Moses stood before Pharaoh and said, "Let my people go." After 8 devastating plagues the Egyptian ruler offered to allow the adults to go and worship the Lord, but the children were to remain behind. Moses rejected this offer categorically [Exodus 10:9]. Moses knew that the worship experience is short-lived if the children are not taken along! Too often children are ignored or ushered out to a film or games room while the adults enjoy their worship experience - Moses would be horrified if he was around today!
The heart of God is crying out, "Suffer the little ones to come unto me, and forbid them not" [Luke 18:16]. Children too can worship the Lord. Their hearts are hungry and longing for the presence of God.
1. A PLACE FOR CHILDREN IN WORSHIP
Leading children in praise and worship involves more than singing amusing and entertaining songs, although such songs have their place. They need to have an opportunity to express their love and appreciation to Jesus for all that He has done for them. They also need to be equipped with power to stand against the attack of the evil one. We are told in Psalm 8:2 that praise, even in the mouths of children, silences the enemy. There is supernatural power that is released through a child's worship that goes far beyond our natural reasoning.
While children's praise often looks like an imitation of adults they respect, Jesus said that their praise is perfect (Matthew 21:15,16). When children praise God they are building a protective shield around their minds and lives, whether they are praising because of our influence or not.
2. THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHILDREN AND WORSHIP
Scripture shows that a child thinks, talks and reasons differently from an adult. They are not mini-adults! Understanding the developmental stages children pass through is helpful in relating to, and leading, them in worship.
In general a child's intellectual development progresses from the self- centred, magical thinking of a preschooler, to concrete reasoning during elementary school years and finally to the abstract reasoning of adolescence.
Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist, identified four developmental stages that correspond to a child's chronological age:
A. THE SENSORI-MOTOR PERIOD (birth - two years)
At this early stage children act and think through their five senses. Cognitive learning is impossible. Worship must be an emotional and enjoyable experience.
B. PRE-OPERATIONAL THOUGHT (two - seven years)
During this stage a child is unable to perform operations in thought. They can remember what they are taught, but not think about its meaning. They are also unable to distinguish fantasy from reality. For these children believing in God is as easy as believing in Dad, Mom and an Easter Bunny. They need a sense of belonging in worship, provided through active involvement, which will produce a sense of emotional fulfilment.
C. CONCRETE OPERATIONS (seven - twelve years)
At about age seven the child begins to differentiate fantasy from reality and can perform operations of thought on what they can see. The child now thinks in concrete terms but does not deal well with abstract concepts. When a child in this stage is told that Jesus is knocking at the door of their heart, they view Jesus as a literal man who is knocking on a physical door inside their chest. The worship leader should find ways to present abstract ideas in concrete forms.
D. FORMAL OPERATIONS (beyond twelve years)
Only at this stage can children perform operations in abstract thought. Only now will they be able to understand that the picture of Christ knocking on the door of our heart is a picture that speaks of God's Spirit calling to Man's spirit. The inability of a child to relate to abstract ideas is of particular interest and importance when trying to lead children into an abstract experience, such as the worship of an invisible yet omnipresent God. Once we are aware of these limitations we can develop strategies for communicating abstract spiritual truths in concrete terminology. Jesus used the approach, "The kingdom of heaven is like..." to make the transition from the abstract to the concrete. By comparing abstract ideas to tangible things the child has experienced, they are able to grasp many spiritual truths.
3. SONGS FOR CHILDREN IN WORSHIP
We must answer the question of why we sing. To let off steam? Because children enjoy doing the actions? To fill in time? To "warm children up" for the teaching? These are not good enough reasons in themselves. The only really good reason for singing is to let children tell God, and tell each other, what they think of Him. Some of the other advantages can fall into place behind this, but it must dominate the selection of songs and determine the position they occupy in the programme.
The songs that can be used for leading children in worship include:
A. ACTION SONGS
These teach the meaning of the song and provide an outlet for their energy to be released. Songs with few words and much repetition are the best for children. But they do not need to be meaningless to be included in the category of action song. Songs such as "Silver and gold," and "He that believeth" teach while they involve the kids in actions.
B. ADORATION SONGS
Avoid thinking that children just want to sing fun songs. They also want to express their love to Jesus in songs that will allow them to sing their love to Jesus. Even children can be "lost in wonder, love and praise."
C. ADULT SONGS
Children need to, and want to, sing songs that are being sung by older people in church or the senior youth groups. This will ensure that children do not feel out of place when they participate in church services or home cells.
D. ASSORTED SONGS
Paul in his letters listed three types of songs to be use in worship: psalms, hymns and spiritual songs [Eph 5:19; Col 3:16].
