A Ministry of Make and Deepen Disciples

Why Children’s Presence in Worship After Christmas Matters

After we put away the manger, the straw, the advent wreath, and the Christmas tree in our sanctuaries, we sometimes also put away the children.

Jesus welcomed children into the kingdom and even went so far as to say we are all to enter the kingdom as children. But when it comes to worship, children are often not welcome. The Season of Advent leading up to Christmas is, then, often the exception. During this season, children light candles, process in with lanterns, read scripture, engage in drama, offer a prayer, lead the congregation in music, play instruments, make announcements, or may even share personal stories of faith. We “adjust” worship to include children. But once Advent is over, so too is the participation of children.

But Jesus says, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them.” Where does Jesus ever suggest worship should not include the whole body of Christ including children? Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that the church is a body and every part is equally important and those parts we deem to be weaker are indispensable.

It’s admittedly harder to design worship that engages all generations and includes children as participants and leaders. We focus on adults because that’s what we are and what we can relate to. When we include children, we may even get complaints from adults who don’t see children as part of the body but rather as a bother. We may say that worship designed separately and exclusively for children is better for children.

Here’s the thing. If we don’t begin to adjust worship to include children regularly, we are learning from past generations that children will not remain in the church as adults. Our siloed, segregated ministries from the last generation have resulted in the greatest loss of children and youth as they became adults.

The ministries of the church cannot be fully segregated. If children don’t share experiences with the rest of the body, they will not be able to identify with the rest of the body. Developmentally, children need to belong and be valued. Worship is the one place where we all come together to give glory to God, and when children see this is of value to adults, they will want to participate and belong to Christ and the body.
If we can include children in meaningful ways in worship during Advent, we can do it throughout the year. Worship isn’t about us. It was never meant to be selfish, but selfless. It’s coming together as a body to glorify God. From the very beginning God knew that tactile kinesthetic elements such as the tabernacle, fire/light, water/cleansing, wind/spirit, bread/body, and wine/blood, would help all generations enter worship.

Let’s take a cue from God to include visual and tactile kinesthetic elements as a part of our ongoing worship that will enable us to invite and empower children and all generations to lead and participate in worship. All of us are God’s children. This year, let’s not hinder the youngest generatio
n—let’s be the whole body of Christ giving glory to God.

Steve Burger

Steve is the Director of Children, Family and Intergenerational Ministries for the Evangelical Covenant Church. He has served churches in New York and Minnesota with his wife Marti, prior to serving in his present position. Their daughter Melissa Wall serves as Pastor of Deer Grove Covenant Church, Palatine, IL, son-in-law, Fredrik serves in the ECC Denominational Offices, and their son Paul and his wife Britta are pastors at Bethany Covenant Church in Mt Vernon, WA. Steve can recall moments from infancy and feels closest to God when he is with children. He is committed to supporting and partnering with those who minister with children, families and intergenerational communities of faith.