Children worshipping

I got to attend vespers at my wife’s school yesterday, a service held at the end of every school day. There is something powerfully moving about hearing little kid voices singing serious hymns (which they learn by heart) and chanting the liturgy. And the children did so with such gusto and loudness!

My theory is that the cutesy-wootsey approach to children’s songs and worship appeals mainly to parents and grandparents (OK! I admit it! I am both of those things and a sucker for cutesy-wootsey!). But that children appreciate being able, through good teaching, to take part in what adults do. I also worry that in our attempts to make their experience with worship and Bible study completely “kid friendly” and in our trying usually in vain to attract adolescents with what I have elsewhere termed stupid youth group tricks, that we are reinforcing the deadly tendency of young adults rejecting their church background as “childish” once they leave home. Better, in my opinion–and less condescending–to introduce them to a spiritual life bigger than themselves that they can grow into.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • FW

    Amen Dr Vieth!

    Might I suggest that it is also condescending to Adults to feel the need to dumb down the Holy Liturgy to make it “seeker friendly”?

    The subliminal message should be this one:

    “There are things here we are in custody of that are beyond our understanding and that we must still seriously ponder and meditate on to begin to understand. These things are wholy other , exceed our human understanding , and demand and inspire our awe, reverence and devotion even after many years of practice.”

  • FW

    Amen Dr Vieth!

    Might I suggest that it is also condescending to Adults to feel the need to dumb down the Holy Liturgy to make it “seeker friendly”?

    The subliminal message should be this one:

    “There are things here we are in custody of that are beyond our understanding and that we must still seriously ponder and meditate on to begin to understand. These things are wholy other , exceed our human understanding , and demand and inspire our awe, reverence and devotion even after many years of practice.”

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  • http://www.shempel.blogspot.com Sarah in Maryland

    AH! I’ve tried to tell my Sunday school this very thing. The Athanasian Creed is too hard they say. I say that understanding the Trinity is beyond anyone, but we have to start somewhere. I tell them to read it and take in what they can. Read it again and they’ll get a little more. Finally after years of hearing it, it will finally make sense!

    I am a sucker for cute kid things, too, but is this more for the amusement of adults or the health of our children?

    My folks laid some pretty heavy theology when we were children. None of this cutesy-woosty stuff. At our church, children are taught by hand puppets.

    Are we going to be entertained to death? The other day, I came 45 minutes early to an appointment. (I wrote the time down incorrectly.) For much of the time, I just sat there. Sometimes I am tired of being entertained. My mind is exciting enough, thank you.

  • http://www.shempel.blogspot.com Sarah in Maryland

    AH! I’ve tried to tell my Sunday school this very thing. The Athanasian Creed is too hard they say. I say that understanding the Trinity is beyond anyone, but we have to start somewhere. I tell them to read it and take in what they can. Read it again and they’ll get a little more. Finally after years of hearing it, it will finally make sense!

    I am a sucker for cute kid things, too, but is this more for the amusement of adults or the health of our children?

    My folks laid some pretty heavy theology when we were children. None of this cutesy-woosty stuff. At our church, children are taught by hand puppets.

    Are we going to be entertained to death? The other day, I came 45 minutes early to an appointment. (I wrote the time down incorrectly.) For much of the time, I just sat there. Sometimes I am tired of being entertained. My mind is exciting enough, thank you.

  • http://www.pagantolutheran.blogspot.com Bruce

    I remember the pastor teaching children at a VBS some years ago to sing Luther’s WE ALL BELIEVE IN ONE TRUE GOD. The tut-tut’s from the teachers expressed their disapproval: “They ought to be learning JESUS LOVES ME!” Yet after three days all three verses of the credal hymn were learned, memorized, and also liked by the kids. And years later, my daughter carries that with her, while never having learned JESUS LOVES ME.

  • http://www.pagantolutheran.blogspot.com Bruce

    I remember the pastor teaching children at a VBS some years ago to sing Luther’s WE ALL BELIEVE IN ONE TRUE GOD. The tut-tut’s from the teachers expressed their disapproval: “They ought to be learning JESUS LOVES ME!” Yet after three days all three verses of the credal hymn were learned, memorized, and also liked by the kids. And years later, my daughter carries that with her, while never having learned JESUS LOVES ME.

