Children in worship

It seems to me that the discussion about children in church is akin to youth ministry (and any other age, sex, race segregated ministry). It’s not mainly about if you do it but how you do it. In the circles I have run in too often children’s church or youth group is seeing which adults can outdo the other in acting immature with a bit of “Bible story” or moralism thrown in.

What counts as criticism around here? A question was asked, so I responded with reasons why I think it is good for children of all ages to be present through the whole service and why it is not disruptive if parents properly discipline their children.

No, we support and practice it. We also support and practice older women teaching younger women because Scripture commands it (Titus 2). We try to have men take over teaching of men when boys are becoming men which is generally around Junior High, and then try to have no women teaching high school and after. But the important thing is not to be hard-nosed in specifying every particular while living in a way that never stops proclaiming the Order of Creation.

Joel Norris wrote, “what counts as criticism around here?”

I was responding to the articles linked above, not you, dear brother. And they are censorious to the max. Love,

Actually, no; the burden of proof would be on those who say it is NEVER appropriate to take one single child out of corporate worship at any time. Allow it once and the only question remains when it is appropriate? For nursing? For crying? For discipline? For translation and explanation?

To suggest that preaching to Chinese in their language rather than their having to decipher an English sermon (while keeping them in the rest of the service from beginning to end) is condemned by Scripture is, as I said, absurd.

Same with little children. To suggest, or rather to mount one’s soapbox as Mark and Scott do and unilaterally condemn, teaching in the case of children (similarly preaching in the case of the Chinese) specially to special sub-groups of the congregation with special needs without citing a single Scriptural basis for such condemnation is merely schismatic.

Some who have been irritated by congregations that disapproved of them keeping their children with them during worship may like this kind of bombast and find it convincing.

For us, we believe what’s important for covenant children is that they have the teaching and preaching of God’s Word presented to them in a way they understand. We believe that is more important than sitting right next to their father and mother every second their father and mother are in the pews.

One additional piece of information is that every fifth Sunday I preach a children’s sermon in addition to my regular sermon and the children stay in the sermon of that service, also.

Again, the principle is love and charity and avoiding censoriousness. If some here have felt that censoriousness in one direction, I find it baffling that they commend Scott’s and Mark’s censoriousness in the other direction. Love,

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Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. (Nehemiah 8:2)

Nobody said none were present. The only group that has claimed all children must do exactly the same thing is yours. So let me ask you a question. In what method of interpretation are all the children required to be there in spite of the fact that many of them could not understand?

Similarly to what I said to Jhar, it should be noted that that is the opposite of what has been described—children part of, present, and participating in corporate public worship, except for the sermon, which is replaced with teaching easier for them to understand.

You guys don’t do yourselves any favors by arguing with a straw man.

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In my experience, keeping our children with us when visiting a church that sends children out during the sermon causes raised eyebrows, but then people ignore us when our children stay quiet.

I don’t think children and people who don’t speak English at all should be grouped in the same category since the difficulty in comprehending the sermon arises from different causes. At my church we do have international students and immigrants who understand spoken English, but not with complete fluency. To aid these people, we provide a text of the sermon so they can read along, and some children also use it.

It’s true that children won’t understand some or most of the sermon, depending on age, though I would not underestimate them, as Pastor Tim alludes to above. And I don’t believe the sermon is magic, though I do believe it is not necessary to have comprehensive understanding for the Holy Spirit to apply the words to the heart. But I would argue that there are different levels of teaching that can happen. One level is intellectual comprehension of content, for which children’s church is more suitable. Another level is building a spiritual habit of worship with the corporate body, for which staying in the service is more suitable, and it is this latter level of teaching to which my focus is directed. But if parents are otherwise not providing or unable to provide to their children teaching in way they understand, then I suppose children’s church is the better option.

Pastor Tim has a good point about children’s church providing to the unchurched a “modesty panel for their unruly children”, and visitors and even some members at my church may have difficulty in keeping children reasonably quiet (and our pastor regularly urges the rest of the members to be patient with the noises coming from the children).

One issue that I have not seen raised yet is that if a church with a single service wants to provide children’s church, that requires multiple members to miss the sermon. If the church is small (like many Reformed churches), that is a rather sizeable burden. So providing children with teaching at their level requires some adults to miss preaching at their level.

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That’s certainly been a hard burden to shoulder at our church. We’re pretty small so even have 2-4 people missing is noticeable–and not being together for worship gets discouraging. We do have enough people so that no one has to miss the sermon more than once a month. And those who do can still listen online later.

I call it a burden (and it is), but at the same time it is a lot of fun to be down with the kids. Many times they have silliness and spiritual profundity in equal measure. The rest of the time I have no clue what they’re saying, but they sure are excited about it!

