“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” -Dr. Seuss
John Westerhoff III, a faith development theorist, offers valuable language to redefine childhood. “Perhaps,” he argues, “it would be better if we stopped using the words children and adolescents, and talked about people and the different characteristics they share at different times in their lives.” He goes on to explain, “the terms of childhood and adolescence are the social constructions of reality that have caused us to think in certain ways, some of which have affected children negatively.” While this notion of childhood is seemingly idealistic, it is not to say children and adults are the same. On the contrary, I utilize Westeroff’s theory to drive an underlining point: to properly care for the spiritual needs of a child, we must begin to perceive children as spiritually intelligent beings in need of nurture. Jerome Berryman, the author and producer of Godly Play, contributes to this concept by asserting that children “might already know God and [what they need is] an appropriate language to construct their own personal meaning about that reality.”
Fortunately, many churches and children’s ministers recognize these concepts and have wrestled with the question of whether to keep children in the larger assembly during worship or to provide a separate children’s worship. There are many arguments for and against both spectra. While the purpose of this post is not essentially to argue for or against either, I will submit to the importance of the entire body of Christ (yes, this includes children), meeting on a basis that is in congruence of the health of the congregation. In his essay from the book Along the Way, Ryan Maloney describes a discipleship cycle that begins as a congregation walks alongside children and their families. In turn, “[children] are partners with us in service, and involved in sharing Christ’s incarnational love…” When the church provides avenues for children to participate in worship with the larger assembly, a deeper community surfaces and builds a bridge between the language of a child and that of an adult. As ministers of children, it is vital for us not to minister to children as miniature adults, unable to understand abstract concepts, but as people with a unique understanding of God and his people. We achieve this by inviting them to participate as partners in service, ministry and worship.
In my current setting, our children, ages three to third grade begin worship with the larger assembly and are dismissed to children’s worship after communion takes place. All children stay in the entire service on the last Sunday of every month. To aid in this, I have created a Family Worship Activity Center to provide materials to guide children in worship. It is important to note the purpose of children participating in the service is not for children to learn to sit still like the adults or to worship the same way adults do. Neither is the center’s aim to keep the children busy, while the adults worship and listen to the sermon. No, the purpose is simple: for the entire body of Christ to worship their creator together. The activity center assists in accomplishing this goal.
Below is a picture of the Family Worship Activity Center. It contains children’s bulletins which reflect the sermon topic, sermon notes for both readers and non-readers, Bibles for various reading levels, and much more. I am happy to provide more information for anyone interested!
Editor’s Note: See also Ryan Maloney’s CHARIS post titled Along the Way: Jumping in Muddy Puddles.