Hi LifeTree Family,
As most of you know there is a transition coming to how we do our Sunday gatherings in 2017. Our children (from ages 3 and up) will be in the praise and worship (singing) portion of our gatherings again. The nursery will remain open for signing children in for the entire service though. After the time of praise and worship (in song) is over, the children will go to their respective classes for the remainder of the gathering, where they will be taught lessons and truths from the Bible and engaged in many ways similar to what we have already been doing. This letter has been written to help clarify the journey that has led us to this point, share the heart behind the decision, and provide some hopefully helpful directives.
We’ll start with recalling some of the journey.
In September, 2015 we launched some new initiatives within the children’s ministry of Lifetree Church under the banner of Roots Kid’s Ministry. There was a massive response of over 50 volunteers that answered the call to make disciples of the next generation within our community. Teams of these volunteers committed to ministering to our children on a one month on / one month off rotation. A number of volunteer worship leaders committed to leading the kids from K-Gr. 5 in a corporate time of worship every week.
For years in our services our entire community (kids and adults together) would gather for worship and then the children would be released down the hall to their classes and the adults and teenagers would remain together for a time of preaching / teaching. With the changes we made in September, 2015 kids were signed in at the beginning of the service into their respective classes. The Treehouse class (K- Gr. 2) and the God’s Clubhouse (Gr. 3-5) would gather into small groups for the first 15 minutes, then gather together for a time of corporate worship and a video to introduce the lesson for the day. After that the two groups would split back into their separate classes for further teaching, activities, and snacks. We have continued with this basic format since.
The heart and the vision behind this format was to create a space where we could better facilitate the kids getting “rooted” in their relationship with the Lord, one another, and in truth. We felt that we could accomplish this vision more effectively in the new format of an entire children’s service rather than the split service format we had done for years. We felt we could engage them better with a style of worship songs they would enjoy more and by communicating truth to them in words that they could more easily understand.
It has been a great journey so far and a huge privilege to pour into our kids. We have been so amazed to see the response of volunteers who want to invest into this next generation. Regardless of how “good” something seems to be going though, we will always be assessing if what we are doing is the most effective way to accomplish what we feel called to do – namely make disciples. We are often reminded of where Ezra said that he “proclaimed a fast…to seek from (God) the right way for us and our little ones…” (Ezra 8:21). In the midst of our journey we are “feeling” like the Lord is leading us to adjust our course.
Before sharing the details of this adjustment we are feeling to make, we will share our hope / vision for worship in our community and some of the context into which the sense of leading came. First off, when it comes to worship our aim is to engage our kids (and us adults) in what Jesus called worshipping in “spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). Within the Roots worship times we have observed things that leave us questioning whether what we have been doing is the “best” way to impart to our children an awareness of God’s worthiness, that will subsequently produce that “worship in spirit and truth”. We have also observed some noteworthy things in our “Family Services” – when we all (kids and adults) worship together.
In the initial stages of Roots Kid’s Ministry we would typically do lots of fun songs with actions and lots of energy to try getting the kids engaged. For the most part that worked, but we quickly realized that high energy and loud voices was not our goal. We want our kids to see God’s worth, understand His nature more, feel His presence, and respond with sincere heart-felt worship.
There is nothing wrong or weak about kids dancing and singing along to songs that teach gospel truth, but we were (and are) hoping for more than just that. We began asking our worship leaders who served in Roots to include into their song lists some songs that would hopefully draw the group into a deeper posture of worship. Occasionally this would result in a few kids appearing to be engaged more deeply, but for the most part the majority of the group would be left unengaged.
As weeks went on we tried teaching the kids about how much God loves heart-felt worship and how to engage our hearts more. Sometimes we would take a minute to explain what a certain song was actually about in hopes that it would help them connect more with what was being sung. As we continued on and had tried these different means to engage them more deeply, there still seemed to be an obvious disconnect for the majority of the kids when these sincere worship songs were sung.
We are not interested in teaching the kids any religious forms of how to sing, how to sway, how to raise their hands, or any other outward expression that might convince us adults that they are “getting it”. We want them to see and feel God’s worth, and eventually respond with worshipping “in spirit and truth” – not religious forms. That said, we leaders within Roots have ended up simply seeking to just worship God with all of our beings (spirit, soul, and body) in front of the kids when we are worshipping with them. First, because God is worthy, and secondly, in hope that an awareness of God’s worth may be imparted to them through observing that type of worship.