This involves the singing of scripture choruses. Because they are simple in lyrics and melody, they are quickly learned by even young children. The use of modern language helps children to relate easier to the words and to the message.
There is a need to teach children the traditional hymns. Exposure to the past helps children to face the future. A sense of their heritage stimulates a sense of their future destiny. But the use of a hymn book is counter productive as most children will stare blankly at the pages; be unable to follow the format or thumb idly through the pages. Rather repeat the more well known hymns until children learn the words or make use of an overhead screen.
(3) Spiritual Songs
These are songs which emanate from man's spirit and not from his mind. Paul makes the contrast in 1 Cor 14:15. They are sung to God (v2), by man's spirit (v14) and are not understood by others (v16). Judson Cornwall says these songs are "extemporaneously composed musical numbers expressing ecstasy". In either case this is an area where children can express themselves in original song. It is common for children to create tunes to accompany their play. There is a place to encourage children to sing their, "new song unto the Lord" (Psalm 33:3; 96:1; 98:1; 149:1).
Avoid songs which are:
* Metaphorical/Poetic: "Running over, my cup is full and running over"
* Untrue/Misleading: "Since the Lord saved me, I'm as happy as can be"
* Obscure/Vague: "Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning"
Choruses, as well as some of the traditional hymns, must be screened for their accuracy in doctrine. In leading children's worship, this is even more vital, as children are still forming their theological concepts. The worship leader has the responsibility of taking steps to ensure that the music accurately conveys the true message.
4. LEADING CHILDREN IN WORSHIP
The role of the worship leader includes:
A. PROVIDE AN EXAMPLE FOR CHILDREN TO FOLLOW
When Jesus said, "Follow me", he used the Greek word "akolouthos" which means "to go in the same way." The worship leader help the worshippers to go in the same direction. The response of children in worship is found in another Greek word for follow," "mimeomai" which means "to mimic." [See Eph 5:1 and 1 Cor 11:1]. As they follow (mimic) the leader they will follow right into the presence of God and be encouraged to respond to God's presence with love and devotion. To be successful the leader must live a life of worship, and have a growing relationship with God!
B. PROVIDE AN EXPLANATION FOR CHILDREN TO UNDERSTAND
Leading children in worship involves the element of teaching as the leader explains appropriate means of expressions in praise and worship and why they are used. He should teach that there is freedom to clap, dance and express joy but not to the degree of foolishness. Worship should also be seen as an opportunity to teach some facet of the nature of God, our relationship to Him, etc. The theme that is chosen for the time of worship should be carefully thought out and all elements of the worship related to the theme. This will enhance the message.
C. PROVIDE ENCOURAGEMENT FOR CHILDREN TO PARTICIPATE
Leading children in worship includes the responsibility to encourage children to move from being passive spectator's to active participants. This will be accomplished with lively singing, actions, opportunities for children to pray and share, and above all a desire to continually find creative ways to involve children. The leader should develop a style that is conversational and which encourages children to open up to the worship leadership.
D. PROVIDE AN ENVIRONMENT FOR CHILDREN TO PARTICIPATE
The worship leader who is viewed as the great disciplinarian will not be the most successful leader in the eyes of the children. Yet children need to be kept in check and on track. The worship leader should be free to enter into worship himself without having to correct and discipline children at the same time. Adult or teen-age helpers are the secret to keeping control of the children, separating the unruly ones if necessary, while they worship among the children.
Practical Guidelines for Leading Children in Worship:
(1) Be Relatively Predictable in Your Style
When children know more or less what you will do next they will be more free to focus on God and not be distracted. Children feel secure with schedules and routines, and they relax easier.
(2) Be Creative and Use Games
Predictability does not imply dull, routine worship but includes creative and fun times of praise. Group singing competition is a healthy form of variety in singing.
(3) Use Instruments That are Unusual and Fun
Allow children to play banjo's, shakers, tambourines, triangles, spoons, etc. where possible.
(4) Flow from Song to Song
When the singing progresses beyond fun songs into praise songs the leader should flow from song to song without "commercial" interruption. Some interjected statements and encouragements are necessary during fun songs, and during the initial stage of praise but as you advance there should be a minimal number of interruptions.
(5) Give Directions Loudly and Clearly
Bold and clear leadership is essential to unite the worshippers. Children need to be reminded that someone's in control.
(6) Become Invisible as God Becomes Visible
Do this by limiting chatter and give succinct directions. Encourage children to close their eyes when they worship and see "the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted" (Isa 6:1). This helps to avoid distractions and opens their spiritual eyes. They can also be encouraged to fold their hands. This will help to limit their wandering and mischief. The leader needs to "watch and pray" to ensure that hands are not wandering. If a disturbance is noted, a simple reminder or a stern look should be sufficient. Deal with problems later - don't break the atmosphere!
