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Children in
Public Worship

Training a Family to worship together

Parents' responsibility to train children to sit attentively in worship.

Paul J. Bucknell

Parents normally strive to give their very best to their children. One beautiful example of love is seen in the way parents make sacrifices for their children. This is true in many areas of life. They provide food, clothes, education and health. One aspect that is often missing, however, is worship. This is largely due to the parents’ own lack of training, but the lack of instruction in the church is also at fault.

We hope that this article provides some of the inspiration and guidance to fulfill the later need.

Importance of Family Worship

Training in worship is much like other forms of godly training. Parents train by attitude and example. Modern educational theories have convinced many parents that children need to learn separately from their parents at their own level. There is, no doubt, that specialized, age-oriented training can bring about much help in some aspects of life.  

God, however, carefully instructs parents that they are the ones to best train their children in areas of godliness by example. Let’s take a quick look at one Bible passage that shows us how godly values are passed on to our posterity.

“And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead” (Deuteronomy 6:5-8).

What do we find here? God is carefully instructing His people as to how to maximize the blessings that He has in store for His people. The most important aspect to rightly training our children is through the parent’s own example of proper worship of God. This is what God brings up in Deuteronomy 6:5-6.

We as parents should love God with all our heart, soul and might. Worship involves seriously getting to know God through what He has and then obeying what He says. In other words, our love for Him is measured in the way that we pay attention to detail in obeying Him. When we respect the Lord, we prize His Word. When we prize His Word, we allow it to fully influence our approach to life, decision- making processes and all that we do and say.

God’s words have to first be on our heart if we are to rightly teach them to our children. The second critical aspect of training our children to love God is to live and talk it out in our day-to-day life.  In other words, it must become part of our daily routine and conversations, “…and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up…”

If we do not enter this aspect of training, even though we might be great role models as parents and praised as good Christians by brothers and sisters, we will utterly fail to properly train our children. Let’s summarize what we have so far discussed.

We must train our children how to worship God as we train them in other areas of life. We want the very best for them. If they grow up with great positions and success but have no affection for the Lord God, then we have utterly failed. We must therefore be diligent to train our children how to properly worship God. We normally think of having our children in separate classes especially designed for them, but the Lord guides us to a family-centered life.

This doesn’t mean children always need to be with their parents but that parents should be involved in what the children are doing. But more than this, children need to watch their parents. This no doubt puts more pressure on us parents to carry out our Lord’s commands, but it is good for us and for our children. We might question this methodology, but the Lord better cares for our children and understands the their needs than we do. When we read God’s Word, we again and again find the next generation getting a cold heart toward the things of the Lord.

They become “religious” rather than passionate about God.  If you would like to further study the importance of preserving a love for God in our children’s lives, read on into the next chapters of Deuteronomy. The Lord is teaching us in chapter 6 so that we and our children and children's children will take hold of all His good blessings. He is teaching us how to keep our children from leaving God and facing a desperate end.

“Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face” (Deuteronomy 7:9-10).

God has designed it so that we as parents can greatly impact our children for the good. Their welfare in this whole area of spiritual worship and instruction is dependent on how we spend our time with them. In the next part of this article, we want to get very practical on how to do this. Of course, this article is only an introduction to this important part of our parental responsibilities. Hopefully, you will be able to read, pray and study more on this topic.

Training our Children in Spiritual Worship

“But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16).

I am surprised at how little parents actually are involved in the spiritual lives and training of their children. They hurry off to church, send their children off to their own class and worship by themselves. After returning home, no more is said of what happened in church. Or if the parent asks the child what they learned, the child says, “Nothing.”

We must do more in the area of child training by providing some understanding of how this works out practically.  Let us provide some insights on five various spheres of public worship as Deuteronomy 6 says.

(1) It is important to worship as a family together.

Remember, the reason to worship together is largely so that our children can properly learn how to worship. Sure, they might learn from others, but there are special things that children learn from their parents that they cannot easily learn elsewhere. Besides, how can you be sure that your child is not somewhere else playing a game or passing notes to a friend? What is it that we want our children to learn from us?

We desire that they learn how God is the greatest One in the universe and He only is to be worshiped and adored. If we are bored at worship services, certainly our hearts have grown cold. We are in essence training our children that God is not really great or glorious at all. We are communicating to them that salvation is nothing special.  

If we are glad the service is over so that we can now get on with our ‘life,’ what does this teach our child? Early in children’s lives, they should learn through the parents’ passionate devotion the awesome wonder and glory of God.

(2) Understanding the Learning Process

Parents are concerned at what and how children learn.

They think that what is learned at church is the same as spiritual worship. There is no doubt that learning is an important part of worship. But it would help if we understood more of the learning process. For example, is it more important to learn the names of the books of the Bible or how God reveals Himself in the Bible?

Truly, the later is more important. Of course, it is good to know the Bible book names but in the end, knowledge about the Bible or God, without coming to meet God is terribly limited. A focus only on knowledge about God or the Bible is never a substitute for knowledge and love for God. If we have the later, the first easily comes. But our real question is how do our children (or we for that matter) learn how to worship God. We need to focus on our attitudes, approach and obedience along with knowledge.

We can hear about the teaching of Deuteronomy 6 and feel like we are better Christians because we now know this. But that kind of approach will destroy our families if it is not accompanied by a real heart change in the way we passionately worship God and seek to carry out godly training in the lives of our children. We don’t want a “religious” child, but a child that is passionate for the Lord.

