The importance of children in our church means that we must provide for their spiritual growth as much as possible. The home church offers an active role for everyone, regardless of age. This article explains to all church participants ways to include preschoolers, children, and teens in the worship experiences and activities of the congregation.
Children in the home church play a very significant role. Deuteronomy 4: 5-10 offers one example of the expectation of God for the Israelite people. “See I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when he said to me, ‘Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.’”
Two considerations exist. The first is the role of the parents as teachers of the faith. Home churches will not have many of the “extras” in which children may learn. Additional discipleship opportunities, Bible drill, even Vacation Bible School, may be beyond the ability of the home church to provide. This can be seen as a weakness, but it can also be seen as a significant strength of the home church. The parents cannot assume that someone else will take responsiblity for teaching the basics of the faith. It may be the parents themselves who have the wonderful opportunity to explain the way of salvation to their children.
The second consideration comes in the enhanced sense of responsibility for the entire church family. The church will teach by godly example, but will also teach intentionally by inclusion. Every Bible study and every worship experience in the Home Church Online guide is intended to include all ages of children. Many times there will be specific directions to help include children. But even when the teaching helps do not include special songs, verses of scripture or activities for the children to do, the adults must be sensitive to teachable moments. This may include stopping a lesson to make sure the children are understanding; it may be regularly teaching in simplified language directed more at the children than at the adults. Actually, adults learn far more adequately listening to things taught at the level of a child than a child learns things taught at the level of an adult.
When preschoolers or very young children are involved, the church must create an atmosphere of inclusion which allows all adults to be a part of teaching the young child. When a preschooler becomes restless, any adult in the group should feel comfortable picking the child up, talking to them, looking at a Bible story book, working a puzzle or doing another activity. As he/she is doing this, there is opportunity to teach Bible thoughts such as “God loves us”, “God cares for us”, “Thank you, God, for my family”, “Thank you, God, for my church”, “Thank you, God, for the beautiful world”. Have musical instruments which the preschoolers can use to join in the singing/worship time. The child is never to be seen as a bother, but as a part of the learning / worshipping community.
When the children are of school age, the church may use the materials prepared to accompany the units or they may enrich the teaching with Bible pictures, worksheets, and interaction in the group teaching session. Ask a child to tell the story that has just been told. Ask a child to remember the story that has been told today and be ready to tell it again next week.
If someone in the church is accomplished with music or willing to give music a try, spend some time prior to the worship time practicing a new song. Or spend time during the fellowship hour preparing a song to sing for next Sunday’s Gathering Time or Sharing Time. Encourage children to learn songs on their own through CD’s and DVD’s and volunteer to share those with the community of believers. The home church allows for great flexibility. The important thing is that children are learning new skills and that they feel comfortable enough with the group to want to share them.
Never hesitate to change the “order of worship” or the content of the Home Church Online guide provided for the week to accommodate opportunities for the spiritual growth of the children and youth. The needs of the children within your congregation are far more important than the structure of the Bible teaching and worship “program”.
Remember that the goals of learning must include knowledge, understanding, skills, and the wisdom of right attitudes and values. Without sound knowledge, the other components of your teaching and learning goals will never fully develop. So, the wise home church will plan ways for memorization of Bible verses and passages. It will develop a system for teaching the children (as well as teens and adults) how to study and navigate the Bible. It will teach children, on their level, the beliefs that the congregation holds—and how to comfortably share those beliefs with others.