  • EconJeff

    My church’s Sunday School program is this weekend during the service and I am deliberately not going (I will be attending another church though!). I don’t have children yet and am not interested in what I have seen from SS programs. I agree that they seem very “cutsey-wootsey”. They may be theologically correct and very valuable to the children, but I have never gotten anything out of those types of things.

  • EconJeff

    My church’s Sunday School program is this weekend during the service and I am deliberately not going (I will be attending another church though!). I don’t have children yet and am not interested in what I have seen from SS programs. I agree that they seem very “cutsey-wootsey”. They may be theologically correct and very valuable to the children, but I have never gotten anything out of those types of things.

  • Bror Erickson

    I never liked the songs as a kid. thankfully my dad did not also. He was the pastor so I was exposed to alot of degredation in sunday school and Christmans programs. but my dad also always believed they called it Vacation Bible Schoolbecause that was the week the Pastor took Vacation!
    So He atleast spared us some of it, and was able to teach us that there was more to Christianity than Barney the dinosaur type songs with vague mentions of God.

  • Bror Erickson

    I never liked the songs as a kid. thankfully my dad did not also. He was the pastor so I was exposed to alot of degredation in sunday school and Christmans programs. but my dad also always believed they called it Vacation Bible Schoolbecause that was the week the Pastor took Vacation!
    So He atleast spared us some of it, and was able to teach us that there was more to Christianity than Barney the dinosaur type songs with vague mentions of God.

  • Pr. Conner

    I’ve often found that children are more capable of grasping the difficult doctrines of Scripture than adults.

    Case in point: this summer my wife’s great aunt died. We explained death to our 3 year old along with Jesus’ promise of resurrection. He quizzed us extensively on the cause of death and what happens when people die and we took the time to answer his questions and after
    He had considered it for awhile he said, “Aunt Margret died, but that’s ok because Jesus will come back and put her back together.”

    I think he understands the resurrection.

  • Pr. Conner

    I’ve often found that children are more capable of grasping the difficult doctrines of Scripture than adults.

    Case in point: this summer my wife’s great aunt died. We explained death to our 3 year old along with Jesus’ promise of resurrection. He quizzed us extensively on the cause of death and what happens when people die and we took the time to answer his questions and after
    He had considered it for awhile he said, “Aunt Margret died, but that’s ok because Jesus will come back and put her back together.”

    I think he understands the resurrection.

  • jgernander

    In our parish school service the service is designed for singing through Paul Gerhardt’s “All My Heart Sings and Rejoices.” The congregation sings 4 verses and joins in on verse 15. The children sing the rest. Some of it is sung in little trios, and one verse just the girls sing. But every child in the school learns from 5-8 verses of the hymn by heart, and they all have done so. This is a school of 20 kids.

    Our Sunday School service this past Sunday was designed around the singing of 4 verses from “All My Heart Sings and Rejoices” — v. 1, 7, 8, and 15 (the same 4 verses featured in the old LCMS Children’s Hymnal). Again, they all knew it (plus the 1st 2 verses of Gerhardt’s “I Stand Beside Thy Manger Here” and many other “Christmas standards”). This is a Sunday School of 25 kids.

    So good things are possible, where there are willing hearts. The parents, teachers, and organist/music director need to be on board with it, of course.

    Pastor Jerry Gernander (ELS)

  • jgernander

    In our parish school service the service is designed for singing through Paul Gerhardt’s “All My Heart Sings and Rejoices.” The congregation sings 4 verses and joins in on verse 15. The children sing the rest. Some of it is sung in little trios, and one verse just the girls sing. But every child in the school learns from 5-8 verses of the hymn by heart, and they all have done so. This is a school of 20 kids.

    Our Sunday School service this past Sunday was designed around the singing of 4 verses from “All My Heart Sings and Rejoices” — v. 1, 7, 8, and 15 (the same 4 verses featured in the old LCMS Children’s Hymnal). Again, they all knew it (plus the 1st 2 verses of Gerhardt’s “I Stand Beside Thy Manger Here” and many other “Christmas standards”). This is a Sunday School of 25 kids.

