Teaching Kids to Praise

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If you are a parent, then God has commanded you to teach your children about Him.  And He has commanded you to teach your children to worship him expressively. In Psalm 78:4, the songwriter, Asaph, declares: “We will… tell the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” Asaph is an example of both a father who led his children in worship and a leader who led the community in worship. Asaph wrote worship songs that gave praise to the Lord and reminded the people about all that he did. 

David gives us similar instructions in Psalm 145. He writes 

"One generation commends your works to another;
    they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
    and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
    and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
    and joyfully sing of your righteousness." Psalm 145:4-7

This is God’s command for us. One generation declares the works of the Lord to another generation. What do we declare? Look at the passages. We declare God’s mighty acts, his splendor, his majesty, his power, his glorious deeds and wonderful works, his abundant goodness and his righteousness.

How do you do that mom and dad? Even if you are not musical like David or Asaph, you can lead your children to worship God. Here are just a few encouragements: 

  1. Slow down and say thanks to God for what he’s given you. David says, “I will meditate on your wonderful works.” One of God’s wonderful works is your children. Your son or daughter is fearfully and wonderfully made. So, the next time they make you laugh or say something cute and you’re tempted to pull out your phone and share that moment with the world… Instead, just take it in. Enjoy it. And remember the Creator who gave you this gift. Stop and say thanks.
     
  2. Put off complaining and put on a life of praise. Kids will wear you out! When they’re babies, it’s those midnight feedings and constant diaper changes. As they grow, you’re running here and there to practice or clubs. Helping a child grow up is hard. And you know what we do? We get with our friends or online and complain about it. We’re complaining when—according to these passages—we should be telling, proclaiming, celebrating, and joyfully singing about God’s goodness and love. So, when you’re tempted to complain, stop and remember that God loves you. Then, celebrate him. Check out the new kids album from Sojourn Music, Clap Your Hands, Stomp Your Feet. Put that music on and sing about God as you drive in the car with your kids. Read a Bible storybook before bedtime, and pray a little prayer of thanks as you tuck your baby in at night. Most of all, enjoy yourself as you're celebrating God! Expressive joy in Christ makes his message believable for our children. You are the curriculum that your child will learn most fully. So, be expressive. It is a good thing to praise the Lord (Ps.92:1).
     
  3. Encourage your kids to be responsive and expressive! You shouldn’t demand outward expression from your kids, but you can encourage it. The Scriptures call everyone to clap their hands to the Lord. It's a universal appeal (Ps. 47:1). So, we should be clear with our children that God is calling them to respond to him as well. Invite your kids to respond to God with their bodies, and explain why we worship the way we do (Ex. 13:8). You have the privilege and responsibility to show your kids the greatness, power, and glory of Jesus. So, take time to talk about the words we sing on Sunday. Take time to ask questions about what a song means and how its words apply to your child’s life. By asking, you can discover how much your kids understand about what we’re doing.

TRY IT THIS WEEK:

(1) Explain to your children why we sometimes raise our hands when we sing or pray. Read 1 Timothy 2:8. Then, explain how we want our kids to get comfortable lifting their hands in worship, but we don’t want them to misunderstand what it signifies. We don’t lift our hands in order to become holy. Rather, we lift our hands as an expression of what God is doing in us.  Lifting our hands shows that God is holy (different from us), and he has made us holy (different from the world). 

(2) Read Psalm 98 together as a family.  Then answer these questions:  Who and what is worshiping God in this song?  How are they worshiping God?  What parts of their bodies do they use? What instruments do they use? Why do they worship God in this way?

Check out the new Clap Your Hands, Stomp Your Feet VBS. This worship themed VBS includes a director’s guide, games guide, craft and assembly guide, printables, and much more. It even includes a studio-recorded children’s worship CD and digital songbook produced by Sojourn Music. Purchase now from New Growth Press. 

Writing a Children's Worship Liturgy

I remember the day clearly. It was a warm December one—as they almost always are in Central Florida. It was Christmas break. My sisters and I were all home from school spending time with our parents, and I could hear them all chattering in the background. I was sitting at my parents’ kitchen table, staring at my computer screen in frustration. I was writing a children’s assembly liturgy, and I struggled to find the right words to begin the call to worship.

Then, my sister’s fiancé, who ironically is studying worship leadership, jolted me out of my internal wrestling with a question. “How do you even write liturgy for kids?” he asked. I chuckled. “Great question. I’m trying to figure that out myself.” I was learning that writing liturgy for kids isn’t as straightforward as I thought it would be when I volunteered for the job.

