Children in Congregational Worship: Performance VS Participation

This morning four girls, two sets of sisters, participated on the worship team for one song entitled, “Here I am to Worship.” Two of the girls sang the individual solo parts while the other two backed them up vocally. The congregation and adult members of the worship team sang along with them for the choruses. I was not present in the sanctuary for this occasion but I helped set it up. My goal was to give opportunity to children to participate as leaders of worship along with adults.

Interestingly I had mixed feedback from the experience. While people enjoyed having the girls present to sing in worship, several folks apparently expressed regret that the girls did not get to sing by themselves without the participation of the congregation. Apparently they wanted the kids to “perform” rather than participate as part of the congregation and worship team.

When I learned of this feedback I kind of sighed and scratched my head. I explained again to key people that the whole point in this case was participation, not strictly performance. I support having opportunities for kids to perform drama or musical numbers for their parents in church, but this single isolated song was not intended for that purpose. This song was intended to exemplify worship to God as a church family, not simply a collection of adults whose children are occupied separately elsewhere.

I suspect some of this dissonant feedback might be generated from a cultural perspective that is ingrained in USAmerican moderns. While there are probably a very few people in my church with a post-modern leaning (quite possibly including me), I would venture a guess that most of the adults gravitate to the modernistic worldview. It seems to me that performance and achievement are typical characteristics of this point of view.

Also, more simply, grown-ups love to see their kids get on stage and do their thing, no matter what it is. It is a point of pride, mostly in a healthy way, although probably not always. Who wouldn’t want to see their child perform? Who doesn’t beam with pride when their little one has an opportunity to shine? I know how I feel when I get to see my nieces and nephews perform their skills in church or elsewhere. I can only imagine how parents or grandparents must feel about their progeny getting stage time.

I am not upset by the feedback. Rather I am glad that this is coming to the surface so that we as a congregation may seriously consider how we view family worship. My aim is not to do away with the children’s church worship hour. However I do advocate a higher level of respect for the contributions that children can make to congregational worship, as co-equal participants rather than as seasonal performers showcased either to look cute or wow the crowd with their talent.

I appreciate the fact that over the years our kids choir, although it is performance based, has raised the bar of respect for the contributions children can make to congregational life. Given that kids choir will not be occurring this Fall, I aim to raise the profile of children’s participation in family worship, especially on Sunday mornings. I expect a certain level of discomfort but I hope and pray that people will begin to glimpse the heart of God that even children should be allowed to draw close to Jesus in the company of the congregation as full worship participants. This sort of thing cannot be pulled off simply by having kids sit with parents in the adult service. Rather, it requires thoughtful integration of theological reflection, biblical hermenuetic and pastoral praxis.

Blessings,

Glen Woods

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