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Category - "Children":

And A Little Child Shall Lead Them…

Maybe it takes a child to make us all pull together.
One, two, three: ‘All for one, one for all…’
That’s all.

To Train Lay Worship Leaders, Do We Need To Start In Childhood?

The Body of Christ
When I was eight, my father gave me ‘the talk’. Maybe you know the one? He draw a sketch of our house, with pin men for its inhabitants. ‘What does Daddy do’? ‘He goes to work to make money to keep the family’. He went through the house’s inhabitants, one by one, until he got to me. ‘What does Laura do?’ I couldn’t think of anything, except doing my best to enjoy life. Somehow I knew that wasn’t the right answer, so kept quiet. ‘You need to go away and think about what you can do to play your part in family life.’ His tone was loving, but carried a hint of menace, I thought: he definitely meant business.

If the Church is to find volunteers among the adult congregation for all sorts of jobs, we need to have the equivalent of this talk with children at a similar age. We need to explore with them the part they might play in the Body of Christ.

In the Church of England, whether called Children’s Church or Sunday School, Children’s Ministry seems chiefly to mean ministry to children, not ministry by children. In contrast, The Episcopal Church’s webpage on Children’s Ministries says it seeks to engage children in the exploration of their own ministries:

‘Children are innately spiritual. Given the opportunity, their lively and passionate expressions of faith can help transform the church’.

In the words of Booker Washington:

Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility on him and to let him know that you trust him.

Many churches already do give children a role in services such as asking them to distribute hymn books and service sheets to the arriving congregation and to take the collection. Booker Washington’s advice is implicit in this allotment of tasks, but maybe it also needs to be stated explicitly. Perhaps we should copy the ‘monitor‘ idea from school? Just a thought!

Are Christians guilty of ‘brainwashing’?
Before going any further, we need to deal with the accusation often levelled at Christians  that we ‘brainwash’ our children. The idea that parents themselves damage their children by raising them as Christians is presented in this video (3.57 mins)  by ‘The Thinking Atheist‘. (The ‘Christianity’ described is of the ‘weird and wonderful’ variety, with a God in the clouds that takes care of everything. Unsurprisingly, when this version of Christianity is spurned as unreal, religion as a whole is also rejected).

Secular advice on parenting
Well, are we guilty? Anyone wanting to be a good parent these days might naturally turn to the web for advice. Here is Dr Stuart Crisp, a paediatrician, on net doctor:

‘Each person’s knowledge of how to bring up a child usually comes from their surroundings and their own upbringing…Parents should express their unconditional love for their children, as well as provide them with the continued support they need to become self-assured and happy…Discipline is crucial when bringing up a child. All children need and want reasonable boundaries. Through discipline your child learns that some kinds of behaviour are acceptable and others are not. Setting boundaries for children’s behaviour helps them to learn how to behave in society…Children like to have special days reserved for special activities…Such rituals and routines build strong families’.

This, although from a non-religious source, sounds very much like a prescription for Christian parenting, doesn’t it? Let us agree to regard the case against Christian upbringing as, at the very least, unproven!

Back to the question of training lay worship leaders
As we have seen in How do you find lay worship leaders from the congregation?, in many cases it is too late to train adults to be Marys, although it is much easier to find Marthas, serried ranks of whom down the centuries have polished the brass, laundered the linen and dusted the pews. Others have read the lesson or served as churchwardens. But finding potential worship leaders among the congregation is an uphill task. Why is this?

Well, partly perhaps because churches have always had steps dividing the chancel from the nave and those in clerical garb from those in ordinary dress: roles have been clearly defined. People have not been brought up with the expectation that they may have to take on liturgical roles as part of their lives as Christians. Is it a case of the herd instinct? If people accept that it is a case of ‘all hands to the pump’ and regard it as a matter of course that they may be called upon to take their turn, they will not stand out by doing so. But if it is seen as an esoteric calling, as it largely is at present, people are perhaps unwilling to look too ‘holy’ by joining this group? If, wherever possible, children are encouraged to take part in worship, they are more likely to take it in their stride as adults.

Education, education, education
‘Doing God in Education’  was the subject of a recent Theos report by Trevor Cooling which I recommend. If the training is reinforced at school, taking even a small part in leading worship is likely to be of great potential benefit to the children. First and foremost, it promotes their spiritual development: having to choose prayers around the readings for the day and even, with help and perhaps in groups, filling the ‘sermon slot’, teaches active participation rather than passive observance. But leading worship is also a great privilege and a great responsibility: fostering the personal growth needed to fill such positions of responsibility is in itself a definition of the ‘leading out’ that is at the root of the word ‘education’.

1. The illustration is ‘Little Girls At Church’ by Gwen John, via wiki gallery under creative commons licence.
2. Part of this blog is based on an article by me in ‘Conference and Common Room’ Vol 48 #2, Summer 2011 called ‘Send not to know for whom the bell tolls‘; grateful thanks to Alex Sharratt of John Catt Educational Ltd for copyright permission. 

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