On a separate note (addressing the room, so to speak) there’s been a lot of strong, even harsh language used on this thread against the idea of separate instruction for children during the Sunday sermon. In one sense I get it. I grew up in a church that had lots of age-segregated programming which contributed to a strong culture of hostility toward the broader church among the youth. But the age-segregation wasn’t the determining factor. It was hitched to a low view of Sunday worship, a lack of older men discipling younger men and older women discipling younger women, and only the most remote involvement and oversight of the Elders. I think there are a lot of 21st century Calvinists (like myself) who, disaffected by the practical and theological failures of the churches we grew up in, are seeking an “ideal” church that we’ve heard about on the internet somewhere that ticks all the boxes of all our pet issues, often ones we’ve only just learned about (Michael Foster did an episode of Practical Ecclesiology on this point).

I say all this partly as self-talk. I need to keep reminding myself that the “ideal” church doesn’t exist this side of Glory and that a lot of my pet issues (and yes, I do have them) are probably a lot less useful than I think. Brothers, let’s pursue reformation in all our churches. But let’s be careful not to overreact based on how we’ve been hurt in the past. Overreaction may have been what the church you grew up in was doing (I’m pretty sure the church I grew up in was overreacting to a very real heavy-handed, legalistic, fundamentalism). Overreaction may have been what caused your wounds in the past. Overreaction may be how we wound the next generation.


Although everybody is to be instructed in the law, there is also a command for them to understand, which Nehemiah demonstrates an example of fulfilling carefully (note also verses Neh 8:8 and 12 which also focus on understanding), which is why it is so notable that the children are excluded from the list of those who were present. Now you’ve implied that they must have been present, because they were fulfilling the previous command which includes children. But that’s just begging the question. If you assume there is no other way to fulfill that command than to have them present for the sermon, then yes, they would have to be present. However, the passage doesn’t allow this. In fact, it then goes on in Neh 8:13, to describe the reading the next day being done only with the heads of fathers households. So either Nehemiah is demonstrating breaking the command, which is the exact opposite of the whole thrust of the text, or their keeping of the law involved the children being absent at times. There is no question of that.


I don’t think it is a straw man, there are plenty of churches that completely segregate all aspects of corporate worship providing worship services for youth, children, and then adults. Or they do Sunday School hour during the worship service. My comments are not directly related to only your situation, but general discussion on the topic (isn’t that what this forum is for?).

So as long as they participate in one aspect of corporate worship, then its okay to dismiss them from others aspects? At what point is it no longer the gathering of the body? Just trying to understand.

And if I am creating a straw man, on what grounds would you object to the churches that do segregate all aspects of corporate? Again, trying to understand.

In response to who as the burden of proof, I guess it seemed logical to me that the starting point is an ‘assembly’ or ‘body’ or ‘gathering’ (it seems that’s what ekklesia generally means in the NT and OT Lxx) suggests a principle of God’s people being together corporately for worship and instruction. Therefor it should be demonstrated why we should deviate from that normative principle. I’m open to correction on what the starting point should be.

If the only reason is so that the teaching is easier to understand, why can’t that be done afterward by parents or in a Sunday School. Or maybe the sermon should be prepared and presented in a way that can be understandable to a broader audience? Or in the case of the language barrier, why not a class that reviews the sermon with that group in their own language that could also double as assisting them with learning English as a second language? At my church, we provide sermon notes for those of different languages to assist them.

I appreciate the discussion, please receive my participation as a desire to better understand one another.

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Sure, but it’s not actually what’s under discussion, from the original article title to the practices described here. And you’re using that wrong description to make an argument about the problems and then applying your conclusion to the completely different practices described here. So it just doesn’t work.

I would simply say that the goal should be to teach people (including children) to love and participate in corporate worship, including paying attention during the sermon. Some groups, such as youngsters, those with language difficulty, and particularly unbelievers with children who have never been trained to sit still for half an hour are going to need help in this work. A teenager that is disrupting a service is making an adult decision to refuse to worship God. He won’t be helped by putting him in a different context with simpler teaching.

There’s nothing wrong with your solutions to the understanding problem, but there’s also nothing to convince me that taking 4-9 year olds into a separate room and teaching them at their level is less beneficial than handing them a coloring book with a picture of a fisherman and having them practice disengaging their mind during the sermon.

That’s a false dichotomy, but my point is much of what people praise as obviously superior is… not, if you actually evaluate it. Without real intentional work neither side’s solutions are going to produce much benefit. At my church plant in Cincinnati we have little choice but to keep all the children in the service starting at age 4. I try to engage with the children while I preach, asking them questions and giving them some application.

