Children and Worship: The Conversation of 2 Pastors—

Part of our Grow Virtual Conference was a question-and-answer session between Stephen Estock and Josh Johnson. These two pastors discussed children and worship and the character of God seen in His name Yahweh. Please enjoy some of that conversation here. This is not verbatim, but represents the dialogue held that day.

Stephen: I like the phrase you used in your talk: “Tiny voices saying true things.” It is a blessing to have children among us in the service. How can we respond to parents who say, “I don’t think my child is ‘getting anything’ out of worship”? Or, “I’m not getting anything out of worship because my child is distracting me”? What are some guidelines or advice you have as we help those parents grow in bringing their children into worship?

Josh: It’s a really good question. This portrays a mindset and a worldview we are all steeped in, especially in American culture. That phrase would be true if it was up to us to take a big cup and go into God’s grace house. If we had to scoop out to fill up the cup ourselves, that would be true. But that’s not how worship works. It’s not how God has ordained our worship in His presence. One of the things I tell young adults in the church is “You never want to push your children into oncoming traffic. But when it comes to gathered worship, I’m all about pushing my children into the oncoming traffic of the means of grace. I’m going to get you into God’s way.” Preaching of the Word, sacraments, prayer, fellowship—I’m going to get you in the way and let the Spirit do what He has promised to do…which is work through the Word on the hearts of His people and those He’s going to call. For parents too, we are steeped in wanting to get something, having our mind engaged in worship. It’s true. We need our minds engaged, but I find so much joy in encouraging parents that they are getting so much out of worship by stewarding these young worshippers. Think about a swimming pool. Different ages can do different kinds of swimming. My 7-year-old can freestyle and needs less help. My other children need floaties and more of my attention. They need little things that will help them along in the process. I tell parents to bring little things for their children. Stickers, etc. Help them be in the presence of God by engaging them where they are.

Stephen: Years ago, somebody said something to me along the lines of “You know worship is more about God than about ourselves and what we are getting out of it.” I was challenged to think that it brings joy to the heart of God that I, as a covenant parent am bringing my children into the means of grace, coming through the preaching of the Word, the singing, the prayer, and just the community of the saints gathered together. There’s no way of knowing exactly what the Holy Spirit is doing in the heart and life of the child, and God is delighted. There is benefit and blessing there when we don’t get so caught up in our entertainment, our “I-want-to-get-something-out-of-this“ view of worship. We should turn it around and make it more God-centered.

Stephen: Well, you mentioned children becoming active participants in worship. I agree that’s great BUT

How do we distinguish between 1) a child’s participation (a blessing) and 2) mere activity (possibly a distraction)? Should we distinguish between those?

Josh: I don’t want to nuance it too much because different families have different needs at different ages, but I remember what Pastor Sandy Willson, who was our interim pastor for a season, said. His definition of worship is [in a nutshell], a Christian’s joyful activity. We can understand that all of our children are going to be able to participate and have activity towards God at different levels of understanding. We can trust that God is doing something that we couldn’t do for them.

Stephen: Let’s transition to your talk about the covenant name of God. The name Yahweh assures us God is with us; He sees us, and He knows us. Leaders have the privilege of displaying the character of God to the children we serve. How can we demonstrate these aspects of God’s character as we spend time with the children?

Josh: I think one of the primary ways anyone who is working with children can demonstrate God’s character is by their presence. The name Yahweh really does signify that He is present with His people. He’s not a far-off God because He’s a relational God. As we are in the presence of children, we can know their names, know their parents by name, and know the kinds of things that bring them joy. We help our children understand that God is not an ethereal thing up there that I have to tap into in special ways. It’s actually the opposite. God is very near, imminent, in close relationship.

Stephen: You mentioned how God sent Moses (in Exodus 3) back to the darkness of Egypt, and Moses objected saying, “I’m not capable.” God responded with revealing His name Yahweh. Talk more about how the character of God revealed in Yahweh encourages and equips us as we serve the children (and their parents) week after week. 

Josh: It’s one of my favorite scenes in the Bible. I think that anyone who’s ever tried to recruit volunteers feels like God, and all of the volunteers are like Moses. Those recruiting are asking others to serve, and they are like “No, I can’t. I’m not good at that. I don’t have the skill set.” And that would be a true statement if I’m Moses and I think I’m the one that has to fill up the cup of God’s grace and then divvy it out to everybody. But if the onus is on me to actually accomplish something in the hearts of these children or in the hearts of their parents, I’d be utterly terrified. God responds to Moses to remind him that He doesn’t need him to have a particular set of gifts, to be eloquent and have things in order, but to simply be faithful and to be a conduit. It’s like God is saying, “Let Me get in the room through you. I’m Yahweh. I’m the one who has the power. I’m the one who’s relationally close to them. I’m the one that loves them more than you do.” But you are strategically placed, so lean into God’s providence and let God work through you.

Stephen: You mention how the name Yahweh assures us God is 1) faithful to His covenant promises, 2) committed to His gracious mission, and 3) delighted in His joyful worship. As you think about where you are in ministry right now, how do these encourage you in what you are facing?

Josh: I firmly believe that the gathered worship of the saints is one of the primary and premier places where God’s covenant faithfulness is shared and experienced by God’s people. God is committed to His mission of saving His people, calling His children and saving them. This encourages me as I trust God to call people to saving faith through our lives. Worship isn’t just Sunday morning, it’s our whole life. When we worship Him, He is delighted. When we model this, we are teaching this . . . because we teach with our lives as well.

(Josh then ended with an illustration comparing the church to an octopus, but you’ll have to listen in on the conference to fully understand that one. The Grow Virtual Conference is available through the end of January if you are interested in listening in for more.)

This blog post was written by Katie Flores