The congregation that I serve as pastor doesn't have a lot of children in worship. But the ones we do have participate pretty fully, for which I am very grateful. At right is an example of one of our little ones worshiping with us. This little guy had just been baptized that day, and so felt fully prepared to make sure my sermon was up to snuff. They normally don't sit in the front row, probably afraid that he will distract me too much, but to be honest, that was by far one of the most enjoyable sermons I've ever preached, thanks to his participation, and his family resisting the temptation to stop his form of worship that day.
Full disclosure, I was one of those parents that freaked out if my child was too loud during worship, or was not "participating". My oldest even got a few leg pinches when she was not "behaving". Thankfully, especially for my other two daughters, I am not that parent any longer. I eventually learned that not only are there lots of different ways to worship, depending on ones age, gender, culture, race, or whatever else we bring to the table, but that worship penetrates us, in ways that we cannot begin to fathom. Our liturgy, hymns, prayers, body movement, gestures, etc., are all absorbed, by all our senses, into the very heart of our being, in a very mystical way, much of which cannot be explained, but must not be discounted.
Worship takes time. And I don't mean an hour or so on Sunday morning, but a lifetime. And so, it takes patience. Our culture is so driven by instant gratification that we have a difficult time seeing the fruits of our worship over our lifetime. Our fear response to low Sunday attendance, or low giving, or complaints about "meaningful" worship, is to "change something!" or to incorporate the new worship fad, whether that be music, language, vestments, screens, etc. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against new technologies or making changes to worship form or style. I'm against those things being knee-jerk reactions that are based on fear because we can't see the fruits of our worship right now.
And the reality is, we may never see them, or we will see very few of them. But whether we see the fruits of our worship or not, I can tell you most assuredly, that they bring life, life abundant. Kind of like fresh air. Do you notice the effects of fresh air? Probably not. Not until your doctor talks to you about that last chest x-ray anyway. Or exercise. Do you notice the effects of exercise? Probably not, unless you go down a pant size or step on a scale. Otherwise exercise is just a chore you do. My point is, worship does have a life-giving effect on us, whether we notice it or not, and it's different for everyone.
Something else I didn't mention about the family of the little guy above is, I don't think they've ever put him in the nursery, even though we have a paid staff person to take care of him. AND I LOVE THAT! I can only imagine the transforming power that this will have on him over his lifetime and I for one cannot wait to see it! If, that's even something that can be seen. Either way, we cannot lose our confidence that our worship will have a transforming, life-sustaining effect on him, on us.
Thankfully, I have been transformed as well since then. Because though she may not always sing the hymns, or follow the bulletin, she is participating, and experiencing the worship of our God. Do I long for a day when she will grasp the intricacies of our ancient liturgy, or when the ending lyrics of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God brings a tear to both our eyes? I'd be lying if I said no. But thankfully, worship is not just an intellectual exercise.
Otherwise, I would not have been able to look over at this scene that day, and see a child of God having a worshipful transforming experience with the Divine, at her mother's bosom, with a heartbeat in one ear and a hymn in the other.