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Part 1: Should Children Have Their Own Worship Service: What Does the Bible Say?


In the Protestant/Evangelical world, there is at times a cavalier spirit towards matters that are not clearly spelled out in the Bible. The idea in some areas of Christendom is almost like, “well since God did not lay His exact wishes out on the matter, I can just do what I want.” I think this is much more of an American spirit than a Christian spirit toward matters of Christian practice. This strikes at the teaching known as the sufficiency of Scripture.

Recently, I was listening to a YouTube video on the topic of children in worship and the host and guest discussed the differences between the “Sufficiency of Scripture” and the “Inerrancy of Scripture.” Inerrancy means that all the Bible is God’s Word, while the sufficiency of Scripture means it is sufficient to teach us matters of doctrine and practice.

The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 1 section 6 states, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men.” In other words, not only is the Bible God’s authoritative Word, but it is clear to give us general instruction. 

While the topic of children’s church is not forbidden in Scripture, we certainly cannot take a cavalier attitude to the topic. It is most certain that the Israel’s worship in the Old Testament and churches of the New Testament knew nothing of an age-segregated worship or “children’s church.”

Up until about 4 years ago, I had never given serious thought to the topic. As a matter of fact, I thought it weird if churches did not have a children’s church. Through the influence of some friends, resources, and critically observing the practice, my mind has shifted to the other side of the debate. 

 I want to say up front that this is certainly not a fundamental of the faith or a tier-one doctrinal matter. I grew up going to children’s church and my kids attended children’s church for many years. I think the people who participate in children’s church are genuinely serving Jesus and Jesus will reward them for their labors of trying to share the gospel with children and teach them about the beauty of their God. The debate for me is not one of good and bad but rather good and best. It is in that spirit I seek to address the topic over the course of several blog posts. Before we answer, “what does the Bible say” on this topic, let’s define what children’s church is.

What is Children’s Church?

A basic definition we could give for children’s church is that it is a separate church service or meeting for children away from their parents. 

In my experience, I have seen this range from nursery care to classes for children and even teenagers. One of the “flagship” churches in North Carolina that was somewhat formative in my early ministry boasted of having a Sunday morning teen church of more than 700 youth. Churches often vary in how they do children’s church. Some keep the kids out of the service the whole time and seek to create their own worship service for kids, or some may allow them to exit right before the sermon. 

As an aside, I do feel it is necessary to have a nursery for babies and toddlers, but that is not the focus of this discussion. Let us address what the Bible says about children being a part of corporate worship. May I add here that I think the Bible is more clear than less clear on the topic.

Old Testament and Children in Corporate Worship  

First, in the Old Testament specifically, there are a handful of verses that state the presence of children in Israel’s corporate worship. In the book, “Children and the Worship Service” David and Sally Michael list 5 specific passages in the Old Testament where parents and their children were gathered together for the reading of the Law, worship, and even public repentance. Really, as you look at these passages, the content that we find embedded in them is striking. 

  • In Joshua 8:34-35, the curses and blessings of the law were read in the ears of the families of Israel, including their children. 
  • In 1 Chronicles 20, children were included in a public gathering of repentant prayer as enemy armies were pressing against them. I find it striking that instead of keeping children away from the terror that was approaching, they were included.
  • In Ezra 10:1, Ezra weeps, mourns, and confesses the sins of the people of Israel and the children were there.
  • In Nehemiah 8, Ezra read the Word of God publicly in the ears of all Israel, including the children. The evidence is clear that when the whole company of Israel met, the children were included not excluded. 

May I say right up front here, if one thinks that “big church” is a place too mature in content for children, look again at the topics discussed in the passages above. As you read through the content of Genesis and Leviticus, both provide clear examples of sin that is of a mature nature and condemnations of such sin.

Pastors certainly must handle topics with care, and a pastor who is trying to be edgy has no place in the pulpit, but such topics were taught in front of kids. The reason for this is even if kids did not understand it, they could go home and ask their parents what it all meant. Parents could then apply the Law to the age and maturity of their kid.

Children in Corporate Worship in the New Testament 

As we come to the New Testament, I think we would expect that if the recipients of New Testament worship would have changed, God would have told us. Now certainly, the elements of Old Testament worship were accomplished in the work of Christ on the cross. Meaning that the temple, the ark of the covenant, priests, incense, sacrifices, and much else is no longer needed because Christ has accomplished those elements of the law. This would include the Old Testament elements of worship. However, as we approach the New Testament, we see that the focus of New Testament worship is still the same. It is the people of God and their children, worshiping their covenant God. 

