A Plea to Worship Leaders: Sing for the Children

by Cody Barnhart May 24, 2021

Putting together a worship service isn’t always an easy task. There are songs to be selected and volunteer slots to be filled, which means there are songs people won’t like and volunteers who might cancel for one reason or another. And, of course, there’s always the temptation to go through the motions. After all, there are technical errors to sort through, live streams to keep in check, and rehearsals to run.

No matter how many things go haywire leading up to our Sunday services, there is one thing I can always count on: my friend Evie will be in the pews to my left as I lead worship. Evie is three years old. Sometimes she’s dancing. Sometimes she’s clapping. Sometimes she falls asleep, and other times she stands in the pew. On my favorite mornings, she’s trying her best to follow along with “His Mercy is More.”

She is becoming my favorite encourager, even when I bore her to sleep.

Without fail each Sunday, Evie reminds me of one of the most important parts of my job: instilling God’s great truth in little hearts. As I’ve settled into my first full-time ministry position, I’ve learned to sing for the children—and I think more worship leaders ought to consider making this a priority. Here’s why.

Children listen to the songs we sing.

When I first stepped into my role at First Baptist Alcoa, one of the only maxims I gave for myself was a refusal to sing songs that did not make much of Jesus. I wanted to be certain our congregation heard the gospel message proclaimed in our singing just as often as they heard it in our preaching.

Maybe it’s because I don’t have children myself, but I never anticipated being tagged in videos of congregants’ children singing the Doxology or singing hymns from the previous Sunday’s service. I didn’t expect parents to be mildly disappointed on their child’s behalf because they didn’t get to sing their favorite song at church in a particular week. Quite frankly, not even once had I thought to plan the worship service with children in mind.

More than any episode of Kids Say the Darnedest Things or any viral video, leading worship has taught me that our children are always listening to us. More specifically, they are always listening to the songs we sing at church. No matter how squirmy or sleepy they appear, they are inexplicably attentive enough to pick up on the words and melodies we sing. Some of them even learn songs better than the congregation!

Little ears are always absorbing the environment around them, almost like osmosis. When children hear the gospel sung, even if they don’t fully understand what it means, they get a head start on learning the vocabulary of the gospel. They learn things like “Then bursting forth in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again,” or, “Behold our God, seated on His throne; come let us adore Him.” If you don’t believe me, ask my niece who has been memorizing Scripture and catechisms by means of song.

Worship leader: part of your job as a leader is to help plant these truths in children’s hearts at a young age. When you are tempted to be thoughtless toward song choice or theological depth, sing for the children—that they may grow up repeating the truth of the gospel to themselves. By selecting theologically rich songs, children are hearing theologically rich songs. Conversely, when we teach our kids songs without meaningful lyrics, we run the risk of actually teaching them that me-centered worship is the point.

Parents need help with family worship.

Another benefit to thinking about the children in your congregation as you plan your service is to serve the parents in your church as they seek to disciple their children.

For many families, whatever picture you have in your head of “family worship” is a big ask. Getting children to sit still for the duration of dinner is enough of an accomplishment for most, let alone trying to get them to listen to a devotional or sing songs. When our churches sing for the children, however, our churches help cultivate a joy for worship in their hearts. “Family worship,” in other words, becomes less of a chore and more of a desire.

It makes me think of a few more kids from my church: I know for a fact that they love the Getty’s “Magnificent, Marvelous, Matchless Love.” In fact, they love it so much that they sometimes won’t go to bed until their mom or dad sings it with them.

Not only are they learning truths about God’s character and how He has saved us; they are excited to sing about these things with their parents. It makes the burden of family worship significantly lighter when children actually get excited to talk about Jesus. It opens up conversations about what songs mean, why we sing at all, and what Jesus has done for us.

As a brief caveat, I recommend giving hardcopy access to the songs in some capacity. At FBA, we have chosen to print all the lyrics in the bulletin even though we have them on a screen so that parents can take them home and discuss or sing the lyrics with their kids. Every publisher has its own rules, but you can likely get in contact with the publisher of various songs and hymns to try to get permission to copy CDs for personal use for your congregants—or, with the rise of streaming, put together a playlist of the songs that are in your rotation so that people can play it throughout their homes.

As a leader, you are responsible for those who have been entrusted to you.

It’s all over the Proverbs: what happens in childhood inevitably carries into adulthood (Prov. 1:8–9, 13:24, 17:6, 22:6, 29:17). You have been entrusted with little hearts as the unique role of “worship leader” in their lives. You are not their parent, and you may not even be a pastor, but they sit beneath your leadership. Do not waste the time that has been given to you. It is incumbent on us worship leaders to seek the spiritual wellbeing of our whole congregation from womb to tomb.

If we take seriously our responsibility of leading God’s people, we will take seriously our responsibility to sing for the children. The lyrics, melodies, prayers, and postures of worship sown in their hearts will, by God’s grace, return fruitful in the years to come and create a generation of worshippers that treasure Him above all else.