Leading Children in Worship
"We will not conceal them from their children,
But tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord,
And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done." Psalm 78:4 (NASB)
The Bible is full of exhortations that capture the importance and illuminate the impact of sharing
God's word from one generation to the next. He says, "And these words that I command you
today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of
them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and
when you rise" (Deut 6: 6-7, ESV). He repeats a similar command continuously throughout the
Old Testament (Deut 4, Deut 11, Psalm 78).
Jesus welcomes the children saying, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to
such belongs the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:14, ESV). Jesus even goes so far as to say, "but
whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to
have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matt
18:6, ESV, also Luke 17:2).
God takes teaching children His truth seriously, and teaching children to worship and celebrate
the goodness of our God should be treated as a high priority.
Leading worship for children isn't the minor leagues. Children's ministry isn't where you put
your "improving" musicians to give them a chance to "work their way up" to the main stage.
Instead, this should be like an advanced naval fighter pilot training program (think Top Gun),
where we send our experienced worshipers to carefully disciple the next generation in why and
how we worship the Lord our God.
Remember the story of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant into his town in 2 Samuel 6? He
set up sacrifices on altars, took off his royal robes to look like the rest of the crowd, and danced
and celebrated that the Lord was residing with them. That image is what we want to teach
children: how to rejoice in the fact that the Spirit of God lives in His saints. We want to lay down
what's important to us, humble ourselves, and rejoice in the Lord.
You will make some sacrifices:
Practically speaking, you have to first put in the time to build trust with the children. Learn their
names. Play games with them. Talk about their favorite topics. When we take a step back to
think about the role of trust in authority, adults may trust a worship leader simply because they
know someone gave them the green light to stand on stage in front of a microphone. Children, on
the other hand, do not always recognize that authority. A group of fourth-grade boys is far more
interested that I can talk to them about Star Wars or baseball than the fact that I got up in front of
them and sat down at a keyboard. If, however, I start by knowing what they like and building
trust with them, when I sit down at the keyboard to teach them how to worship, they will be far
more inclined to listen and may even give what I am suggesting a try.
You will have to humble yourself:
When Samuel says David was wearing a linen ephod, he points out that David has taken off his
royal robes and is simply wearing whatever the people of Israel would be wearing. David
humbles himself before the Lord and Israel as he worships and celebrates the presence of the
Lord with his town. Similarly, you have the opportunity to humble yourself as you prepare the
songs and the words you'll say as you lead children. You should explain what you're doing and
why you are doing it. Practice explaining Biblical truths in a clear, concise, and simple way. For
example, when I share the Gospel as I am leading, it sounds something like this:
"God is good, and He is holy. That means that He is completely perfect and that no one is like
Him. We are not holy, but instead, we are sinners. Sin is anything that we do or think that is not
what God wants. The bad news is that since God is holy, our sin separates us from God.
However, the story doesn't end there! God the Father sent Jesus His Son to live a perfect life and
die on the cross for our sins. The good news is that after Jesus died, three days later, he rose from
the dead, and God promises that if we trust in Him, His Spirit will live with us and raise us from
the dead to live with God forever and ever."
In that explanation, I define the uncommon terms ("holy", "sin") and introduce some theological
primers (atonement and the trinity) while keeping it biblically accurate but simple to understand.
If we praise God for being a redeemer with children but never explain what a "redeemer" is, all
we are doing is teaching them to mimic us. Instead, teach children that we are the Redeemed and
what we have been redeemed from. That's when we are teaching children to worship God. "Jesus
loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so" is entirely accurate, but dive into how the Bible
teaches that Jesus loves us, and you will write those words on their heart.
Humbling and challenging yourself to speak accurately but simply about Biblical truths will
sharpen your understanding of who God is and what He has done. When you talk about the Holy
Spirit, you will catch yourself saying, "lives inside of us" when you should probably say, "lives
inside of those who love and trust in Jesus." When talking about the Father, you may catch
yourself just referring to Him as God when you should probably be more specific about which
person of the Triune God you are referring to. When you choose a song that uses long, extended
metaphors, it may be hard to fully understand what the songwriter was conveying until you take
a step back and seek to understand it in the simplest terms.
You will have to really rejoice in the Lord:
When the Ark reaches David's town, he is overjoyed; he dances and plays music. David's wife,
Michal, chastises him for behaving in a less than kingly manner. But David replies, "I will make
myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes" (2 Sam 6:22a, ESV).
David says that his behavior would actually be honorable to the people who were worshipping
with him. David understood his place as the stand-in leader for God's people on Earth, and he
knew that it was not a title, a robe, or even the will of the people that put him in that place, but
only the Lord God. Therefore, he could freely worship, thus truly and correctly leading God's
people. This should be our goal when we lead anyone in worship, but it is a goal that becomes
more difficult in front of children as you decide how many songs with motions you want to do
and just how much clapping and dancing you want to include.
You don't have to spend more than a few minutes around some excited third graders to see
someone bust out the floss dance, sing a silly made-up song, or just let out a glee-filled screech.
Your goal as a worship leader should be to help bring that same level of joy and celebration to
the promises, works, and goodness of God. It can be a delicate task to help children celebrate
without getting distracted. However, let the children lead you in joy.
In Matthew 19:14, Jesus says, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the
kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." The prerequisite for admittance into Christ's
Kingdom is humility; a childlike faith. Our desire in leading worship is to train children up in the
way they should go (Proverbs 22:6) but seeing them worship with joy, enthusiasm, and winsome
disregard for the opinions of others can quickly remind us why Jesus offers children as an
example of His ideal followers.
They do not have the same hindrances that keep them from finding joy in the life that God has
blessed us with, so it should be a fun and sometimes silly time. Match their joy, pointing it
toward God in praise, and you will be discipling them on how to use the unique gifts that God
has given these boys and girls to worship and praise Him.
For more resources for leading children in worship, check out our new album, “Worship in The
Word” here on theworshipinitiative.com. And be on the lookout for more children’s content
coming soon from our new friends, Kingdom Kids!