Yes. But that doesn’t prove that all segregation or delay of full participation is prohibited, especially when we see specific examples of it in the Bible. Nor does it prove that attempting to teach the children in a way they can understand means you don’t have covenantal theology.

Those who want to posit such a rigorous and specific meaning of “gathering” need to justify it. And while they are at it, they should explain why segregation based on theological differences as well as segregation based on geographical location are acceptable. Finally, they should explain why taking a disruptive 6 month old out of the room to quiet (or disciple) is allowable but they are not willing to make any allowance for doing it with a 6 year old—especially when the 6 year old’s parents don’t yet know how to do the work, not having been in church before.

Incredible to me that this seemingly non controversial post has already gotten more comments than your previous post.

I wrestle with this issue, but this was a really informative piece for someone who hasn’t read much on the topic. I whispered in my 4 y.o. boy’s ears last Sunday that holding him in my arms during worship songs is my favorite part of the week. I’m always sad to see him go.

From my experience at various reformed churches including a few PCA, my major critique is the content of the materials the kids learn during “Sunday School.” Too many programs and not enough just reading the Bible and memorizing scripture. I get the idea of communicating the several ubiquitous themes of the Bible, but we memorize our times tables before we learn physics.


Yes, the days were different, but what this passage shows is that the author was quite specific with listing who was present.

Nobody has claimed that any particular family is exempt from participation in corporate worship. The question is did every member of every family do exactly the same thing as every other member, and the answer is no.

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Hi Jhar,

In Numbers 9:1-13 some men want to celebrate the Passover, though they were unclean. The Lord grants their request and incorporates this into the law. The Lord also grants that those who are too far away to make it back may celebrate the Passover where they are. Then He says this:

But the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and yet neglects to observe the Passover, that person shall then be cut off from his people, for he did not present the offering of the LORD at its appointed time. That man will bear his sin. --Numbers 9:13

Surprisingly, God does not require the traveling one to do whatever it takes to make it back for the appointed feast. There is a place for extenuating circumstances.

The men in the above passage desired to celebrate the Passover, and similarly we work by faith toward the children loving to come to the house of the Lord and sit under the preaching of His Word.



Sorry to jump in and out here. Couple explanatory notes.

No church should require the church’s children to leave the sermon. Sometimes the noise might be so very loud and go on so long that an elder’s wife might go over and suggest the back of the sanctuary or cry room, or sometimes the pastor might stop talking to let the baby’s noise stop because he knows no one is listening to or can hear him. Otherwise, no suggestion that children do not belong in worship is acceptable. Option, not requirement.

Two occurrences: once Mary Lee and I were listening to Elisabeth Elliot when she stopped and said, “I think that baby is wanting his mother to take him out of the room.” Hilarious although we didn’t hear anyone laughing. Second, a couple from a former church I served tried going to Bethlehem when John was still there and they had a very clear statement made to them indicating they were not to take their children into worship. Don’t know whether that’s still Bethlehem’s policy, but I unhesitatingly agreed with them when they said they left and found another church.

Next, I don’t believe there should be children’s church during the entire service, but only during the sermon. And even then, not forced but offered, and men should be involved with elders and/or pastors’ teaching and/or oversight with an effort to have men teaching the older children with the goal of preparing them to listen to the normal sermon.

The principle is edification and the Scriptural principle is the necessity of interpretation for edification to occur:

Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1Corinthians 14:13-19)

A children’s sermon is edifying in the same way a sermon in Chinese is edifying. The Word of God is fed to souls in accordance with their knowledge and language and maturity, both age-wise and spiritually. This is such a basic principle of love in the church that I am adamantly opposed to men who trash it with the sort of bombastic censoriousness demonstrated by both Scott Clark and Mark Jones. Read Jones’s second paragraph linked at the top of this thread demonstrating his schismatic attitude. Those who have a children’s sermon/teaching are not Presbyterian. Not covenantal. Having a separate teaching for children (and thus for Chinese) is so bad for a pastor to allow or do (as if elders have no involvement in such a decision) that Mr. Jones would himself prefer to have his leg cut off.

There is no excuse for any church officer spreading this sort of nasty judgmentalism across the church, particularly given that the Biblical principle of prioritizing understanding for the sake of edification is so clear.

This leads me to a pastoral observation. I think most people who are strident on this subject have grown up in broadly Evangelical and/or Baptist churches where the children were shunted off from the adults and the children’s sermons/teaching/instruction and youth instruction were worthless. Add in that these people were never taught covenant headship in the home and church and, having discovered Adam’s federal headship over Eve and his household, everything becomes Adam’s federal headship over Eve in this man’s family home and church.

