A Faith Milestone: I Can Worship With My Family was a teaching service in the Sanctuary at 11am, the prime time of our church family gathering. The service was the culmination of two months’ of teaching with teaching continuing within the service.
The local church may teach holy habits in classroom settings and at special events, but I’ve never known a church to teach about worship. We talk about it. We plan for it. We set aside the greatest amount of our budget for it. We guard the space and time for it. We built for it. Yet we expect everyone to just ‘pick it up as you go.’ It’s been my experience that worship is caught and rarely taught. This makes for awkward moments, uncertain expectations, clumsy transitions, and unsettled assumptions for our guests no matter how well we roll out the hospitality before and after. The generation of parents today will do anything to avoid feeling uncertain, clumsy, and anxious about anything. We help by offering spaces and places where we learn together.
In the actual service, we taught four specific elements within the service.
1. Who were the people on the stage/chancel and why were they there? Example: a choir is a group of people who lead us in singing praises to our Great God. The individual pastors gave their names, explained what they each do, and made an announcement.
2. What are the hymnals and how to read a page? Example: the title is not always the actual title to a song; the words along the bottom are special; we sang a William Bradbury song and our special worship leader gave a brief, kid-friendly history lesson since he also wrote “Jesus Loves Me.” Mr. Bradbury wrote choral music and loved writing music children could sing well in church.
3. As United Methodists we give and return to the Lord from our vows of membership: we give our prayers (we pray for each other), our presence (we come to church; gather together in community), our gifts (we give a regular amount of all money we receive through earning or gifting), our service (we use our skills and learn new skills to help our church family and our neighbors), and our witness (we invite people to come to church to worship and learn about Jesus).
4. Ways to respond/participate in what we hear, sing, do in worship? We sing, we listen for special words (every time we heard the word ‘strong’ or ‘strength’ we flexed our muscles) and we return to the Lord our portion. The congregation walked up to drop/pour their offerings in buckets (noisy buckets of galvanized metal on wooden steps).
The teaching which took place over the two months’ prior included:
1. The purpose of an order of worship by forming and directing a worship planning team.
2. Taught the Apostle’s Creed line by line as well as the American sign language in Sunday morning large group as a statement of what Christians believe.
3. Worship art to provide the visual elements to worship. Two 5th grade girls signed up for flowers and they filled the stage area with flowers, vegetables, and plants of the fall season. The 1st & 2nd graders painted banners and black foam boards in their Sunday morning small group time (what colors…white on black foam board… can be seen in a large group in a large space to make it feel more intimate?)
4. It was the 3rd Sunday of our Stewardship campaign so the children were given and taught the Godly way of handling money 4 weeks prior, then given plastic jars to take home to work to earn money to ‘save’, ‘spend’, and ‘return’ back to the Lord at this service since everything belongs to Him anyway.
5. We published and promoted the ABCs of Family Worship in print, social media, and on the bulletin back so the expectations were as clear as we could make them.
The special movement elements included:
1. The scriptures read were printed on slips of paper and ‘found’ under the pew cushions.
2. The Call to Worship was a familiar song with motions: My God Is So Great
3. The processional included acolytes (candle lighters; cross bearer), littles holding up signs with special words-of-the-day to listen for in the service (painted on black foam board); percussion instruments played by children
4. Children served read scripture from the floor; read prayers; directed people where to sit; handed out bulletins they’d folded at dress rehearsal the Wednesday prior; handed out worship bags.
5. Bags were given to all with pipe cleaners which were used to shape into hearts and held by families to pray together in place of a pastoral prayer. The children filled all the bags at the dress rehearsal the Wednesday night before.
6. Leaf cutouts were placed in all the hymnals on the page we would be singing from.
7. Our special worship leader taught movements to the first congregational song, Raise A Hallelujah, A bridge in a song, the hymnal pieces, etc.
8. Everyone was instructed to text a family selfie to a number at the beginning of the service. The pics were compiled and our amazing tech ninja team put them into a slide show at the close of the service as the congregation sang, “I’m So Glad I’m a Part of the Family of God.”
As a teaching service, it looked nothing like a children’s program. That was the point. Our senior pastor still preached his stewardship sermon. It was a service where the entire church family could participate, not just spectate. We sang, we gave, we served, we shared, we moved, we learned, and we want to do it again. There are so many other elements to teach and learn and one service is not enough time. We’ve already asked for the last Sunday in March.
What is it? A worship service….
– where little people actively participate in various interactive elements…and so do their families.
– where children learn and practice some of our church’s cherished traditions.
– where there is movement and all five senses are engaged.
– where we utilize art, drama, songs, percussion, storytelling, current events, poetry and holy habits to reinforce a central theme as we help children connect with God.
– when we create a developmentally appropriate faith formation teaching experience that worship is so positive that worship will always be a major part of their lives.
In complete transparency, this was amazing AND it had its challenges. There were lots of moving pieces over an extended period of time. There were lots of unmet expectations because those expectations did not serve the ‘what is it’ above. The amazing parts were the people, the parents, the grandparents, the children, the leaders, the pastors, and the feedback of, “We need to do this every quarter or more.” Families want to learn to follow Jesus and grow in their faith together. Worship teaching services are worth all the challenges, because everything we do that tells Jesus, “I love you!” is worship. Even walking through challenges. He is worth it!
“He said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Genesis 22:5