Our actions and words matter as leaders in the church. This is especially true in the pew. Know it or not, we are being watched by the children of our congregation as an example of how to worship. This being the case, a question I often wrestle with is this: How do we model worship to children and families around us?
Sometimes I forget that people are watching me each Sunday. I have a lot on my plate each Sunday morning as a Children’s Ministry Director in a church plant context. My morning starts hours before congregants arrive and ends after they leave. In the busy-ness I am not always thinking about the reality that there are about 80 or so children each week, plus their parents, who are watching, aware of where I am and what I’m doing.
A year ago a 4-year-old approached me in the foyer before service one Sunday. “Miss Saralyn,” he began, “Why are you never at church?”
I was puzzled by his query. “What do you mean?” I asked, “I’m at church every week.” He shook his head, “Nooo…. You’re not in there!” he declared, pointing to the Sanctuary.
Suddenly, it clicked. Being a church plant in a post-COVID lockdown context, we were still rebuilding our Children’s Ministry volunteer team. Because of this I was teaching weekly to help fill in the gaps. While I did my best to go into the Sanctuary for worship before teaching Sunday school, the reality was that I was often late or missed this time altogether. Where was I? I was at church in the Children’s Ministry hallway helping with check-ins or troubleshooting other needs. I was greeting families or helping volunteers gather the supplies they needed. I was talking to parents arriving late to church. Those were good things, but that’s not what the 4-year-old saw.
This 4-year-old was watching me. He noticed I wasn’t in worship and he called me out because he knew, even at age 4, that being in service was important. Part of church is the people gathered together in worship to the Lord, not my running around for all my lists.
After this conversation (that hurt a little bit to hear), I took this opportunity to work on being better at getting into service for the opening portion of worship at minimum. I also worked a little harder to take myself off the teaching schedule once a month, although with sick calls of volunteers or high attendance numbers, that doesn’t always happen!
The next Sunday, I rushed to get into service for worship. Across the Sanctuary I could feel eyes on me, and looking over, I saw that sweet 4-year-old boy across the room. Over the shoulder of his dad, holding him high to worship, he waved. This 4-year- old boy had been looking for me. In him, I had a small worship-accountability buddy.
A few months later I found three children aimlessly wandering through the halls. One parent was serving at church that morning, and the other was away. I asked why they were wandering the halls during worship. They said they didn’t know what to do, and so we went into service together. We sat in a row. And as I pointed to the words in our bulletin, these three little children began to whisper their questions. Together we worshiped our heavenly Father in the pew.
It can be overwhelming to accept that as leaders in the church we are being watched. Our words and actions matter. Let us use our visibility as an opportunity on Sundays to bring God glory by modeling worship to families. While we do a lot that these children and parents will never know, let us take this simple and small opportunity seriously to step away from our lists to model worship and to fill our own cups too.
How to Model Worship to Children (and Their Families):
- Make an effort to regularly get into service for worship.
- Consider sitting in the same spot each week.
- Schedule yourself off from teaching Sunday school a couple of times a month.
- Put your phone away.
- Consider bringing your physical Bible to church.
- Close your eyes during prayers.
- If you’re sitting near a child, invite them to follow along with you in the bulletin.
- Encourage children to whisper thoughts or questions. Sometimes you will be able to answer in that moment, and then other times you might suggest chatting after church.
- Raise your hands during the Benediction.
- Pray that children (and their families) would grow in their discipline of partaking in corporate worship. Pray for your own discipline in that area too.