Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. --Matthew 18:3
I conducted a chapel service this morning at the church day school where my son attends. After it was over and I was driving home, I began having some serious reflections about my experience leading worship with these kids and the experience I've had leading services for adults. It led me to a "things that make you go, hmmm." moment.
Mind you, my experience with leading worship for adults is colored by my service in a mainline denomination, having attended a mainline seminary, and being informed with mainline Christian doctrine and theology. In no way does my experience represent the totality of Christian worship. With that caveat, please allow me to proceed.
The children: This morning it rained. The playground and its equipment is off limits, so the kids won't be getting much exercise and have no real way to let their energy out today. Knowing this, I suspended the rules for Lent. We sang, "Ha-la-la-la" or "Shake Another Hand" or whatever other name you wish to call it. The kids clapped and danced and shook hands and hugged and scratched backs and patted heads without a care that we were breaking the rules of Lent.
The adults: More than a few liturgical Lutherans would roll over in their graves if such a thing were done in worship. "How could we not honor the sanctity of Lent? How dare you proclaim the "A" word when it's reserved for Easter? There is a reason for the seasons of the church year, and we should adhere to them with as much respect and dignity as possible.
The children: Pure exuberance. In singing the songs they knew well, the children clapped, danced, and sang at the top of their lungs--even if they missed the notes completely. They just didn't care about whether or not they sounded good or what they looked like as they danced around. They just sang and offered their praise.
The adults: "I can't sing, so I don't." "Clapping isn't allowed in church because it's disrespectful. If you are clapping because of someone's singing or such you are honoring them and not God. If you clap for one person/group and not another, someone will get offended." "Dancing is appropriate in a dance hall, but not in worship." So, many times, the church is full of people with only a few who are actually singing, and those not too loudly lest they slip on a given note. Praise is muted because of a fear of embarrassment.
The children: During my sermon, I asked numerous questions. The kids don't even wait for you to call on someone, they blurt answers right and left--even if they are wrong. Undaunted, they come back time and again and respond time and again. The sermon actually is a dialogue--a give and take of ideas and thoughts as we interact with one another.
The adults: Hardly a word is spoken. Hardly a head is moved in acknowledgement or disagreement. Inviting a response and pulling a wisdom tooth have much in common.
The kids: Spontaneity rules. At the end of service, I said, "Y'all did such a good job singing and interacting today." Without hesitation, a little girl chimed in, "You're welcome!"
The adults: If it isn't printed out or scripted, it more than likely isn't going to happen.
The kids: Chapel service is obligatory, but there is no whining. There is no complaining. There are smiles, laughter, and the general mischievousness that goes along with a bunch of two, three, four, and five year olds. No one skips school because it's chapel day. The kids make the most of it even if they don't know the songs or get a little bored. And they learn. They hear the lessons. Other parents and the teachers have informed me about how much those little tykes remember, and it is always a joy to have my children singing the songs I have taught them at chapel service.
The adults: Church is voluntary, and there's always an excuse to skip. It's raining or it's too beautiful to be inside. It's too early or too late. There's no other day to sleep in and/or I've got too much to get accomplished before Monday hits. Etc. Etc. For those who feel church is an obligation, there seems to be little happiness in how they engage and interact. Playfulness and mischievousness is sporadic to non-existent.
In my experience there is a MARKED difference in how children and adults participate in worship. Given Jesus' command that I quoted at the beginning of this blog, I have just one question: