In kidzministry, I am developing more children’s worship ministry event materials and outlines. This goes beyond the ideas of assemblies. I’ll explain below the differences
When I worked with Scripture Union I got the idea of creating worship events for primary aged children that I could tour around schools. I then developed it, using Blackburn Diocese WOW (worship of worth) materials which they had just brought out. And as one teacher at the time said to me, “We can’t take the children to Spring Harvest…but you have brought Spring Harvest to our school. Thankyou!”
The idea behind Children’s worship ministry events
The basic principal is to create an experience for the children of worship with is very contemporary. Maybe a band, but I work a lot with backing tracks and DJ materials now as well.
In assemblies, it can often seem a bit formalised or tight on time. Often there are notices, prize giving…and even the occasional telling off. Assemblies are often as much about function as experience, even in church schools.
Assemblies are called collective worship. And that is what they are supposed to be: pupils and staff coming together to worship God. Leading them to the threshold of worship and giving them the choice as to whether to step over.
Confessional songs in schools and children’s ministry worship
Of course, you also have to be careful with too much confessional stuff, so I carefully choose songs appropriate to the context, though sometimes I have to admit that some of the songs are a little more confessional than I would like. I will look at what the school already use and make a call from that.
(confessional songs basically are ‘Jesus I love you….I am your friend Lord Jesus’…they are asking the child to make a statement of faith)
Because of the confessional nature of many of the best songs, which prohibit use in some schools, I will be writing over the next few months songs which speak about God’s love for us and how we can choose to respond to that love, rather than the proclamation of personal faith. These will be contemporary dance tracks because for my work, that is what works best.
Back to the difference between assemblies and worship events.
Usual outline with assemblies in school and how the schools children’s ministry worship event differs
So the assembly does in many cases have this functional form rather than collective worship. I’m not saying that it can’t be collective worship, but so often the functional nature of a school removes from the idea of collective worship the idea of worship. No bodies fault. Possibly it is a limitation of time. There is often not time for much more than a point, a story, maybe a prayer. If you are fortunate a song, which the school invariably chooses so it may or may not fit your theme. Then its onto notices.
And of course, the biggy is that you can’t really get the kids wound up. Well not if you want to go back to the school again which means the children can’t enter the worship as they are. Instead it can all feel a bit limited….
And so enter the schools worship event.
My guiding rule for a school running a children’s worship event is that it must be at the end of the day, because the kids may be unteachable at the end of it.
After that I have a rough kids worship event outline which follows
- Reflection (which may include music)
- Music / party feel to finish
The music all has signing to it and I’ve already started developing a bit in terms of videoing the signs I use as teaching for the children. Hopefully that will all be included with the packages I am going to create over the next few months.
The overall feeling is to lead the children into worship and out again. Actually to give them some kind of experience of God which of course only God can give, but we can create the space.
Church and schools children’s ministry worship events
There isn’t much here that I wouldn’t also do in church. In fact the format, with a few more games, is easily adapted to working in a holiday club. Which is what I do. I think what is key for people to remember is that schools, especially church schools, are not just places of education. They are communities of people where children spend pretty much of their lives.
So instead of looking to a school to feed your church with little bodies, consider them as worshipping active communities in and of themselves. So, although there are practicalities which I have outlined here, they should be seen as such. In which case, let’s start with a different attitude towards our schools. What happens if we regard them as church already? That their worship is valid? In which case, what can we do to enhance that?
If our worship in church for adults were just telling a few stories and delivering a few notices, with a couple of songs thrown in to break it all up a little, then our churches would soon fail.
(oh…wait…. Er….. ahem!)
So… let’s not do that with our schools or amongst our children in other contexts who are trying to engage in worship. Instead, start with where they are. Look at their culture and see what parts of it can be used as expressions of worship. Let them engage with the worship in ways which really work. Godly play works great, but there are also plenty of multi-sensory worship ideas which really work well with children.
What I am doing to interact and create continually evolving children’s worship events, especially in schools but also for Bible holiday clubs
Slowly my equipment is being built up with DJ type lighting and effects. Big sound system. And my own crazy energy levels into which I mix dance (with the kids), and often some magic. And of course, story telling.
When it comes to reflection then it might be something as using imagination with a backing track, but if there is space I love to get the children drawing their own thoughts. It is unpredictable. It does take risks. I give the options of being able to write something or draw something on large sheets of wallpaper or newsprint which is concrete (something from the story); or more reflective (something they feel, or experienced during the session); or a prayer.