After 16 months, we have yet to find the Roots gathering caught up in some glorious outcry of heart-felt praise or sweet soul-moving adoration of Jesus. There have been some great moments, but for the most part there is a lot of crowd control happening and not much worship “in spirit and truth”.
During some of the Family Services we have observed some things that would appear to have more potential to impart to our kids this awareness of God’s worth that we keep mentioning, and in turn would hopefully develop these “true worshippers (who) will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”
We have seen joyous dancing of children and adults together while shouts of truth about who God is and what He is like fill the room. We have observed adults fall to their knees with tears streaming down their faces and words of gratitude on their lips, while an on-looking child watches with a look of curiosity and wonder. We have seen children watching as an adult face beams with joy. We have also noticed kids who are sitting in chairs appearing totally bored, while all around them is a room full of people passionately singing praise to God and declarations about God thunder from some passionate worshipper.
All this to say that whether the kids seem engaged, curious, or totally uninterested, the fact remains that they are in a room that is permeated with the sound of truth about God. Not just facts about God, but passionately heart-felt truth. Whether they fully comprehend what is happening or not, they are witnessing displays of emotion and possibly even sensing the presence of God that has huge potential to impart to them this awareness of God’s worth and His glory. Also, they hopefully aren’t just witnessing these different expressions of worship from only random people around the room, but the context is set for them to witness this display of God’s worth from those who are hopefully the most influential people in their lives – namely their own parents.
There is more to be said regarding all of this, but for now I will add that in October, 2016 we heard a podcast from John Piper in which he referenced an old article that he and his wife had written in 1995 for their church congregation. The title of the podcast was “Should Children Sit Through Big Church” and the article from 1995 was called “The Family: Together in God’s Presence”. What he had to say rang very true in our hearts.
As we shared it with other Roots team members, there was a similar resonance that they felt in response to what was said. As we dialogued and prayed, we had a strong sense that the means for imparting to our children what we hope to impart, would be best facilitated in the context of our families worshipping together. If you would like to hear that 11 minute podcast the link will be posted below. We recommend listening to it. He has a great gift for communicating in a clear and inspiring way.
We recognize that there are practical logistics and implications in this type of adjustment to how we do our services, but there is a strong sense that the potential “pros” far outweigh the potential “cons”. Many of the practical concerns have solutions that can be implemented through creative means of engaging the children, community support, parental discipline, and last-but-not-least the Holy Spirit.
Below there is a list of some concerns that will likely be felt and potential solutions to those concerns. There is also a list of the potential positive impacts we see in this adjustment. These lists may not be exhaustive, but should hopefully serve as a beneficial outline.
CONCERNS > SOLUTIONS:
1 – “Kids will have a hard time engaging.”
– Teach them at home about why we worship.
– Worship together as a family at home.
– Bring journals or paper with means for writing, drawing, and colouring.
– Ask them to tell you if they are sensing or feeling anything from the Holy Spirit during worship.
– Periodically point out to them what the Holy Spirit seems to be doing during the time of worship.
– Adults worshipping wholeheartedly can serve as means of demonstrating the worthiness of God and the value of engagement.
– Worship leaders could periodically address kids or lead in songs that may lend well to more kid engagement.
– On the way home, at lunch, or anytime later in the day ask your kids about what they observed, what they felt / sensed, if they heard any words or phrases that caught their attention or made them curious, or if they have any questions at all about church, worship, the Bible, or God Himself.
– Lastly but not least, pray for the Holy Spirit to do what He does so well – reveal Jesus in all of His glory and worth to the kids, show them how much He enjoys their worship, and inspire them to sing, dance, shout, adore, etc.
2 – “Kids will be unruly, misbehaved, and distracting.”
– Many of the ideas written above can also be applied to this very real potential problem as well.
– Reject hyper-idealistic expectations of how the transition will go and be committed to the process of teaching and training our kids.
– Talk to your kids on the way to the gathering about the behavior you desire / expect from them. Outline clear / practical expectations and corresponding disciplinary measures. Be consistent and follow through with disciplinary measures as needed (at the gathering, at home, and anywhere else).
