Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Singing together in church

In most of our churches, children are present for the first part of the worship service, but we don't always consider them (along with others) when choosing songs and hymns.

Some churches include a children's song in their 'time with the children", but what about the other songs we sing? And if there's a ‘children’s song’ does that mean all the other songs are not for them? When we (Kids Friendly) are asked by churches: “Can you suggest some children’s songs?” We suggest choosing songs that ALL God's children love to sing when worshipping together.

While there is a place for upbeat children's songs with actions it may not be in the all age worshipping community. Children too enjoy hymns and even the ‘oldie but goodie’ songs that the congregation remember singing as children.

“Churches often choose music and worship forms according to the taste of the children in their midst – but their tastes are not yet biblically formed. That is like letting first graders choose what they want to learn in school,” says Marvin Dawn in her book "Is It A Lost Cause? Having the Heart of God for the Church’s Children". (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997, p.71)

"A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest," said C.S. Lewis. Could the same be true for ‘a children’s song?’

Do adults cringe as they sing silly words? Are children asked to come up and ‘perform’ the actions? We think there's a better way to share the richness of our faith through words and tunes that inspire us and sustain us for life.

We encourage church worship teams to carefully consider their context and how all ages can better participate together in worship, including the sung worship. Children bring their special gifts to worship and grow in their faith through regular inclusion and participation in the worship of the congregation.

Mike Burn, in his book “Family Worship 3” says: “In the secular world, the generations tend to be polarised, but in the kingdom of heaven, we are called to unity across all of the divides: national, cultural, denominational, generational. Where the world tends towards enmity and separation, we are called towards love and reconciliation. Surely that should be reflected in our praise and worship together? There are bound to be musical tastes and preferences which differ in the church, but if we "prefer one another in love", then there should be something for everyone in our worship. Music is one of the most powerful communicators, and when we can sing with one voice, it does something powerful in the spiritual realm in demonstrating that we really are one body.

It can be a real challenge for worship leaders to include and satisfy all ages, but a key is to choose songs which cross the boundaries of different ages, and embrace an attitude that everyone matters and should be included in worship.

“In the same way that we want to value and include children and youth in our worship, we should value and include older generations too. It's not a question of compromising and trying to placate all the different ages and preferences we find in the church, but rather a question of saying that every single person is valuable and therefore should be included in what we do together,” says Mike Burn.

“Family worship can be compared to a family meal time, where there is something for everyone. There are times when adults will dine without children, for example at a dinner party and times when children celebrate with their peers like a kids' party. There's nothing wrong with these occasions - they're wonderful, but we need the family meal regularly to express our togetherness, and ensure a healthy diet for everyone. So too we need times when we worship together as the whole family of God.”

And remember that church worship is a public communal activity not a private devotion.

“Some churches seem to treat sung worship as an ‘insular’ experience. This is reinforced with a practice of closing eyes to indicate fervour and earnestness. But worship is first and foremost a communal activity. I often encourage people to engage in ‘eyes open’ worship, to make eye contact and acknowledge one another. In Isaiah 6, the Seraphs are singing ‘Holy, holy, holy’ not to God, but to one another. They are reminding each other of God’s truth. Our children are particularly vulnerable to this ‘insular’ way of worship, and can even be seen as an obstacle to it. My suggestion is that worship with children needs to be communal and relational, not individual and internal,” says Malcolm Gordon, PCANZ’s Worship, music and arts enabler.




This blog is a collaboration between Kids Friendly and Malcolm Gordon