    So good things are possible, where there are willing hearts. The parents, teachers, and organist/music director need to be on board with it, of course.

    Pastor Jerry Gernander (ELS)

  • Rich Janke

    While not meaning to get on a soapbox, I taught in one-room schools for thirty years. There is not much a child of any age cannot learn. They should and need to learn good, quality hymns and liturgy and the earlier the better. Your post is a validation of what I had been doing for so long.

  • Rich Janke

    While not meaning to get on a soapbox, I taught in one-room schools for thirty years. There is not much a child of any age cannot learn. They should and need to learn good, quality hymns and liturgy and the earlier the better. Your post is a validation of what I had been doing for so long.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Pr. Conner: “Jesus will come back and put her back together.” That is simultaneously cute AND profound!

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Pr. Conner: “Jesus will come back and put her back together.” That is simultaneously cute AND profound!

  • Joe

    We have been taking our Sunday school back to its roots with a “Learning by Heart” program. We know devote 15 minutes of our Sunday school time to memory work. We send notes home to the parents reminding them what their child is working on and that it is not just a Sunday morning thing. The response has been great.

    As a result, 7 year old who knows: John 3:16, Colossians 3:20, Romans 2:23, Genesis 1:1, The Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the WDTM for the First Eight Commandments (we will get them finished in a few weeks). Then we’ll move on the books of the Bible.

    She also follows along with the liturgy. She likes getting her own bulletin and using her own hymnal. She proudly sings the hymns too laud and off key (just like her dad).

    My five year old has John 3:16, Colossians 3:20, Romans 2:23, Genesis 1:1, The Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments down.

    The best part about it for me is that my kids are teaching her neighborhood friends about church. I often hear them singing the Song of Simeon, the alleluia verse or one of the hymns.

  • Joe

    We have been taking our Sunday school back to its roots with a “Learning by Heart” program. We know devote 15 minutes of our Sunday school time to memory work. We send notes home to the parents reminding them what their child is working on and that it is not just a Sunday morning thing. The response has been great.

    As a result, 7 year old who knows: John 3:16, Colossians 3:20, Romans 2:23, Genesis 1:1, The Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the WDTM for the First Eight Commandments (we will get them finished in a few weeks). Then we’ll move on the books of the Bible.

    She also follows along with the liturgy. She likes getting her own bulletin and using her own hymnal. She proudly sings the hymns too laud and off key (just like her dad).

    My five year old has John 3:16, Colossians 3:20, Romans 2:23, Genesis 1:1, The Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments down.

    The best part about it for me is that my kids are teaching her neighborhood friends about church. I often hear them singing the Song of Simeon, the alleluia verse or one of the hymns.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Rich, if you’d indulge us (or at least me), I’d certainly be glad to see you on your soapbox at times. Finding someone who’s actually taught a one room school is rare these days.

    And juvenile stuff? Well, I’m finding more and more that my kids tend towards the mature when they have the choice. What a blessing.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Rich, if you’d indulge us (or at least me), I’d certainly be glad to see you on your soapbox at times. Finding someone who’s actually taught a one room school is rare these days.

    And juvenile stuff? Well, I’m finding more and more that my kids tend towards the mature when they have the choice. What a blessing.

  • Rev. Alexander Ring

    In my first parish it was the practice to use Matins for the school chapel service. A couple teachers sometimes wondered if it was too much, but by Christmas there were always a couple kindergartners chanting collects with me. The liturgy had accomplished one of its goals: it had catechized. Not that the children knew what all the words meant, but the faith had been imprinted on their heart and they now had a tool they could use in their private prayers. Whenever we had a service where the school played a large role I made a point of using Matins as the order that day, because as you said Dr. Veith, there is something powerful about the voices of children singing serious theology.

  • Rev. Alexander Ring

    In my first parish it was the practice to use Matins for the school chapel service. A couple teachers sometimes wondered if it was too much, but by Christmas there were always a couple kindergartners chanting collects with me. The liturgy had accomplished one of its goals: it had catechized. Not that the children knew what all the words meant, but the faith had been imprinted on their heart and they now had a tool they could use in their private prayers. Whenever we had a service where the school played a large role I made a point of using Matins as the order that day, because as you said Dr. Veith, there is something powerful about the voices of children singing serious theology.

