Worship: The response of a heart that cries out in praise, devotion and adoration to the one who is altogether worthy, our almighty God.
A father and son stand on the dock casually looking across the lake. The boy checks his father’s stance, spreads his feet to match and sticks his hands in his back pockets. A conversation balloon above the boy’s head might read, “I want to be JUST like Daddy!” This is the ultimate worship.
We’re designed to worship.
Paul told the church at Ephesus, “Be imitators of God as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1).
In order to imitate, the child needs to get to know God. Leaders must answer the questions that niggle at each child’s head and heart. Who is God? What does He do? How do I fit into His picture? How is this relevant to my life? Why should I listen? These questions can be answered through loving relationships with kids and meaningful times of praise and worship.
We prepare for worship and participate in worship during story time, singing and prayer time. One volunteer said she learned something amazing and new while listening to the Bible story. She stopped listening right then and lifted her heart in praise to God for His outrageous love. That’s worship, and it wasn’t even during a song!
We know Bible adventure stories grab kids’ attention and keep them tuned in. Jonah is one of my favorites, because his story is obviously not just about a man, a big fish, or even a value. It’s about God and His great big love for Jonah and the people in Ninevah. When we teach beyond the Bible character or value, we introduce kids to GOD.
We can reinforce the message about God’s love many times during each segment of worship time. Every time the leader says, “Man, God sure loved those people in Ninevah!” The kids are prompted to respond, “Thank you God for loving ME!”
Imitation is one of the outcomes of getting to know God. This is one aspect of worship!
Praise is another. “O Lord, thou art my God; I will exalt Thee, I will give thanks to Thy name; for Thou hast worked wonders, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness” (Isaiah 25:1).
Praise expresses the heart and it informs the heart. It’s more than singing songs of praise. It’s also filling the heart and mind with God’s Word. From this rich reservoir springs praise.
Sometimes, I think we have the order of worship turned backwards. Instead of singing a number of praise songs before the Bible lesson, let’s sing a song that informs hearts about the attribute or act of God they will discover in the lesson. Then, in the middle of the story and following the message, sing songs that express praise and worship for who God is and what He’s done.
This kind of worship environment revolves around the way kids are designed. They need to know the bottom line up front and to experience the main idea in varying contexts.
Create an environment
Set up an uncluttered place in the room with special visual and auditory effects. Kids should recognize this as a unique place to listen, praise and pray. Store toys out of sight and far from little hands. If the room is multi-purpose, hang a sheet or colorful shower curtain on the wall as a backdrop for the action. Since personal space is an important component for a worship center, kids should have specific seating. Individual carpet “sit-upons” are perfect, but tape strips in varying colors or a large rug for each small group also work well. Skip the chairs! They only provide an opportunity for kids to fall off accidentally or on purpose. Leaders can scoot close to kids while they sit on the floor, so they can model the music’s actions. And, they’re available to keep kids tuned in and to reinforce relationships.
Ritual is defined by child development experts as doing the same thing at the same time in the same way. It’s like expecting to watch NCIS on Tuesday night at 8:00 and at exactly eight, the “ba – bong” of “Law and Order” rings out. If that happens, I would check the channel, the TV listing, and then take a moment to readjust my thinking.
Order of the service is an important thing to address. Though the content changes each week, when the order in which you do things stays the same, preschoolers know what to expect, they feel more comfortable and can be cued to stay in control.
Cues and Clues
Call to Worship. Make this theme song the same each time the children gather. It calls them from snack or activities to the worship area without a lot of leader guidance.
A Puppet or Character Skit. A puppet or skit introduces the Bible concept and concludes every time with, “That reminds me of something I read in THE BIBLE.” Because it’s done each time at the end of the skit, the children get a kick out of shouting “THE BIBLE” with the puppet or the skit character.
Hand gestures. Create hand gestures without the accompanying words. “Jesus loves me” in sign language always follows the Bible lesson and is the cue that prayer time comes next.
Music. Kids love music. Let’s face it, the music repeats and repeats in your head. Choose music that incorporates the Bible message and will keep the lesson alive in the conscious memory. Make it preschooler friendly and they’ll make it their own. Music is a wonderful way to inform the entire worship time and introduce each segment of the worship service.
- Preschoolers have a limited vocal range. If you want them to sing a song at home without a CD, middle C to A fits them best.
- CDs that include the voices of children are kid favorites and they learn the melody best when we introduce a new song “a cappella.” (without musical accompaniment)
- When kids move, their brains engage, so worship with your hands, feet, fingers and toes. Add streamers or handheld musical instruments to create a WOW factor.
- Make it fun, loud, soft, wacky and full of God’s Word. If it’s memorable, they’re recalling God’s ways.
- Introduce only one new song at a time. Preschoolers love to hear and sing the same songs over and over. My mother said I would insist, “Sing it again Mommy” until my father nearly went mad.
- Echo songs meet our youngest learners right where they live. They’re designed to copy, so give them what they want and need.
- Include songs and background music that fit the mood you want to create. Soft contemplative music helps kids sit quietly to listen and prepares their hearts for prayer.
Prayer is an expression of the heart. Children can learn that prayer is more than a laundry list of “please do’s” when a leader models prayers of praise and thanks. Later in small groups or alone with a leader, a child can express his heart in brief worship prayers.
Giving is another expression of the heart and an act of worship. Giving is a concept foreign to the heart and mind of a preschooler. We develop from the center outward. Preshoolers think, “My body, my mommy, my teacher, my toys, my money.” Giving is learned and we need the cooperation of parents to teach it. Many classrooms provide a box for offering as children enter. If we make it a part of our worship time instead, we can use just a few words to connect the Bible concept to the offering. When it’s done in context, in the same way, at the same time each week, the children want to participate. It sets a pattern for life.
Include Parents in the Process
I like to schedule a week for each child’s parents to join us for worship time. They love the music and Bible lesson as much as the children and it’s surprising how much many of them learn about God’s Word.
Some kids want to hear music at home and in the car, so provide a list of CDs that include your musical selections. Then parents can buy them at your reception desk or at the local bookstore. One CD can even be tucked in your “new members” packet. Call it “Music While You Ride.” It’s a great way for the whole family to learn together.
Inform parents about each month’s Bible lessons. Then during together time or bedtime they can read the week’s lesson from the Bible or a story Bible. Another great resource is a simple Bible story coloring picture with the lesson on the back. What parent is going to leave his child’s handy-work on the floor of the car or on the pavement in the parking lot? Parents tell me they read them at dinner or bedtime every night with the colored side lifted for all to see.
Worship is not confined to a place, a tune or an event. Worship is an expression of the heart. The heart of a child is expressed by waving, jumping, shouting or beautiful singing. He can even give thanks in silence.
An identifying mark of childhood is wonder. My heart longs to see the eyes of a child light up with wonder and loving response to our all-loving God.
“Clap your hands, all peoples; shout to God with the voice of joy … Sing praise to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is King of all the earth; sing praises with a skillful psalm!” (Psalm 47:1, 6- 7).