouth. The act of removing that food with the tongue actually developed a taste for the particular type of food placed there. Did you know that your taste buds are regenerated every nine days, even as an adult? Why then should we not take that same approach in training our children to respond appropriately in worship?
From an early age we teach children to lift their hands because, first of all, the Bible commands it. We also teach them that it honors God (whom we worship because He is God!). We are developing a spiritual appetite to worship God. Sometimes they complain, sometimes they don’t want to, but as we are faithful to the task of training them how to worship, we develop a hunger in them that I believe will never leave them. There are many things that I do today that I can trace back to training received as a child. I can not go to a sporting event where the Star Spangled Banner is played and not put my hand over my heart and sing along. I well up with pride for my country each time. My dad trained me as a boy to do that. He developed that appetite in me.
When it comes to teaching children, sometimes we dig holes, some days we plant poles, some days we string wire, and one day we make a connection. But we would have never made a connection without the digging, planting and stringing!
Dynamic #3: It takes much faith to lead kids in worship. Hebrews 11:6 says that “faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” I believe that was written to those of us that work with kids. We often expect too much or too quick of a harvest. We may not even be the ones that see the harvest, but we must understand that the word of God will produce and our training is not in vain.
I remember a little boy I’ll call Steven. Steven was in my 5-year-olds class. He never seemed to participate very well. He never caused any problems, yet it was as though he was just looking and critiquing my every move. We would march and sing and he would sit and watch us, never opening his mouth. I remember this going on for several months, and I was about to ask his mother about his classroom participation. What could I do to get him to participate in our class more? Before this conversation ever took place, we were talking about something unrelated, and Steven’s mother brought up some interesting information about Steven. She began to go on and on about how much he loved our class and how on the way home he sang all of the songs and told everyone in the car about the lesson and even what kind of snack that we had eaten during class. She said,“We can hardly shut him up in the car!” I began wondering if we were talking about the same kid! I couldn’t get him to open his mouth in class, and they couldn’t get him to close his mouth about all he had received in class.
My point is this: Keep on doing what you know God has put in your heart to do. Don’t do what God has put in someone else’s heart to do and emulate that. Over the years, our kids have become worshippers of God. We still have days when I wonder if they are catching anything we are training them in, but regardless, we stick with the vision God has given us of raising up worshippers. Be realistic in your expectations, understand that childhood is a time for learning and that you are called to sow, train, mentor and encourage the kids in your care. God will take care of the rest.
As a veteran of over 20 years in children's ministry, Richard Maus has ministered to Pastors and Children's Ministry Leaders throughout much of the United States, as well as Peru, Guatemala, England, Russia, and Jamaica. He has served as Minister of Children's Services, at Cornerstone Church in Toledo, Ohio since 1995. Richard resides in the Toledo area with his wife, Beth, and their four boys.