In a schools context there may be (actually, usually is!) some kind of challenge to take the gospel seriously. I will often use some sort of line such as ‘the Bible says’ or ‘ As a Christian I believe that…’ and ask the children a rhetorical, ‘I wonder what you think?’
Don’t get too heavy with children in a worship event
By that I mean that it can all too easily end up with the leader getting too enthusiastic and looking for particular responses from children. This can hinder what is going on. Remember Jesus’s warning…let the children come to me and do not hinder them?
I think that we need to let the children be children, and God be God. They can work it out for themselves. Yes, we provide an outline. To just say ‘hey we will have a good time and see what happens’ doesn’t really work either. But we shouldn’t be looking for how many say they want Jesus as a friend either. Or beatific grins on their faces. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. It is just a party, and there isn’t the sense of the Spirit at work. Do the same thing in another context, and there He is and it’s tangible. Don’t worry about it. You just put the effort into creating what you can and leave the rest to Him.
This is of course especially true in the context of schools where to ask for commitments is probably the worst thing you can do. In fact let me spell it out…
DON’T EVER ASK FOR CHILDREN TO BECOME CHRISTIANS IN A SCHOOLS CONTEXT.
This is abuse of your position, of the schools authority, and of the child’s freedom to choose.
If you are in a holiday club situation in another context where it is explicitly Christian then it may be appropriate to offer knowing Jesus as a friend. But keep it low key
……click to continue reading lower down the page>>
The difference between a request for declarative statement of faith, and presenting the gospel as a choice to accept or not.
There is a fine line between asking kids to become Christians and actually offering a choice of the gospel.
When you ask someone to be a Christian, you are trying to persuade them for a decision. You say ‘who would like to become a Christian immediately at that moment’. It’s the ‘raise your hand if you would like to become a Christian,’ and probably end with the ‘believers prayer.’ It’s this point I am trying to make here.
When I applied (and succeeded in getting first try) for the status of charity for a Scripture Union associate body I was setting up, I came across an interesting point made by the charity commissioners. It was as if someone had written it just for me.
If you are a proselytizing organisation, then this must be part of your statement. Christians tell others about their faith, this is what they do and must do.
And it is also true that when you do speak of the gospel, we need to accept that it is a choice to make. So you don’t ask children directly in school if they would like to know Jesus, but you can, and I believe should, tell them the gospel.
Frame it with a statement such as ‘I believe as a Christian’ or ‘Christians believe that…’ but in the end you also may want to add, ‘I wonder what you think/believe’.
So if you are telling the story of the heavenly banquet where everyone is invited, it is perfectly natural to say that everyone is invited, but the choice is yours to accept the invitation or say no. What will you do?
This is completely different from following on instead with ‘Who would like to accept the invitation to know Jesus and go to heaven?’ Which is asking for a declarative statement of faith.
Negative implication of declaration of other faiths
Likewise, it is right that you should give a testimony to Jesus. As long as you are not seeking for a child to make a declaration of faith. You must hold true to the doctrines of our faith, as long as you are not asking them to make the same declarations. So it IS right to say that Jesus is the only way the truth and the life (though its worth for sensibilities of the school to say that Jesus said…). The implication here is that any other way is NOT the right way, but you don’t say that. Because that is then to be putting a negative view about other faiths.
School groups and faith declaration
In school groups the area is much greyer. Parents will have had letters (or they should have done) with consent for their children to go to a Christian club where children will be learning about Jesus. As well as giving the gospel choice, you can leave it open as an invitation to know Jesus, but again I would resist declaration. Instead, if a child indicates that they would like to become a Christian, say that they should go home and speak to mum and dad (or whoever). And if they are still interested ask them to get their parents to come and speak with you the following week. There is no rush. And whilst it might make you uncomfortable, rightfully parents are still in authority biblically over a child (honour your father and mother) and if they say no, then no it is. It will be fine. God understands. And years later that seed will germinate.
Use of testimony for faith invitation
There are probably a million ways of turning your own testimony into a description of the gospel.
I tell the story that I was eight years old, and had no friends. A minister came into school and told us of a friend who would never leave you or forget you. So I went home and asked my mum how I could become a friend of Jesus, the friend who would never leave you or forget you. And she told me that I needed to admit that I wasn’t always good, and didn’t always do what was right. I needed to believe that the only way to heaven was knowing Jesus and saying sorry. Then I needed to commit to it because once you become a Christian, you can’t change your mind. A – admit, B – believe, C – commit. So I did, and I have had the experience of knowing Jesus all these years and always having him as a friend. I have never felt alone.
