In a recent church staff meeting, I found myself pleading for worship moments that model the faith for parents, youth, and children. We have a generation of parents who are highly invested in their children’s lives, especially their academics and extra-curricular activities. How do we as a church harness those parents’ passion for their children into faithful discipleship?
As parents of two girls (8 and 4), my wife and I actively seek out ideas and help for how we can continually incorporate faith into our family life. But as I share with parents what I learned writing Raising Teens in an Almost Christian World, I continually hear how desperate they are for practical tools to help them share their faith with their children.
If parents are begging for models, tools, and samples of how to share their faith, we as youth ministers must respond. One of the places where my family and others struggle is helping our children participate in worship. We do our best to help them participate, meaning that we try to help them sing songs they don’t know and follow along with the scripture when it is read.
We have a responsibility to help children, youth, and adults participate in worship. Corporate worship can be a place of teaching and modeling faith practices. Here are four ways you can incorporate family faith into worship:
1. Call to Worship
Most churches’ calls to worship need livening up anyway. If you want energy, invite your children and youth to lead the call to worship, or use responsive readings. Invite families to lead the various parts of the reading. Have the adults read the lines and encourage the children and youth to shout the refrains. It pains me every time we have a refrain that speaks of praise, shouting, clapping, singing, etc. to hear us read it like we are reading the phone book.
2. Spontaneous Affirmations of Faith
We have recently started using a variety of affirmations of faith in our services. My problem with our affirmations is that they were written by someone else. I like the historical creeds that help us proclaim our solidarity in faith with all the generations. I generally like the new ones. Someone has written beautiful words that express their faith and I am now reading them. But do I agree with them? What if we invite individuals and families to write affirmations of their faith during worship. We could provide a simple structure that invites children, youth, and adults to proclaim their faith through written and spoken affirmations. It could be as simple as the sample below, or you could write one where folks fill in certain blanks (kind of like a spiritual Mad Lib).
Sample Affirmation of Faith
God is ________________, ________________, and ________________.
I believe Jesus is ________________, ________________, and ________________.
The Holy Spirit ________________, ________________, and ________________.
We will ________________, ________________, and ________________ as we seek to follow Christ.
Parents can help children write answers that express their faith. Families can share their answers with each other. Yes, it will take time to do this during worship. You could train your congregation to do it prior to worship so that they are prepared to share their responses.
I feel the same way about confessions. What if we took time to personalize and write our confessions. Parents can help their children express their own confession of sins.
I am not suggesting that we should do away with corporate prayers, affirmations, or confessions. Instead, I am suggesting that teaching families the meaning of these acts of worship is essential to drawing them closer to God. Is there a better place to teach these things than in worship? And yes, it will be messy as people read 200 different affirmations of their faith, but I believe that God will hear beautiful music as children, youth, and adults own their worship.
In today’s world, we make a mistake when we assume that families pray at home. Many of our members’ fear of pray publicly is a fear of not being eloquent enough. We as pastors and ministers have plenty of practice leading congregational prayers, but can we create space in worship for families to pray together. We can do this by creating space for them to participate in the prayer. We can lead guided prayers where we encourage families to lift their concerns for various areas with each other or out loud as a part of the corporate prayer. We can create space for individuals to write their prayer to God. We can encourage everyone to fill out a prayer concern card.
Does your church collect a lot of things for various drives? When I was a kid, we would choose a toy that we would bring forward during children’s time as an offering to help those less fortunate have a better Christmas. I remember this making a significant impression on me. I was giving a toy to Jesus and praying that others would know of Christ’s love because of this gift. Why do we collect coats in the narthex or fellowship hall? We should be teaching children, youth, and adults that this is an offering given to God. If we bring coats, school supplies, food, toys, water to the altar along with our money, we can help make the connection of giving, God, and faith.
All of these suggestions are attempts to help families move from observers of a worship service to participants. These are of course the kinds of things that we do in youth ministry through experiential learning. I strongly advocate for us to bring experiential learning to the sanctuary. We cannot grow families of faith sending each age level off to its various area for discipleship and continuing to have passive participation in worship.
How are you inviting individuals, youth, and families to participate in worship at your church?