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Writing for children is hard work. You must spend time wrestling with God’s Word, distilling big gospel truths into pieces that will capture kids’ imaginations and invite them to sing to our great God. At the same time, I’ve found that it’s simple. Simply put, our job is to make the truths of the Bible as clear as possible and then invite children to respond to what God has spoken. The more time I spend writing for children, leading them in worship, and watching children engage the truth, the more I experience the paradox Charles Hodge described two centuries ago: “The gospel is so simple that small children can understand it, and it is so profound that studies by the wisest theologians will never exhaust its riches.”

My goal in this post is to summarize the process we’ve used when writing liturgy and selecting songs for children’s assemblies at Sojourn Community Church—Midtown. I understand that the details will need to be modified to fit each congregation’s needs, but I’m also confident that the overarching principles here can be applied wherever you serve kids. We’ve made a lot of mistakes, but as a result we’ve seen firsthand some things that work and others that don’t. Some Sunday gatherings haven’t gone so well, but others have been gloriously sweet. My prayer is that you’ll be able to learn from our failings and that the Holy Spirit helps you create space where children grow to love and worship God.

Here are four key things I’m thinking about when writing a liturgy:

  1. Follow the curriculum. At Sojourn, our children’s worship services follow the teaching materials we use with our kids. Usually the units we teach (from Lifeway’s Gospel Project curriculum) are one month in length, but they vary and can be up to six weeks long. We repeat the same songs, the same Scripture memory passage, and the same catechism question (Lifeway calls this the “Big Picture Question”) each week for the duration of the unit, so that by the fourth week, the kids (and musicians) know it all really well.
     
  2. Be consistent with your order of service. We have a skeleton outline for each assembly that we follow consistently.

    Call to Worship—a spoken greeting that introduces the monthly theme. Usually we include a passage from a psalm or epistle. We’re careful to make this time doxological. Before the kids even begin to sing, we want to remind them of why we sing and to whom we’re singing. We remind children that God is worthy of worship and invite them to lift their voices in praise to him.

    Song 1—Usually a song of praise that relates to the lesson theme. In song introductions, we’re careful to define words that may be unfamiliar or abstract in simple, understandable terms.

    Scripture Memory— Our leaders read the month’s memory verse to the kids, and then help them memorize the verse with a call-and-response method, breaking the verse down phrase by phrase. We also include hand motions the leader can use when teaching. As silly as they seem, hand motions work—for me too! I don’t forget the kids’ memory verses as often as I forget Scripture I’ve memorized on my own with traditional methods. The kinesthetic connection makes our memory verses sticky. Repeating the memory work a couple of times helps make it sticky too.

    Song 2—Sometimes this is a Scripture memory song that matches the memory work verse.

    Giving— During this time we remind the kids that everything we have is a gift from God, and that we have the privilege of responding to God’s grace with gratitude by giving back some of what he’s given to us. We invite the kids to bring their offering to a giving box at the front of the room.

    Song 3—With the last song, we take time to explain to the children of how it connects to a lesson they’ve already learned in the unit or will be learning that day.

    Catechism—The catechism time serves as a time to transition from singing to teaching. Using repetition and hand motions, our children memorize doctrines that connect to the Scripture lesson focus for each unit. We always include a silly instrumental riff before the catechism time that kids can dance to. At Sojourn Midtown, we use the “Tequila” riff by the Champs (1958) except that the kids shout “Catechism!” at the end. Our kids love it!
     
  3. Don’t ask open ended questions in the large group. We try to create space in the liturgy for children to think and reflect on the Bible truths we’re teaching, but we’ve learned that asking open-ended questions and calling on individual students in the large group has been unhelpful. This is particularly distracting when leading a broad range of ages. Silly answers or theologically shaky responses require gentle correction, and they are difficult to handle on the fly in front of lots of other kids. It’s better to reserve question times for a more relational context such as an elementary small group or an age-grouped preschool classroom. It keeps the assembly focused when leaders simply tell children what we want to take away from a particular verse or song and then move on.
     
  4. Choose excellent children’s songs that are singable for young children. In my opinion, this is the most difficult part about writing a kids’ liturgy, but this essay by Jared Kennedy and Chandi Plummer is a big help. As I stated above, we generally choose one Scripture memory song (like the ones written by Seeds Family Worship or The Rizers), one children’s worship song that relates to the unit theme (We usually pick from songs by Rain for Roots, Sojourn Music, Sovereign Grace Kids, or Village Kids,), and a “big church” song.

