Jo Rowe was at a loss at what to do, until she came across a talk from a kids pastor
Worshipping together as a family is one of my favourite things to do. Whether it be around the piano in our house, in the car, or on a Sunday morning with our church family. I adore it. I think I genuinely feel The Father’s pleasure in that moment. I know that worship is more than just singing praises, I know it is a life laid down, but there is something so incredibly precious about worshipping by singing with my family. It is such a beautiful moment of connection and unity.
Now, if you had told me, eight or nine years ago, that I would EVER be saying that my family worships together I would not have believed you!
Eight or nine years ago I had four children under eight, so keeping them quiet and entertained in church was exhausting and frustrating and, to be honest, often painful. I would arrive with armfuls of snacks, stickers, books and it felt like the worship period at church went on forever! Four songs felt like 20. I was tired and desperate to be able to worship for myself, without being touched, or taking a potty break or needing to wipe sticky hands. It was hard! And I had no idea when it would change. The shame was even worse because my husband and I were worship leaders… we should have been better at it. We also felt that we should be leading the way in teaching kids to worship but we just felt like total failures!
We decided to make changes
Maybe you are in this tough season of parenting little ones. Maybe it feels like getting to church is a major mission in itself, never mind actually worshipping as a family. I know your pain. But about nine years ago, my husband and I decided to make some changes because we were feeling desperate and tired and knew that Jesus must have something better!
In my searching and praying, I came across a talk by a Kids Pastor from America called Seth Dahl. He talked about training kids in worship and the power of family worship. I was inspired and so tired of being tired that I started to input some of the things that he suggested. The most intriguing one he recommended was rewarding kids to worship… with ice-cream! Controversial maybe, but I was willing to try anything!
Over the next few months and years we changed how we came to church and how we talked as a family. We started to build something a little different. It wasn’t easy, it was still tiring and there were still potty breaks, but I felt different, I guess because I had a plan. It was also a season of a wider emphasis church wide on growing our kids in worship.
Worship in the kitchen
Our family began by introducing more worship to our kids. Not just kids songs and action songs (although they might have a place) but we played worship music in our kitchen as we washed up, in the car when we went on long journeys and we had more conversations about what worship looks like at church and at home and in our daily lives.
We expected different things from our kids at different ages, but the key thing is that we expected things. You see, kids will often meet our expectations. If we only expect them to manage colouring in and stickers and toys in church, that is what they will do, but if we start to expect them to join in family worship we have found that our kids have met us there.
This is what we were looking for at the different stages and ages of our kids:
At ages 0-3 years old
I know this period is hard! I remember it so well but when we start to sow seeds of worship here, we reap them later on. We began by playing worship music in our home, I would sing over my last little one (the others were older by this point) whilst I fed him. Little ones are watching us. They are learning all the time, so no matter how harassed I felt on a Sunday I tried to physically engage in worship myself. We tried to model what it looked like to worship Jesus.
3-5 years old
We still played as much worship music in our home as we could, songs the kids would recognise at church so that they could start to sing along. We started having conversations with our kids at this age, about worship being a gift we give to Jesus. We would encourage our kids to draw pictures for Jesus or to bring Him a present on a Sunday. We reminded our kids that other people in our church family come to give their worship to Jesus too, and that we want to give them room to do that.
5-7 years old
Between the ages of five and seven years old; we encourage our kids to try and stay focussed for just one song. We asked them to try and stand and sing or to kneel or dance. Sometimes they would manage it, other times it was hard. They were learning. When we recognised that they were trying hard to focus, we would reward their effort; “We are so proud of you for trying so hard to give your best to Jesus that we are going to have chocolate cake for pudding!” If they could only make one song, that was ok, they were little!
Once their focus had waned we would try and encourage our kids to love other people by asking Jesus to show them who they could bless. I remember one time, my then six year old drew a picture of an angel with a sword. I asked her who she thought the picture was for. After the service, she gave her picture away to a lady in our church. Unbeknown to us she was battling for her health and she was just so encouraged by my daughter’s drawing. In that moment, Jesus reminded me that He doesn’t limit his power because they are children, kids have the same access to him as we do, and Father God will use even the smallest to encourage and speak.
8-10 years old
At this age we would be looking to grow the amount of time that they can focus for. One of the most helpful things we explained to our kids was that our bodies can sometimes get distracted! We lift our hands, or kneel or dance to help our bodies remember that we are there for Jesus. Kids can feel really self conscious about raising their hands or being demonstrative in worship, but this way of thinking really helped our kids feel a bit freer. I would ask our kids after the service what they felt or experienced during worship.Our expectation would be that our kids would be able to focus for more and more of the worship set.
10-13 years old
Hopefully by now our kids have built up an experience of encountering Jesus in worship. But, if like with our kids, you started a bit later and it’s still hard for them to focus, it’s ok to start at the beginning. We started later with our eldest so it took time for her to develop a connection to God.
In our experience, kids are ready for new challenges and experiences at this age. In our church, for those kids who are musical, there’s an opportunity to join the worship team but our kids also buddy up with smaller ones and model to them how to worship. Sometimes our girls go and help out a family with children under three so mums and dads get a chance to worship; serving is a form of worship too!
Different churcheswill of course worship in different ways, so I know that not all of this will apply to everyone, but as parents we still get to model worship to our kids, and as we teach them to worship we will help to grow their faith and teach them to encounter The One who loves them most.