– Reward and praise good behavior and good attitudes. Tell them about how proud of them you are. Show it in your face. Let them hear it in your tone. Affirmation is so powerful in the parenting process!
– Talk to them about being sensitive to what is happening in the room. Is this a joyous / loud dancing, shouting, and declaration time? Or, is this a quiet / somber moment of reflection, contemplation, and simple adoration? Is the worship leader addressing the congregation? Is someone else reading a Scripture or prophesying? Teaching a child what type of behavior is acceptable in certain settings or situations is not religious or over-bearing. It is called parenting. They learn what works and does not work in a class room, a movie theatre, a grocery store, a library, a sporting event, and many other settings. There is nothing wrong with helping them learn what type of behavior is complimentary (and what is not) in a church gathering.
3 – “I am worried that I (and/or my spouse) won’t be able to manage my (or our) kids, and I (or we) will rarely get to engage in worship anymore. I (or we) have so many. I am often at the service alone. They have special needs. I (or we) feel at a loss or overwhelmed with how to implement these suggested solutions.”
-Ask for help from people you respect.
-Be open to receiving help and don’t buy into the lie that needing help is an indication of failure.
-Those who see someone who would likely appreciate help with their kids, step up to serve that person if you don’t have your own clan of children to manage or your kids are old enough to manage themselves on their own.
-We as a community really embrace the “it takes a village to raise a child” philosophy.
4 – “I will feel judged if my kids are acting up, getting rowdy, or being insensitive to what is happening in the room. Our community may end up feeling critical and judgmental.”
-Don’t be overly concerned with other people’s opinions or judgments of you. Seek the Lord for His thoughts regarding you, your children, and your parenting.
-If someone is having a hard time with their kid(s) don’t get judgmental. Extend grace, pray for them, and seek opportunities to help.
-Take the time to speak to other parents words of encouragement that impart grace to them.
POTENTIAL POSITIVE IMPACT:
1 – Families will get to worship together or simply be together in that Holy Spirit saturated atmosphere that is often experienced in worship.
2 – Children will be exposed to seeing, hearing, and feeling passionate heartfelt praise.
3 – Children will absorb truths about who God is through the lyrics and the passion.
4 – The worth of God will be displayed to the children in dynamic ways.
5 – Roots Kids Ministry volunteers, who are feeling disconnected from the community and somewhat burned out, will get to hopefully feel more connected through worshipping together with their community more often, be refreshed through those times of worship, and have a significantly shorter window of time with their classes to plan / prepare for.
6 – Volunteers will be ministering to kids in the teaching time they do have from the overflow that comes from being refreshed in the Lord and in awe of Him when we worship.
7 – Our worship community will not be stretched as thin with serving in the main service and in Roots.
8 – The teachers will be able to pull on truths that were sung in the worship set, point out things that they sensed the Holy Spirit was doing during those worship times, ask the kids what they may have sensed or seen, and make time for questions from the kids about what they may have heard or observed.
9 – Parents will have a common experience as a basis for similar opportunities with their kids as listed above with the teachers and kids in the classrooms.
10 – Parents will have an easy opportunity to teach / train their kids with regard to giving financially to support their local church as an act of worship unto the Lord.
There is probably much more that could be added to both of these lists, but hopefully this is helpful in communicating the journey and the motivation behind this decision.
If you would like to hear the 11 minute podcast from John Piper that really had an impact on us, please check out this link: http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/should-children-sit-through-big-church We highly recommend finding some time when you can to listen to it. Please note that John Piper advocates children (5 and up) remaining in the entire service. Although we definitely agree that there is a place for (and even a health in) having kids exposed to truth that may be over their heads, at this point we feel there is still a benefit in doing the lessons we do with the kids. That said, we would encourage all parents to be exposing their children to truth, concepts, and words regarding the gospel, God Himself, and His kingdom that are beyond their current understanding and will require explanation.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this. It demonstrates a real care in your heart for our church family. As it has always been in this church, please feel free to communicate any thoughts or ideas you may have concerning this. Your opinion and creativity is part of what makes our church “our church”.
Love and blessings to you all!