This is the inception of Federal-Vision and is the reason F-V women and their husbands are so adamantly opposed to their children having to, for instance, request permission to come to the Lord’s table from the elders and the elders examining them prior to giving that permission (with, of course the distinct possibility that the elders will say “no” at times as they have regularly in our congregation).

In other words, once former Baptists get a hold of the doctrine of Adam’s federal headship and the covenant household, everything becomes Adam’s federal headship and the covenant household, even (and maybe pariticularly) if the mother is driving it all, often because of her terror that her children won’t be saved.

I get it that such people are adamant about keeping their children with them at all times, not allowing any church officers or Titus 2 women or pastors to exercise authority over them or teach them. They are extremely jealous to allow no one to lead or teach their children but themselves. Seen this for decades, myself, and understand and approve of the drive God has put in each of us as fathers and mothers to guard our children. But from the church and her officers and Titus 2 women? Really?

So I repeat, the Biblical principle is presenting the Word of God in such a way that edifies the Church’s souls, and it is the elders’ responsibility to decide how best this should be done given the souls under their care that they will answer to God for. Men writing and condemning our elders for their decisions on matters where the Scriptural imperative behind the elders’ decisions is so clear are schismatics in our congregation and I will oppose them as I have above.

Knock your head against this: among the people of God, the Church does not play second tfiddle to the mother or her husband. The covenant household of faith trumps the covenant household of blood. To put it pungently, if the husband beats his wife or rapes his son, it is the duty of the wife to disobey his commands to her to submit to him. Rather, she must disobey his commands, and go and report his sin to the elders’ wives or the elders or the pastors.

The entire reformed homeschooling community needs to submit itself to Biblical and church history on these matters. The quirkiness and censoriousness of that quirkiness is tiresome and divisive. Yes, Adam (and thus your husband) is the federal head. Yes, the promise is to you and your children.

But no, that doesn’t make your husband a little pope over this household who must forbid your teenager submitting himself to the instruction and discipline of one of your church’s godly and wise pastors who are steeped in federal, covenantal Biblical doctrine and have a time of teaching aimed age-specifically at teenagers or other age children.

You get it? Something about the guy that is given a hammer turning around and hammering on everything in sight.


[Moderator edit: This comment also made into a post on Warhorn Media’s site: Children and worship (2) - Warhorn Media)


I’ve been stewing on this discussion for the past few days. I’m one of the pastors at Clearnote Bloomington, and our practice has been explained by Tim above. So that’s where I’m coming from.

We are arguing about a particular practice having to do with corporate worship, and we actually all (or pretty close to all) agree about most of it:

  • We agree that it is a good thing to be in corporate worship with the people of God.
  • We desire to train our children so that they love to be in the corporate worship of God like we do.
  • We believe in the preeminence of preaching as the powerful tool that God has given to His church to spread the gospel.

So what gives? On one side, Mark Jones says that if you send your children out of corporate worship you must think 1) that children do not belong in the kingdom of God, and 2) that they have nothing to contribute to the body of Christ. Children should always be present during corporate worship.

I grant that some churches who send children out of corporate worship do believe those things, but is there anyone here who wants to actually accuse us of that? Seems ridiculous to me.

I think our position as a church is pretty clear, so I’ll just add this observation: This discussion reminds me of the debate regarding instruments in worship that we sometimes have with our RP friends. And my answer here is the same as it is there: would you please acknowledge that your position isn’t quite as strong from Scripture as you think it is? I understand that you have your reasons for your practice and beliefs, and God bless you. But please acknowledge that there is liberty in these matters, and let’s try to be at peace with one another.


Everything but the last sentence has been my experience up until about 10 years ago. I’ve read, spoken with, and pastored folks for whom the church has no authority in or over the family. My experience has been that these folks are miles ahead of the typical Evangelical and/or Baptistic theologically and in the practicals of raising their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (with some terrible outliers). Yet, in limited experience, they made eldering/pastoring rather burdensome. They were difficult members.

The very reason churches like mine have done away with children’s church is because the teaching was worthless. But, we may have tossed out the baby with the bathwater. We haven’t been as considerate of newcomers, new-believers, or unbelievers as we should in providing help to parent their children into godly participation in the service. We’ve said things from the pulpit from time to time. We’ve met individually with those who have struggled to train their children. But, more could be done.


We know you don’t see it, brother. Yet you segregate based on location and theology. We’ve all got our limits.

Paul does speak directly to children/youth. Admittedly, this isn’t direct evidence of the separation of children/youth, but it is direct evidence of a pastor/elder admonishing children of believers. It would seem, if one was reasonable, that this would permit something like children’s church and/or youth group.

To answer your question, the contention is simply this: God didn’t change his mind. The exact details of how it was accomplished seem to have been adjusted for circumstances—something that we see time and again throughout Scripture.