[Today I’m honored to feature this important guest post from Alisa Childers. As a worship leader and former member of the CCM recording group ZOEgirl, Alisa has a unique perspective on how secularism can even creep into our kids’ worship experience. I love what she has to say and pray it will challenge all of us to consider how we can better help our kids stay focused on God-centered worship in a secular world. Alisa recently started what is already an excellent blog at www.alisachilders.com to help Christians work through their doubts about Christianity. Be sure to visit her there and subscribe!]
As a worship leader and as a parent, I have a deep desire to help equip my kids to approach God with genuine worship that is insulated from the secular influence of the culture they are growing up in. This is no easy task.
To secularize something means to remove anything from it that has to do with God or religion. It’s no secret that our society is becoming more and more secularized by the day. American secularism, in particular, is very “me” focused. Everywhere our kids turn, they are met with messages like, “Follow your heart!” and “Believe in yourself!” and “You can be anything you want to be!” With God removed from the picture, these messages can be very enticing.
Such messages are focused on self-examination and self-affirmation, resulting in an experienced-based understanding of reality. Good doesn’t get defined by what God says is good, it becomes defined by what feels good. In other words, if it feels good to me, it is good.
The attitudes and influences of secularism can even creep into our kids’ worship, so as parents, we need to be vigilant in helping them understand that our worship should be God-centered, not “me”-centered.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a very emotive worshiper. Connecting our emotions with God’s truth is a beautiful thing, and I want my kids to experience all the benefits of worshiping God. However, it’s vital that we first define worship correctly:
Christian worship seeks to glorify God, while secularized worship seeks to glorify our experience of worshiping God.
How can we help our kids understand this? Here are 5 important things we can do. But first, a disclaimer:
These tips are goals. Please don’t read this and think that I have perfect little children who gladly receive my every instruction with smiles on their faces and a “Praise God” on their lips. No. I am absolutely certain that my five-year-old son has the strongest will of anyone who has ever been born. At any time in history. Ever. I don’t always perfectly succeed, but I do attempt to keep these things in mind and apply them as best I can while trying to stop him from running out to the mailbox naked after throwing his quesadilla across the room like a Frisbee.
Now, on to the tips:
1. Live a life of God-centered worship in front of them.
You can teach your kids about God-centered worship, but they will actually learn what you embody.
When I was a little girl, one of my favorite things was to sit in “big church” with my parents. I remember one Sunday observing a woman in the row behind me worshiping God with her hands raised high. I thought to myself, “Wow. She must really love Jesus and be a strong Christian.” Today I realize that my reaction to the woman behind me was directly related to how my Mom lived out her faith in front of me.
You see, my mom raised her hands when she worshiped too. And at home, I regularly saw her reading her Bible, praying throughout the day, asking forgiveness when she was wrong, having devotions with me and my sisters, and regularly visiting and ministering to the homeless. In other words, my mom wasn’t perfect, but she modeled a genuine Christianity for me. So when I saw another woman with her hands raised, I assumed she was the real thing too. What was modeled for me was worship born out of true obedience, love and admiration of Jesus. It was God-centered worship.
I have a friend whose experience was very different from mine. Her parents would fight bitterly, and sometimes physically. They would swear at each other in the car on the way to church and never apologize. The minute they arrived and the car door opened, they plastered big fake smiles on their faces and acted very holy and righteous. They would hug everyone in sight and use all the right Christian lingo. When my friend observed her parents worshiping in church, it felt meaningless to her. To this day, she struggles to find meaning in corporate worship. What was modeled for her was worship born out of pride, performance, and self-righteousness. It was “me”-centered, secular worship.
Make it a point to open a Bible and let your kids see you read it. (I try to use an actual paper Bible. It is more effective than using an e-Bible, which could look like I’m just on the computer.) Pray with and in front of them. Repent in front of them. Involve them in doing acts of service for those in need.
Then, when they see you worshiping in church, they will connect that with a God-centered life of worship.
2. Teach your kids theology, and focus on the attributes of God.
The attributes of God are what our kids should be focusing on when they worship, so it is extremely important that we teach our kids what those attributes actually are. We can’t assume they are going to learn this at church or at Grandma’s house. The culture around them is replete with all kinds of false ideas about God, so it’s up to us to teach them who God really is.
A great time and place to do this is in the car on the way to school. Each morning I ask the kids to say three things they are thankful for. Their answers are usually something like “toys” and “candy” and “friends.” When it’s my turn, I pick an attribute of God to be thankful for. For example, “I’m so thankful that God is good. Did you know that He can’t lie, or sin, or do anything bad or wrong?” Then I can connect this with worship by teaching them a song about God’s goodness.
3. Stress admiration over experience.
In a recent sermon, my pastor said, “The clearer our vision and understanding of God is, the more passionate and purposeful our worship will be.” It’s important that we teach our kids to get this in the right order. The passion and purpose with which they worship must be based on admiring who God is, and not on having fun, or getting some kind of endorphin release or “spiritual high.” If our kids focus on the experience and excitement in worship, rather than on God Himself, they will inevitably end up worshiping through the lens of secularism.
4. Teach your kids apologetics.
What does apologetics (making a case for and defending the truth of Christianity) have to do with worship? A lot! If we want our kids to learn to worship God in spirit and in truth, we need to make sure they understand what truth is—that it exists and can be known. In our secular culture, relativism abounds and can easily find its way into our kids’ attitudes toward God in worship if they aren’t prepared to recognize it. Teaching them apologetics will help give them confidence in the reasons why they should believe in the God they are worshiping. Plus, I have found that learning apologetics deepens worship. Try this: Teach your kids the cosmological argument, then sing the song “God of Wonders” with them. They will never think of that song in the same way again!
If you aren’t sure where to start, pick up Natasha’s book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, for 40 conversations about apologetics that you can start having with your kids right away.
5. Encourage your kids to be critical thinkers in worship, without becoming critical people.
I try to teach my kids to always think critically about the lyrics they are singing. I ask them, “What does this song say about God?” I don’t ever want them to sing something just because it makes them feel good. I want them to think critically about the lyrics they are singing, compare them with what the Bible says about God, and then be free to worship Him in spirit and truth. I also want them to be free to respectfully not sing a lyric that doesn’t reflect the truth of who God is.
While teaching them to think critically, I also try to teach my kids to have grace for their worship leaders and pastors. They aren’t always going to get it exactly right. As our kids grow into adulthood, their worship leaders may not always sing a song that is as theologically rich as they’d like. They may not always sing a song that is the particular style my kids are drawn to. But I have found that even the simplest song can be meaningful when my kids really understand who God is for themselves.
As you try these 5 tips, I pray you will be well on your way to ensuring that your kids will learn to embody God-centered worship rather than the “me”-centered worship of their secularized culture. When they do, they’ll find that worshiping God in spirit and in truth will be a most wonderful experience!