So you see, in this story I have given testimony – my story and experience. I have also built into it what I did, but in so doing I have told them how to become a Christian. Whilst I don’t necessarily believe in a formulaic approach to becoming a Christian, having the basic ABC at your finger tips is incredibly useful to explain what a Christian believes and does in real terms.
Just to finish this off, in the context of a holiday club where someone may make that decision I will often tell them the ABC, but then say ‘hey, why don’t you write a letter to God’. This gives you real feedback, makes things more concrete for them, helps them to think through the question of becoming a Christian. I have seen on a number of occasions some very profound writing which is beyond their years, and at that moment you know that the Spirit is moving.
If they are unable to write, and some are, then they can draw, or could just say their thoughts out loud to you.
Keeping low key in your children’s worship events, especially in school
So a worship event is by it’s nature emotional quite often. What we need to do is to be sensitive to that and know that first, not everyone will get emotional (so don’t push it!). Second people, and especially children, can be easily manipulated in emotional states. SO BE AWARE AND DON’T DO IT!
If you are a charismatic (small C…I don’t mean spiritual charismatic here though often they may go together) person then you may find that children will do whatever you ask. Now there is the respect for adults thing here, but there is also an abuse of authority if you aren’t careful. Again, this is why asking children to become Christians should be done very carefully. They may just want to do it to make you happy. I’ve taught this to people over and over throughout the years, and still I find those who are shocked that they shouldn’t be pushing children to make a commitment.
The thing is, it isn’t your responsibility to make as many little Christians as you can. It is your responsibility to deliver the good news, whatever it might appropriately be from the gospel in that context, and leave conversion to the Holy Spirit.
And if any children do make a declaration of faith, then don’t proclaim over them that they are ‘now a Christian’. They have taken a first step with Jesus, and they just need time to explore and grow.
But don’t forget in your kids worship event that they are also kids…
I find it interesting that in children’s worship the basic tenant of being a child is often forgotten.
Adults are desperate for them to become little adults, worshipping Jesus in a little adult way. Yes, there is some sense of copying, that is how we learnt as children. The games we played, make believe and dressing up. But when children do that they do so in a children’s way as they explore.
What is more key is that they perform worship as children. And the basic rule is….
Not rocket science really.
Watch anything small, from animal to human, and they learn by playing. In fact someone has said that a child’s work is their play.
In the UK (can’t talk for anywhere else) we try harder and harder to get the children to learn rules for life and educational skills younger and younger. Less and less time is given over to free play and exploration. How quickly, the question gets asked, can we get them to a standard of being a productive member of society?
And yet the way a child will grow, develop and become the most productive is learning where they fit and their own social place so that as a confident person they will be able to work out how to be with others.
When it comes to worship, we would want a child to take their place as adults in a worshipping community. An appropriate place where by not only would they be able to have growing faith and contribute, but where they can help the faith of others to grow. Iron sharpens iron, and all that.
So doesn’t it make sense that a child’s worship should revolve around play?
Kids worship events in schools and churches, and the art of play
This is why when I lead a children’s school worship event or church worship event such as in a holiday club, I build everything around the idea of play.
It isn’t just about giving them a fun time, although fun is essential otherwise it cannot be play! It’s about recognising this fundamental that play for a child is their work.
So I will incorporate games – preferably run around ones if there is space – but not see it as just a bit of fun but something they can learn from. This point has to sign the main theme. You can bring out a big idea out of a game. Don’t force it though. Think in terms that the game is an EXPERIENCE, and then work out what part of the experience points to your theme.
The same with music choice. I want it to be fun.
The majority of the songs we will choose have some sort of point to them. The one’s I write particularly. And as children move a lot, then I also include that.
Why is movement important in worship?
Well movement lets us know how our body works. And we are holistic people. Mind body and spirit. But actually it’s not helpful to even mention the breakdown of these elements. When we move then our mind and our spirit are engaged at the same time.
So if we are engaging our spirit with God’s Spirit, it makes sense for us to consider ways in which we can both use our minds and our bodies in that.
So I use sign language for this reason. I also love street dance as it gets the blood pumping, and the feeling of being a bit out of breath does make us feel more alive! Children might not like formal PE (gym class), but watch even the most unhealthy looking under 10 year old and they will join in a game of tag/chase. Children feel alive when they move.
When you feel alive, you are having fun
When you are having fun, it is closer to play than anything else.
And play, for a child, as I have said, is their work.
Of course trying to do games and dance music in an assembly isn’t going to work. Restriction on time and hyper children afterwards are not conducive to a well structured school day. So I hope that you are now getting the idea of why I try to get schools to let me lead worship events at the end of the day.