I had 3 follow up questions to his piece and so we started an email conversation. Please consider frequenting his blog. He is a voice of Lutheranism that I appreciate.
1. Given that you believe children should be in the pews during worship, is there anything that we can do to create a worship space that is more conducive to children being in worship? If you could dream big, what would that space look like? What symbols would be important to have children focus on?
First, thanks for featuring me, and engaging me in this conversation. I think this is a very important conversation and one that often gets overlooked for what I would consider to be the “latest and greatest fad.”
Now onto your question, you ask a good one. If we want kids to stay in worship, then of course we need to create spaces that are kid friendly. Where I am currently serving at Saint Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Bellevue, WA we do this in a number of ways, many of which were mentioned by your brother in his excellent blog post. In that post your brother mentioned that a welcome for kids should be included in every worship bulletin, an announcement should be made regarding the congregations stance towards kids at the beginning of worship, people should be encouraged to bring kids into the worship space and trained to do so, an activity space in the nave could be provided for kids and parents, and my personal favorite worship bags can be given to families. I think all these ways create a space that is conducive for kids in worship, and we do many of these at Saint Andrew’s.
What I would want to add to this list actually has nothing to do with the worship space, but in my mind is critically important. A congregation that wants kids in worship has to have a ministry model that is conducive for kids and families. If the basic model of ministry isn’t conducive for kids and families then it doesn’t matter what kind of worship space you have, or how friendly it is kids will not be welcome. In other words, you could have the most kids friendly worship space in the world, but if your basic ministry model isn’t kid friendly then all that work on a worship space is for not.
At Saint Andrew’s our ministry model is one of circles inside of circles inside of more circles. In the center we start with the cross of Christ. It is our conviction that we must always keep our eyes on Christ (Heb. 12:2), and so even when we think about the core of our ministry we begin with where God has first looked upon us in favor. The next layer is all about the people. Romans 16 comes to my mind whenever I think about this layer because Paul was a deeply relational apostle, and so once your ministry is rooted in the clear preaching and teaching of Christ then you have to move to how this effects the people for whom this message was proclaimed. The third layer in our model is entitled: process. Process is important, but not more important than the cross or people. I mean for crying aloud even the disciples had a process to replace Judas (Acts 1:15-26), so we should too. Finally, the last layer is about the institution.
If you reflect with me for a moment on this model what I hope you see is how it clearly shows our values and their order of importance. Another way to chart would be like this:
This model affects our worship, because it up front states for everyone that we do not let the institution or process get in the way of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus to the people. This model, in my mind, is the biggest game changer in creating kid friendly worship space.
2. Is there anything about our liturgy that you like, or would change, that is aware of the developmental stage children are in? Faith does come by hearing, so what are we doing for children to make sure that they are actually hearing that God is for them?
I love our liturgy! One of the critiques I often hear regarding the weakness of biblical Lutheran worship is that it’s not kid friendly. I call BS on that one. The fact that our liturgy is basically the same week after week is its greatest strength, because kids learn though repetition. I never really understood this strength until recently when I asked my two and half year old son to say grace and he belted out the Kyrie yelling, “Lord, have mercy.” It was shocking to my wife and I, because not only did he know the words, but he knew the tune that we had been using in church! Not to mention my wife and I were surprised because neither of us go around the house chanting, so the only possible place he would have picked that up at during Sunday morning worship.
3. How would you create a culture within your congregation of including children in worship on Sunday Morning? What does your congregation currently practice?
Well of course the first way you create a culture of including kids in worship on Sunday morning is by using a model of ministry that already includes them. If you have to create a culture specifically for Sunday morning then I think you are fighting a losing battle, because people will be function using one “culture” Monday through Saturday and then another on Sunday. That doesn’t work. I think including kids is a 7 day a week kind of thing.
With that said some of the tangible steps we take at Saint Andrew’s is to have kids be acolytes and crucifiers every Sunday. We also have some of our high schooler’s and college age kids rotate in as assisting ministers. We include kids as readers… and funny enough they are often are best readers because they spend time preparing! So in that sense the kids are a good example to our adults. Finally we have worship bags that we provide for kids during worship.
Another thing that helps at Saint Andrew’s is that because our model of ministry is so kid friendly, as well as cross and people focused and not institution and process focused, we simply attract a lot of families. This means I have a responsibility in worship to engage the kids. One of the things I do to engage the kids is to ask a lot of questions during the children’s sermon and let them feel comfortable responding with crazy answers. For example just this last Sunday as I was about to pray at the end of the children’s sermon and one of the kids started to pray. Rather than stopping them I had them lead the prayer. That meant I took off my microphone and gave it to the child. This made for a profound moment in worship. Most people are to nervous to read in worship… this kids free styled a prayer! Had I not engaged this child I would have done two dangerous things. First, I would have made the child feel guilty for doing what all people should do at church… pray. Second, I would have stifled this kids joy, and so the next time he might not have felt welcome.
When we are creating a culture for kids in worship we have to remember Jesus words in Matthew 19:14, “Let the children come to me.” These words are not spiritual, they are a command this means we cannot be a stumbling block (Romans 14:13, 1 Corinthians 8:9). Especially to kids.
Again, Pastor Wes, thank you for your time and responding thoughtfully to my questions.