(7) Remain Aware of the Time
Worship can't be squeezed into tight time schedules but at the same time we must realise that a child's worship cannot be sustained as long as an adults worship. Children have a shorter attention-span and a more limited ability to express his emotions. Sensitivity to children and common sense will dictate when to move on with the service or programme.
(8) Encourage Times of Silence
When children are experiencing a sense of the presence of God do not be afraid to allow time for silence. Use these moments to encourage children to hear if Jesus has something to say to them. Encourage soft speaking of praise, or expressing love to the Father in their own words. If the leader is sensitive to the Holy Spirit's promptings he may receive the direction to allow children the opportunity to ask Jesus to come into their lives, or to allow children to confess their sin.
(9) Use Fun and Colourful Transparencies
When using transparency for songs, make use of coloured drawings on the same sheet. They will capture their imagination and, if well chosen, will reinforce the message of the songs.
(10) Continually Narrow the Focus of the Children
The leader's role is to continually narrow the children's focus until their full attention is focused on God the Father.
5. PRAYER AND CHILDREN IN WORSHIP
When a leader stands in front of a group of children and shuts his eyes to pray, three things can happen to the children: They can listen, agree and say amen as a sign that they accept the prayer as their own; or they can retreat into their own private thoughts and imagination; or they can communicate with each other in that informal sign language they know so well. There are ways to ensure that the first of the three options happen.
A. PRAY IN THEIR LANGUAGE
Beware of obstacles to understanding, such as: out of date language; big words and religious cliches. A prayer like, "Thou O Lord art highly to be praised because of thine exceeding holiness," uses foreign language and complex religious words. An alternative would be, "Lord God, you are so great and so good that, when we think of you, we want to tell you how wonderful you are."
B. PRAY SPECIFICALLY
Pray in such a way that children will be able to see that God has answered them. If a mother is expecting, ask God for the save delivery of the baby, etc. This involves a risk, as God may answer Yes, No or Wait. But it is good for children to understand from a young age that we are dependent upon God for His will and the way He chooses to answer prayer.
C. BE BRIEF
Children don't have an ability to spend half an hour in prayer. You can always have another time for prayer later in the worship. Be aware of their attention span.
D. ENCOURAGE RESPONSE
Teach children to say "Amen" if they agree with what is being prayed. This will ensure that the amens that are heard are genuine. A lot of children think that "Amen" means "please", whereas it means "let it happen as we have said" - so tell children that by saying "amen" they mean, "I agree".
E. ENCOURAGE CHILDREN TO PRAY
Help children overcome their shyness and fear of a long prayer by saying a word or phrase. This will build their confidence. Introduce the time of prayer by asking each child to give one reason why they are thankful to God or one thing that they like about God. Then have them say what they have contributed in a short time of prayer.
F. EQUIP CHILDREN TO PRAY BY THEMSELVES
Encourage children and give them the structure that they can use to pray on their own at home, school, etc. Be creative: Give the child a "teaspoon" to keep by their bedside. Tell them that the TSP of teaspoon stands for Thank you, Sorry and Please - things which they can say to God every night.
6. CREATIVITY AND CHILDREN IN WORSHIP
A. ANTIPHONAL PRAISE
Divide children into two groups, select a Psalm and ask one group to read the odd numbered verses and the other to read the even verses. Then ask the children in pairs to discuss what the verses tell them about God.
B. LISTEN TO MUSIC
Select music to help children think through the teaching they've heard. Choose music that is age-appropriate and suitable to the culture of the children.
C. CHANGE THE WORDS/PITCH OF SONGS
Change words of songs, such as, "God is so Good," to "God, You're so good" Change the key of songs - simple songs can be raised a semitone at a time.
D. READ SCRIPTURE AS PRAISE TO GOD
Many passages such as, 1 Chron 29:10-13; Revelation 4 and 2 Timothy 2:11-13 are ideal, where the leader can read the first half of the statement and the children can read out the second. Devise chants which the children can respond to, ie. Victory Chant and Psalm 136. Teach children to respond to the statement: "What do we believe?" with the following: "Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again, Yeah!" On "Yeah" the whole group leaps into the air with their right hands raised.
E. MAKE USE OF SILENCE
Children can be moved by silence in valuable ways. But the leader must be very specific about what the children should think about. Explain that sometimes God uses pauses to get a message through to His people who are listening out for Him, but tell the children that they must not listen for an audible voice, for it is more likely that God will communicate by putting good ideas inside their heads. We speak of an uninterrupted flow of thoughts that are birthed in, and pass through, our minds as the voice of God.