As a matter of fact, you have verses like Ephesians 6:1-3 and Colossians 3:20 that admonish children to obey their parents in the Lord. These passages would have been read publicly to the gathered church in Ephesus and Colossae during worship. Why do you think Paul would include children in a letter that would have been read church wide? Clearly because he expected Christian children to be in attendance. So, as we survey broadly both Old and New Testament, I do not think the Bible would uphold an age-segregated worship approach in a corporate gathering.

Children Are A Part of the Church

A second thing to consider is children are a part of the church. If I had to classify myself denominationally, I would say that I am a Reformed Baptist. For those who are not familiar with the term, I think it is helpful to understand it by taking the doctrine of church polity (government) and baptism as being traditionally Baptist and meshing it with the Presbyterian (Calvinist) view on the doctrine of salvation. 

I am not Presbyterian, but one thing I have benefited greatly from my Presbyterian brothers is that they view the children of believers as a part of the church. In my understanding of Scripture, I do not take it quite as far as they do, especially with their understanding of infant baptism, but I have greatly benefited from them in understanding that in the life of a believer, we should see our kids as a part of the church. We should view them with an anticipation that they will follow Christ. We should have faith and hope that if we teach them God’s Word, they will follow Jesus. 

This is the teaching of the well-known verse Proverbs 22:6 that states “train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” We should view children as a part of the church. Not members but a part of the church, and when they are converted, they become an actual part of the church. Sending kids away from “big” church sends a subtle message to them that they are not a part of “this” church. 

The Unique Presence of Christ in the Worship Service

A third reason to not segregate worship services is due to the unique presence of Christ among his people as they gather for corporate worship. As we walk through the elements of what makes up a Biblical worship service, it would be the preaching of the Word, prayer, singing, administering the sacraments/ordinances (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) and church discipline. As we look through these elements, we see that the presence of Christ is with His people when they come together for worship on the Lord’s Day.

The clearest example of this is Jesus’s promise to be with the church when they do church discipline. In Matthew 18, we find this clearly stated in verse 20 after Jesus has stated the necessity of church discipline by saying, "for where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” This is not a general prayer promise. The text here is stating that when the people of God meet for worship, Jesus is there with them. This is not a spooky presence of Jesus but Jesus is uniquely with the church when they meet.

Note also how Paul refers to the preaching of the Word in 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5. He states, “for we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” The preaching of the gospel for the church on the Lord’s Day has a power clothed with the Holy Spirit. Certainly, we should study the Bible on our own. Certainly, we can meet with Jesus every day of the week in worship. However, there is a uniqueness with which the power of the Word is promised to minister to people in the gathered church.

And then you have the Lord’s Supper. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 that as we partake of the Lord’s Supper in the church, we are united to Christ. The Lord’s Supper is not a personal matter we can just do anytime we want. In the gathered church when believers partake, Christ is among them. He is with them.

Why do I spend so much time presenting this case? If God has promised to meet with his people in all these areas in corporate worship, it should provide a desire for us to see our kids actively engaged in them.

John Piper makes the point that it is not possible to recreate in a children’s church environment what is being done in corporate worship. In his blog article written with his wife “The Family: Together in God’s Presence” he states the following: “there is a sense of solemnity and awe which children should experience in the presence of God. This is not likely to happen in children’s church.” He goes on to say, “A deep moving of the magnificence of God can come to the young, tender heart through certain moments of great hymns or ‘loud silence’ or authoritative preaching. These are of immeasurable value in the cultivation of a heart that fears and loves God.” 

Does the Bible say that kids should be given or not be given a separate service? No, it does not. However, the absence of a clear command does not mean we are left without a Word from God. The sufficiency of Scripture helps us understand that God’s Word is clear enough, at least principally to lead and guide our churches through the teaching of elders. We see in Scripture by example and expectation that children would be a part of the gathered worship on the Lord’s Day. In our culture, this is certainly a hard thing but if the hard thing is the right thing, we must do the right thing. The next article will demonstrate unintended consequences of having children’s church.

Until Next Time, Soli Deo Gloria  

Read Part 2: Should Children Have their Own Worship Services? History and Unintended Consequences