  • Rev. Alexander Ring

    There is another aspect to this, a pragmatic one. The oldest students in these schools are often 12-14 year olds, kids who are at an age where they no longer want to be identified as children. When teachers would complain that these kids wouldn’t sing I would ask them “What are asking them to sing?”, and often find it was something like “Zaccheaus was a wee little man”. Now that is fine song for a 4 year old; it reinforces the story. But when you are 12 you would rather rip out your eyes than do anything “cute”. But, ask those kids to sing “Isaiah, Mighty Seer”, or “We All Believe in One True God” and they would (after the required pre-teen amount of complaining) do it with gusto, because they recognized this music was not “cute”; it was mature music for mature people.

  • Rev. Alexander Ring

    There is another aspect to this, a pragmatic one. The oldest students in these schools are often 12-14 year olds, kids who are at an age where they no longer want to be identified as children. When teachers would complain that these kids wouldn’t sing I would ask them “What are asking them to sing?”, and often find it was something like “Zaccheaus was a wee little man”. Now that is fine song for a 4 year old; it reinforces the story. But when you are 12 you would rather rip out your eyes than do anything “cute”. But, ask those kids to sing “Isaiah, Mighty Seer”, or “We All Believe in One True God” and they would (after the required pre-teen amount of complaining) do it with gusto, because they recognized this music was not “cute”; it was mature music for mature people.

  • FW

    #13 rev ring

    awesome. must be a beautiful thing to see.

  • FW

    #13 rev ring

    awesome. must be a beautiful thing to see.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17639370291865261582 Cindy

    Sometimes kids want to be kids; sometimes they want to be like grownups. We can encourage and utilize both.

    I have no problem with kids learning “Jesus Loves Me” and singing it in church occasionally. It is appropriate for young children and is a sentimental favorite of many adults. “Yes, Jesus loves me; the Bible tells me so.” That’s worth remembering at any age. But we have to use good judgment when choosing songs to teach and perform. The books of the Bible song can be a good teaching tool, and it is certainly worth learning the books of the Bible in order. But to have the kids sing this song during a worship service is pretty lame. How does that edify the hearers? Sadly, I have seen it done more than once.

    Kids will want to do some cute, silly stuff and some grown-up stuff. In my family, it is obvious that my son wants to be like his daddy. So while our four-year-old likes the Wiggles, he likes U2 even more, because that’s Daddy’s music. And when he sees me using the hymnal, he wants to do it with me. I’m convinced that kids notice and comprehend more than we usually realize. Our son gave us a good reminder of this recently. We were sitting in church, watching the junior choir kids march up the aisle in their uniforms of black pants or skirts and white shirts. My four-year-old said, “Whoa, look at all of them! Behold, a host arrayed in white.” I’d say it was worthwhile teaching him that hymn.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17639370291865261582 Cindy

    Sometimes kids want to be kids; sometimes they want to be like grownups. We can encourage and utilize both.

    I have no problem with kids learning “Jesus Loves Me” and singing it in church occasionally. It is appropriate for young children and is a sentimental favorite of many adults. “Yes, Jesus loves me; the Bible tells me so.” That’s worth remembering at any age. But we have to use good judgment when choosing songs to teach and perform. The books of the Bible song can be a good teaching tool, and it is certainly worth learning the books of the Bible in order. But to have the kids sing this song during a worship service is pretty lame. How does that edify the hearers? Sadly, I have seen it done more than once.

    Kids will want to do some cute, silly stuff and some grown-up stuff. In my family, it is obvious that my son wants to be like his daddy. So while our four-year-old likes the Wiggles, he likes U2 even more, because that’s Daddy’s music. And when he sees me using the hymnal, he wants to do it with me. I’m convinced that kids notice and comprehend more than we usually realize. Our son gave us a good reminder of this recently. We were sitting in church, watching the junior choir kids march up the aisle in their uniforms of black pants or skirts and white shirts. My four-year-old said, “Whoa, look at all of them! Behold, a host arrayed in white.” I’d say it was worthwhile teaching him that hymn.

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