7. OUTLINES FOR CHILDREN IN WORSHIP
With children the opening songs need to be fun songs where they can march, stomp, shout, clap and get actively involved. This helps to draw children into participate. Meeting children where they are means jumping in with both feet and having some fun with them. Follow fun songs with praise songs which help children tell one another about God and who he is to them. Once established in praise children are ready to move into worship songs which minister to God. From fun, to praise, to worship - the leader's role is to continually narrow the children's focus until their full attention is focused on God the Father. Sometimes the praise to worship transition can be made by changing a word or two of the song being sung (ie. "God is so good" to "God, you're so good").
Develop these simple outlines, mostly centred around Bible stories, using fun songs, praise songs and then worship songs.
A. JESUS HEALS TODAY! [Acts 3:1-10]
(1) Share the story of the lame man's healing
(2) Praise God like the lame man did 
(3) Pray for someone you know who is ill
B. PRAISE BRINGS VICTORY! [Acts 16:25-34]
(1) Sing songs to God and Pray 
(2) Praise brings release and victory 
C. JESUS IS HERE! [Matthew 18:20]
(1) The Promise of the Presence [Isa 43:1,2]
(2) The Fulfilment of the Presence [Matt 1:23; 18:20]
(3) Our Response to Jesus' Presence [Sing songs to Jesus]
D. JESUS GIVES LIGHT! [John 8:12]
(1) Worship Jesus as the light of the World
(2) Read John 9:1-7 Jesus gives sight to the blind man
(3) Prayer for sight, for guidance and comfort
(4) Read John 12:35,36
E. LOVE IS COOL! [1 John 4:9-12,19]
(1) We Celebrate our Love for God [9,10]
(2) We Express our Love to God
(3) We Express our Love to Others [11,12]
F. THANK YOU JESUS! [Luke 17:11-19]
(1) Read the passage about the one grateful leper
(2) Allow children to express thanks in prayer
(3) Sings song that express gratitude
G. WITH JESUS IN THE STORMS OF LIFE! [Mark 4:35-41]
(1) Read the story of Jesus and the disciples in the storm
(2) Have the children think of a storm in their lives right now
(3) Apply the story to relate to their personal storm
(4) Sing songs that express confidence in Jesus
H. TAKE IT TO JESUS! [Isaiah 37:14-20]
(1) Read Isaiah 37:14-20
(2) Tell children to take a piece of paper and write their request to God [14a]
(3) Have children spread the letter out in God's presence [14b]
(4) Lead in Prayer for the requests while God "reads" them [15f]
(5) Speak about the God who answers prayers [21f]
I. THE FATHER AND THE DRIFTER! [Luke 15:11-32]
(1) Tell the story of the prodigal son from Luke 15:11-32
(2) Encourage children who have drifted to come back to father
(3) Sings songs that speak of restoration
J. PARABLES: MODERN MESSAGES OF GOD'S LOVE
(1) God's love for us: the prodigal son
(2) Love for ourselves: the lost sheep
(3) Love for others: the good Samaritan
(4) Love for God's world: the sower and seed
K. FOLLOW THE LEADER [Matthew 4:18-22]
(1) Sings songs about following Jesus
(2) Have the children play "follow the leader" while they sing
(3) Teach children that a Christian follows Jesus
(4) Prayer: asking God to help us to be good followers
L. JESUS LOVES CHILDREN! [Matthew 19:13-15]
(1) Read the Passage and speak of Jesus' love of children
(2) Sings songs that remind us of how Jesus loves us.
(3) Have children respond to: "I know Jesus loves me, because..."
(4) Sing songs that express our love for Jesus
M. THE CHILD WHO KILLED A GIANT [1 Sam 17]
(1) Read or tell the children the story of David and Goliath
(2) Thank the Lord for the Power we have through Him
(3) Sing songs that speak of us as victorious
(4) Teach a memory verse, ie. Philippians 4:13
N. EVERYONE A HERO! [Hebrews 11]
(1) Mention the heroes of the faith in the passage
(2) Sings songs about faith, ie "He that Believeth"
(3) Challenge the children to become heroes for God
O. JESUS, I'M SORRY! [Psalm 32]
(1) Sing songs about God's holy nature
(2) Briefly explain David's sin with Bathsheba
(3) Explain how He tried to cover it up
(4) Teach the children how to say, "Jesus, I'm sorry that I..."
(5) Sing songs about forgiveness and cleansing.
(6) Memory verse: "you may be sure that your sin will find you out" Num 32:23
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