formation

Worship: Introducing Spiritual Disciplines to Our Toddlers

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When my grandmother died in February, we sang “Blessed Assurance,” “It is Well with My Soul,” and “In the Garden” at her funeral. Ever since, my kids have been enthralled by these hymns, which they refer to as the “blood one,” “peace like a river with Lord haste the day,” and “the girl one” (because my cousin, Beth Ann, sang that one at the funeral).

My husband and I both grew up singing hymns from a hymnal in church, so we’ve played a lot of other oldie-but-goodie songs for our kids over the last couple of months. The kids particularly like “Lily of the Valley,” and it’s been stuck in my head for days.

In teaching spiritual disciplines to our children, we have been most intentional to read Bible stories with them and semi-intentional to model prayer for them and pray with them. However, one thing I realized recently is that we’ve also been teaching them the spiritual discipline of worship, often without realizing it.

Spoiler alert— we’re not doing a great job with this one! So this is me trying to process what we are doing to teach our kids about worship and how we can improve.

Who would’ve thought that my kids would love hymns so much, but I’m thankful they do.

Worship as Discipline

If asked to come up with a list of spiritual disciplines, I’m not sure many of us would include worship in that list. I often consider spiritual disciplines to be those that I practice in private, as an individual—prayer, fasting, Bible reading, Scripture memorization, etc. But if you think about it, worship is at the core of all of these disciplines. Therefore, it’s necessary to include it in that list of disciplines as well.

Donald Whitney, in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, describes worship as “the God-centered focus and response of the inner man; it is being preoccupied with God.” (88-89) In describing worship as a spiritual discipline, he goes on to say, “To worship God throughout a lifetime requires discipline. Without discipline, our worship of God will be thin and inconsistent.” (94)

I feel that.

All people are wired to worship something, but Christians direct their worship to their Creator. So while we may not have been actively teaching our kids about worship, we’ve been modeling it for them all along—for better or for worse. It was only after they started regularly listening to hymns that I realized that we’re teaching them about worship—and how much room for improvement we have.

Private Worship

As I mentioned above, we listen to a lot of worship music with our kids. Even now, I can hear my daughter in the next room, playing with blocks and singing “It is Well with my Soul.” Not only do we play hymns for them, but I regularly play worship music while I’m cooking dinner or cleaning—usually a lot of the songs we sing at church on Sunday mornings.

However, as I sat down to write this, I realized that we have a lot of room for improvement as we teach our kids about private worship. We pray with our kids, but I’m not sure we’ve really taught them about God’s character and how they can worship Him through prayer. We read Bible stories with our kids, but I’m not sure we’ve really pointed out how these stories should lead us to give praise to Him for the work He has done. We listen to hymns and worship music, and the kids know the songs are about Jesus, but we’ve not done much to explain to them why we sing to Jesus.

Now that I’m more aware of our shortcomings in this area, I’ve started trying to incorporate more language about worship and praise when I talk with my kids about God. However, when my daughter recently asked me to define the word “worship,” I was quite unprepared to answer her in a way that she would understand. So, there’s clearly some work to be done in this area!

Corporate Worship

Though worship is the foundation of our private, individual disciplines, it goes far beyond that. In his book, Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines, David Mathis writes, “Corporate worship is the single most important means of grace and our greatest weapon in the fight for joy, because like no other means, corporate worship combines all three principles of God’s ongoing grace: his word, prayer, and fellowship.” (156) He later says, “The secret joy in corporate worship is not only self-forgetfulness…but also the happy awareness that we are not alone in having our souls satisfied in him.” (164)

We want our kids to observe and experience the assurance of the faith that comes from corporate worship. We can talk with them about worship at home, and even model it, but there is something meaningful about the shared fellowship of believers, singing and praising God in one voice.

There is a reason Scripture tells us not to neglect gathering together (Hebrews 10:25) and to “encourage one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19) How many times have I come into corporate worship weary, disheartened, or grieving? When I’m finding it difficult to worship, the collective voices singing around me remind me of what is true and bring me back to the foot of the cross. Even on good days, the worship of my fellow church members draws me further into worship myself.

This is why we bring our kids into corporate worship. We’ve done so pretty much since they were babies, taking them to childcare only after the first songs are over. We want them to see and participate in corporate worship because we believe this is a vital part of the Christian life. We want them to see us worshipping God with fellow believers and know that the faith their parents have is shared by so many others in our church.

Again, we fall short in helping them understand just exactly what we’re doing in corporate worship. We don’t often talk with them about why we sing, why people often raise their hands or close their eyes while singing, or why it’s important to worship collectively as well as individually. Honestly, we probably should keep them with us for the entire service, instead of taking them to childcare as soon as the singing is over.

Intentionality is key when incorporating spiritual disciplines in our own life, and I’m learning that it takes even more deliberate instruction to introduce our kids to spiritual disciplines. Who would’ve thought that my kids would love hymns so much, but I’m thankful they do. It has created an opportunity for us to think through how we can teach them to worship the God of the universe, who created them and loves them.

Editor's Note

A version of this article originally appeared on Meredith Cook's blog.

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MA Ethics, Theology, and Culture

The Master of Arts Ethics, Theology, and Culture is a Seminary program providing specialized academic training that prepares men and women to impact the culture for Christ through prophetic moral witness, training in cultural engagement, and service in a variety of settings.

  • formation
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Meredith Cook

Grant Coordinator

Meredith Cook serve as the Grant Coordinator for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where she earned a Master of Divinity in Missiology. She's also the author of 'Go Tell Everyone: 9 Missionaries Who Shared the Good News' (B&H Kids, March 2024). You can find her online at meredithcook.net.

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