(3) Problems with Handling a Child in Public Worship

We understand that when parents think of children being in worship with them that several questions pop up in the parents’ minds, just as they have in ours. How can I worship the Lord if my children are constantly distracting me? (Usually, it is the mother who pays more attention to the children’s conduct).

Remember, some of these problems develop because we did not properly train our children at home. If we properly trained at home, we would face much less distraction and discipline problems in public.

(4) Public worship only reveals private problems.

Of course, even with the best discipline and training at home, our children will still at times be naughty at church and become a distraction for others. But it will not be regular. We will come back to this. Our first suggestion, then, is to train the children at home in family worship.

Our passionate love for God reveals itself at home in a regular time of praise, prayer and study in God’s Word. It does not need to be long. For little children, the attention span is very short. But children can be expected and trained to sit still.

Our goal is that the children participate and focus, but without possessing the self-control of sitting still, this spiritual goal will not easily come about. More about this process is found in chapter 7 and 8 of “Principles & Practices of Biblical Parenting.” (See table of contents with links below).

As a family we sing, study and memorize God’s Word together. We pray for others and our own needs. Our children are not perfect in church by any means, but they have good self-control. Let me give a few more practical hints. Very small children, toddlers and under, often make noise. If the parents desire, they can have their children cared for in the nursery. They need special care. We liked the child, for the most part, to be in church with us the whole time.

When I wasn’t preaching and the child was noisy, maybe making bubbly noises or crying, I (Paul) would take the child and hold him or her at the back. I would normally hold the little child to avoid them thinking going to the back of the church is a fun thing to do. If I let the child down, he will want to play and run around. This is God’s time. The parents should decide what they want to do (children in worship for first part and then in nursery is one option) and do it. Don’t let the child dictate your choices.

Train your child to comply with your wishes. I would do the same thing for younger children who were being naughty. They would be too old for the nursery. They have learned to sit beside us. But if they were very little and started to cry, I would take and hold them at the back until they stopped crying. If they stopped, sometimes I would return to my seat and at other times just stay at the back not to cause more disturbance to others. What did we learn?

Again, I would never allow them to have fun or get a special snack during this time.That would encourage them to be naughty!If older children, three and above, would be naughty, I would warn them and discipline them at home.

Each of our children know what that means. At home, we would take a rod (thin branch) and spank them a few times so it stung either on the hand or rear.

It is critical that parents are consistent. If you tell them that it is coming, then you must carry it out. Since the place and time is removed, simply go over the circumstances before you discipline them. Expect an apology for disobeying you. Physical discipline is a clear biblical instruction and great harm can come about by neglecting it.

(3) Follow-up after Church

Remember, that parents will talk about what is important to them. If they do not speak of the Lord and His Word, it is possible that they really don’t love Him or consider Him important.

At least, this is what Deuteronomy 6 concludes. If we fear our children are not learning all that they need at church, then we can and should (even if they are learning at church) share what everyone was learning at church with the family. The family used to be the basic ‘cell’ group for the church until the families began to break up and get smaller.

On Sunday night our family gathers together for family devotions as usual. But instead of studying God’s Word, we share what each has learned in Sunday School and at worship. If the children do not bring home papers indicating what they learned from Sunday School, then it is more difficult to find out what they studied. We hope these papers. alerting the parents. become more common.

They do not need to be elaborate but just say what is the main point, Bible passage or Bible character. That way we as a family can discuss it together. We also ask what the pastor preached on. We go over the main points of the sermon and different things that the children have learned. Let me make a side comment.

Sometimes it seems as if our children are not at all paying attention. But I have been totally surprised how much our children are learning even when it looks like they are looking at their shoestring during the whole worship service.

Sunday evening times often offer surprises on how much our children actually have learned. Lastly, put in place and apply what has been learned. If there needs to be confession, then confess. If there needs to be change in how one is talking or living, then let it happen. Pray for those involved. We might sing one of the songs the children sang or pray for each other regarding what the pastor said. In this way, we implement what is taught in Deuteronomy 6.

Remember that the parents need to be involved in what the children are learning. This is especially true for Dads who are highlighted in those verses. Fathers, set a time and start. Keep it short at first.


As a Dad, I often wonder how can I pass on my life’s greatest experiences to my children. I know that the worship of God is one of these experiences. I was brought up in church and thought it was a pain. But then one day, God took hold of my heart and all the things that happened in church become so very special and real.

As I think about the most important things we pass on to our children, I believe it is this foundational love for God. Public worship is a carry over of what happens at home. Children get used to it as a daily part of life like eating. Yes, there are a few differences but the children learn quickly.

There are special concerns as to how much a child can learn listening to a sermon. Or even worse, how can they attentively listen if that sermon is not in the language they are most familiar with.  But do not let these concerns hold you back.

The deep purpose of getting to know God more is critical. Your children might fuss, “But I don’t understand anything.” I doubt this, but it might be partially true. We, though realize, that learning to worship God is the most important thing of life. They need to adjust. We will pray for them. We will value that time in church. At home, we will help them understand more. And yes, perhaps we need to spend more time just getting to know our children.

Remember, God has put us in charge over them. If we neglect our job, surely our children will suffer. Our children desperately need to learn more about our love for God. The most important part of all of this training of children to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, is the reminder that I must never allow a cheap and superficial worship to substitute for the heart and great adoration that God rightly deserves from my life.

After all, life is not about what I am getting but giving. Worship is not primarily about what we have received from the service, but what part of our life we have given to Him who loved us so dearly. Children and adults need to remember this.

Scriptures typically quoted from the New American Standard Bible unless noted: (C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1988

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