Training Children for Worship

“I have a young child who won’t sit still in worship. What can I do?” This situation is not at all uncommon, especially in a church with young families. This is a question that I have asked and wrestled with on numerous occasions. How can we train our children for worship? Unfortunately, there is not a single sentence that will answer that question. In fact, to answer this question with any sufficiency is to unpack a treasure chest of thoughts and practices.

First, we must remember the aim in training our children for worship. We should expect (in the long run) more out of our children than just being quiet. Worship is an action, something in which you participate rather than simply observe. Worship is not something that we go to like a movie, but something that we do. This means that as we train our children, our aim is not just for them to be quiet, but to learn to actively participate in worship. Our family rules? Be quiet; be still, participate.

What does it mean, then, to train our children? One thing you will see if you look up the word “train” in the dictionary is that training generally involves both instruction and practice. We need to be teaching our children what worship is, what is expected of us in corporate worship and why we do it. We need to teach them about the various elements of worship and their importance. But, explaining is only half of training. We need to be providing opportunities for our children to practice what they have been taught. They need to practice sitting still, being quiet for an extended period of time, standing and singing songs, and praying. Only when both instruction and practice are taking place are we actually training our children.

Is once a week enough? Is that sufficient practice? I don’t think so. There isn’t much that we do in this life (exercise, learn an instrument) that we can do once a week and call it sufficient preparation. This is especially true with children. Regular and frequent repetition is vital to a child’s understanding. How often do you ask your son who’s being potty trained if he has to go to the bathroom? The frequent questioning both assures the parent and reminds the child of his need to learn to use the potty. Training for worship is no different. To truly train a child for worship, we need to be practicing at home. One of the greatest tools in preparing our children for quiet yet participatory worship is daily family worship. Taking your child to corporate worship once a week is not training them for worship.

In fact, I would argue that training does not (even can not) take place on Sunday at all. Rather, real training can only take place Monday through Saturday. On the Lord’s Day, however, it’s no longer practice, but the real thing. Consider eight-time gold medalist Michael Phelps preparing for his events in the Summer Olympics in Beijing. Everything that he did prior to the Olympics was called training. The events he swam in Beijing were part of the very event for which he had trained. Those were not training swims, but the application of that training – the real thing. Corporate Lord’s Day worship is not practice, but that for which our children have been trained. We can’t say that taking our children into worship once a week is training them for worship. That would be like entering them into the Olympic 400 IM without first teaching them how to swim. If we truly want to train our children for corporate worship, they must be practicing on a regular and frequent basis at home.