    Here’s what I mean by a “big church” song. We like to include songs that the adults are singing so the kids can learn some of the same songs their parents sing during worship. Be careful. Most “big church” songs are too long, wordy, or melodically complex for kids. We try to choose songs that have a manageable melodic range (usually an octave) and that have lots of repetitive phrases. Some that have worked well for our kids are “When I Think About the Lord” (Hillsong), “10,000 Reasons” (Matt Redman), and “Sing and Shout” (also Matt Redman). Even with these songs, we’ve found it’s helpful to teach choruses first and add verses later. One “big church” song that didn’t work well with kids was “Grace Alone” (Dustin Kensrue). We love this song, and we want to teach children songs with rich theological truths, but this song was too lyrically heavy for the children to learn and understand. Repetitive, call and response style songs are the easiest for children to learn quickly. Sovereign Grace Kids’ “Jesus Came to Earth” is one of the songs that has worked best for our kids worship time.

    One last thing…when we include songs that were not written specifically for children’s voices, we change the key to be more comfortable for the kids. This is typically more of a problem if the song was written for a male to lead. Most children are able to sing comfortably in a female’s range (from a middle C to the C an octave above).

In summary, we want worship to be accessible for kids. We want to choose songs that are simple yet encompass great truth. We want children to hear about God’s beauty and majesty, his grace and kindness, his love and care, and we want to provide opportunities for them to respond to him.

Check out Clap Your Hands, Stomp Your Feet, a 5-day curriculum for VBS and Bible Clubs that teaches kids about responsive worship. The starter kit includes a director’s guide, games guide, craft guide, assemblies, printables, and much more. Learn more or purchase now from New Growth Press. 

 

Christina Gonzalez

Originally from Miami, Florida, Christina arrived in Louisville in 2015 to study at Southern Seminary and she quickly fell in love with Sojourn Community Church. She teaches music classes at Sayers Classical Academy, and she previously lived in Serbia, where she tutored missionary children, and studied music and elementary education at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.

Music for Little Ones

It is often what a person sings about God that he or she really believes and takes to heart. Dr. Hugh T. McElrath once said, “Singing is the most practical theology taught.”  If we care about what our children think about God, the music we select for them to sing truly matters.

So, what criteria should be used when writing or selecting music for children?

Biblically Accurate  

Children need to hear songs that are true.  They need to sing songs that present the Bible’s teachings with clarity and accuracy. It is important to note that there are songs that are biblically accurate but not readily understandable to children. There are also songs that are simple and clear but a bit sloppy in asserting truth about God. Ideally songs should be clear and true.

Gospel Centered

What does not concern us deeply, will not interest our readers, whatever their age.
— C. S. Lewis

When people look for Christian songs for children, they ask themselves, “What do the children need to learn?” In an essay entitled “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” (1952), C. S. Lewis wrote, “If we ask that question, we are assuming too superior an attitude. It would be better to ask, ‘What do I need?’ For I think we can be sure that what does not concern us deeply will not deeply interest our readers, whatever their age.” In other words, children are just as human as adults, and they very often need to learn the same things.  Kids need to praise the mighty Creator for all of His dazzling greatness. They need to sing about humanity’s rebellion against God, and confess their sins corporately through song. Children’s music should teach them how to confess faith in Christ—in his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. Children need to sing about how Christ speaks to the Father on behalf of Christians, and how he will one day return and restore this broken world. Children need to hear the gospel in their music—just the same as us.

Musically Excellent

Children need culturally appropriate music that is excellent in its own genre.

Children need culturally appropriate music that is excellent in its own genre—good music that even adults will like. In the same essay quoted earlier, C. S. Lewis said, “A children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.” The same goes for a children’s song. Of course, musical tastes will vary. Musical genres are a matter of aesthetics and not morality. It does not matter whether you are a protégé of Isaac Watts, Matt Redman, or both. Whatever style of music you prefer, write and play it in a way that reflects God’s excellence. Write and play to the glory of God. If you are a composer, write creatively as a reflection of the Creator. Since children love repetition (“Play it again, Daddy!”), whatever songs you sow in their hearts will be heard again and again. Yes, we may be listening to that song in the minivan all the way to grandma’s house!

Accessible

Children need music that is singable. Children’s songs should be in a range that is appropriate for young children (pre-puberty) to sing. This is NOT always easy to find.  Unfortunately, too many songwriters write for their own low voices and not for kids’ voices. Children’s songs should also have a well-crafted memorable melody that is easy to learn.

Age-appropriate

The bottom line: a song’s meaning needs to be as clear as possible for children. Consider their age.  Because young children have a difficult time with abstract concepts, we must avoid songs with a strong use of poetic and symbolic imagery and seek songs that have concrete language.  For example, a poetic song may say: “I look to the cross,” rather than saying more concretely: “Thank you for Jesus. He died on the cross for my sins.”

Liturgically Diverse

"You follow a liturgy with your children?" you may ask. Well, yes. We believe that a liturgy is a great tool to teach kids about the various ways that Christians express faith—praise, confession of sin, thanksgiving, confession of truth. Incorporating these different types of songs will help children learn about God and learn to pray to him. It will give them thoughts about him and words to say to him they might not otherwise have. Along the same lines, following the Christian calendar helps the children to think about the Lord throughout the year and to remember him. Remembering is taught throughout the Scriptures as the means by which God’s wandering children repent from sin and embrace him again. We want our children to remember the Lord all year long (from Easter to Christmas) because are prone to wander and forget, too.

Fun! 

After all, we’re talking about kids. Children love to laugh, dance, and do hand motions when they sing.  And the Lord doesn’t ask us to only bring him a dirge.

At most churches, you will have only a limited amount of time to teach and sing music with kids. There are countless songs we could teach them.  When we select music for children, we should earnestly pursue the same Scriptural accuracy and God-honoring musical excellence we pursue when selecting songs for adult services. When evaluating a song, ask yourself, “In light of these standards, is this song good, better, or best?” Then, choose only the best. It would be easy to pick a bunch of church songs for our kids, skimp on planning, and simply entertain the kids as if you were at a library sing-a-long. But we are called to a higher standard. We must lead our children to sing to God.

Check out Clap Your Hands, Stomp Your Feet, a 5-day curriculum for VBS and Bible Clubs that teaches kids about responsive worship. The starter kit includes a director’s guide, games guide, craft guide, assemblies, printables, and much more. Learn more or purchase now New Growth Press. 

I worked on this post in collaboration with Chandi Plummer. It originally appeared at The Worshiping Community.

Three Children's Music Albums to Use As Stocking Stuffers

Christmas is coming. At the Kennedy house, we like to give our girls a little something to listen to in the car while we are traveling over the holidays.

I've recently had the opportunity to review three different children's music albums that I think you'll love. Each one is a bit different, but all are full of biblical truth and grace. Here they are.

PROOF Pirates by Sojourn Music

Kids need grace to make them silly with joy in God and strong in their budding faith. With this EP of sea shanties, Sojourn Music employs Jeremy Quillo's writing skill and Squeeze-bot's Todd Hildreth on accordion to help children uncover the treasure of God's amazing grace. I'm a little biased, because this is my team, but I think it's amazing!

My favorites are the bluesy We're No Skeletons and the lyrically rich Never Drift Away. The Sojourn Music collective teaches kids that what we do or look like does not determine who we are as Christians. What God determined for us through the work of His Son Jesus gives us our identity. Jesus came to save sinners—scallywags—not those who get everything right. The album includes instrumental/karaoke versions for use in a children's ministry classroom, and it corresponds with the PROOF Pirates family devotional and VBS curriculum.

Waiting Songs by Rain for Roots

Sandra McCracken, Flo Paris Oakes, and Katy Bowser have captured the meaning of Advent for kids. Kids know the difficulty of waiting. As the King and Christmas is coming (and is already here!), we must practice listening, quieting ourselves, celebrating, whispering good news, and yelling shouts of joy.

This is a country album with an independent Nashville feel and a lot of soul. My favorites are the hilarious teaching song, Zechariah (who couldn't talk) and the spiritual Every Valley. The first Rain for Roots album was a set of lullabies for young children. This album is decidedly more mature. It includes renditions of classic hymns like O Come O Come Emmanuel and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus and a cover of Thad Cockrell's Great Rejoicing. It's a holiday album to encourage and teach your whole family.

The Ology by Sovereign Grace Kids

The aim of The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New is to teach key truths about God to the next generation in ways that are memorable, creative, fun, and understandable. The album was designed as a companion to the excellent new kids theology by Marty Machowski. Kids learn all about God, people, sin, God’s promises, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, adoption, sanctification, the church, Christ’s return, and the Bible. 

One of the impressive things about this album is the diversity of genres it employs is equal to the diversity of doctrines that it teaches. The God of Wow is a Christian rock praise song. Totally God, Totally Man has an old school 1950s beat. All About Jesus is hip hop. The Scariest Song, which memorably teaches a strong doctrine of sin, belongs in a rock opera. Other tracks have more of a country ballad feel. In the album's diversity, kids will discover that our great God is God over all. 

Parents, check this music out then teach your kids along the road this holiday season.