Here’s another song we’ve been singing this week at our Genesis Arts Camp for kids. It’s the first two verses of Psalm 121: “I Lift My Eyes.”
It’s been almost a month since I last contributed anything helpful on Worthily Magnify, and that might be the longest stretch of non-posting since I started this blog in 2009. It’s been a very full summer for me, including several additional ministry things going on (I’ll share more on those later) and a seminary course through RTS’s online campus which I finished last week.
To dust off the blog a bit, I’m just going to share a little song I wrote for “Genesis Arts Camp” that we’re hosting at my church these week for about 200 kids. We need something fun and peppy to start off our sessions with, so for that purpose, “Hey Everybody” was born:
I am not a perfect parent. And I don’t have perfect kids! If you have any doubts about either of these facts, I’ll let you tag along with my family any day of the week and you’ll see that we struggle with the same kinds of problems that other families do.
But from the very beginning of our parenting journey, Catherine and I have made some very deliberate and intentional choices in how we raise our kids, with the goal of helping them to see Jesus as the One at the very center of their lives – and our family’s life too.
At any point in your kids’ life – whether the leash is short with young kids/infants, or the leash is longer with teenagers – you can do things to help exalt Jesus in their eyes. I’ll get to some ways you can do this with music and worship, but first here are some important foundational ways you can help your kids see and savor Jesus Christ.
Jesus as the solution to every problem
There are a wide variety of problems that our kids and families face. From little-kid problems, to big-kid problems, to family problems, and to world problems, parents are constantly helping their kids navigate and respond to problems. As parents, we can see problems as an opportunity to gently, simply, non-dogmatically, yet consistently point them to seeing Jesus as the solution.
Jesus as the protector/defender
There are imagined fears (are there monsters in the closet?). There are real fears (could that tornado I heard about on the radio hit our house?). There are potential fears (what if this happens?, what if that happens?, etc.). My job as a parent is to show my kids that Jesus is Lord, Protector, Defender, and Sovereign over all things. Our security isn’t in a special blanket, or my earthly strength. It’s in Jesus’ hands.
Jesus as really real
Kids can sniff out when you’re telling them something that isn’t true. When I say to one of my daughters “you’re the most beautiful girl in the world”, they know that I haven’t seen all the girls in the world. But when I tell them the truest thing of all – that Jesus is with them, he loves them, and they can trust him – the Holy Spirit preaches to them “that’s true!” Never stop telling your kids how real and relevant King Jesus is in their lives.
Jesus as the greatest kind of love
Shower your kids with love, affection, and blessing. And make sure they know where it comes from. It comes from Jesus, whose love for us is secured, eternal, unearned, and unchanging. Articulate a gospel-love for your kids: that won’t ever change, that is always abundant, and is unaffected by their performance. And tell them Jesus loves them more than even you do.
Jesus as the quick forgiver
Jesus doesn’t make us sit in time-out and stew over our rotten sinfulness before he finally offers us forgiveness. He’s quick to forgive, and eager to restore. Consequences of sin are one thing, but the shame from sin is another. Jesus doesn’t shame us, so neither should we shame our kids. Be quick to forgive your kids, and insist that they be quick to forgive one another. We like to use the phrase in our house (after someone has been forgiven) “now it’s like it never happened”. That’s how it is in Christ, and that’s how it should be in our homes.
Jesus as the invisible presence
He’s with you in your room, kitchen, minivan, school, airplane, and doctor’s office. Jesus is present with us by his Spirit at all times. Remind your kids that Jesus isn’t some dude they hear about on Sundays. He’s alive! He’s really real! And he’s present in their lives at all times and in all places.
I want my kids to see Jesus as the Lion! Always with them, defending them, protecting them, loving them, hearing their cries, and at work in the events of their lives even when they feel all alone.
I’ve taught my kids that “Jesus is like a Lion who lives inside of us. And when we worship Him, He roars”. So when my oldest daughter is scared of going downstairs to get her shoes, I encourage her to just say/sing the name of Jesus. And she does! It’s a wonderful demonstration of the power of the name of Jesus.
And with those foundations laid, now a few quick words about how to encourage an atmosphere of worship in our homes:
Encouraging Worship in Our Homes
First, even though this post is a few years old (and was written before we had our third child), it lays out our routine in our home, and what we’ve found to be effective. I encourage you to read it.
Second, let me just say how powerful setting up a routine with your kids can be. Whether it’s a morning or an evening routine doesn’t matter. All of us have different families, with different bedtimes, different demands, and different personalities. But none of us are the Lord of our families. Jesus is. We must prioritize training our families to stop – every day – and acknowledge Jesus as Lord, and to take time to praise/thank him, and pray to him. When a child knows a routine, they will hold their parents (and even babysitters!) accountable to stick to it.
Third, don’t allow your lack of musical giftedness to be an excuse for not leading your kids in worship. Buy/stream worship music and have it on in your house or car. Put it on in the house when the atmosphere is tense. Sing some simple songs before bedtime. It doesn’t have to be awesome. You’re just planting seeds. You are giving your kids what they’re not getting many other places: Jesus.
Final Crucial Concepts
1. Make Jesus central to everything. Every pain, joy, routine, and activity is an opportunity to point your kids to Jesus. They start to get the idea after a while.
2. Allow Jesus to take the pressure off of you: to be perfect in all things, protect your kids from all dangers, provide for your family in all ways, and carry everything on your shoulders. Your kids need to know that you need Jesus too.
3. Shower your blessing and the cross of Christ on your kids. Every night, your final word to your kids should be Jesus’ final word to us: His great love, His blessing, and His delight.
I say to each of my girls something really close to this every night:
“May Jesus bless you, refresh you, fill you with His Spirit, guard you, guide you, and protect you all the days of your life. May He use you in powerful ways. May you grow to love Him, worship Him, and be faithful to Him and His word. (During this next part I make the sign of the cross on their foreheads.) In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Then I wrap my arms around them and tell them over and over again how much I love them.
The amazing thing is that the next day they want to hear it all over again. And I want to say it all over again.
Our job is not to be perfect parents raising perfect kids perfectly. Our job is to raise our kids in an atmosphere of God’s abundant love, centered at all times on Jesus, so that one day (in the blink of an eye) when we let the leash out all the way, they will still be tied to the One who loves them more than their parents do.
This week my church is hosting “Genesis Arts Camp” for 200+ sweaty K-6th grade students in the morning and about 50 middle/high school students in the afternoon. I’ve had a blast leading worship in the morning, and sharing a quick teaching about some aspect of the gospel (this camp draws a good number of kids from outside of our church and from families who don’t go to church at all).
In between the songs and the teaching we’re also goofing around a good bit. We’ve thrown in some David Letterman-inspired bits (complete with their own theme songs) like:
Mr. Gil Tells a Joke
In which Mr. Gil comes up and tells a joke. The theme song would get stuck in your head if I shared it, so I’ll spare you. Unless you click on this link, in which case prepare yourself for getting the theme song stuck in your head. You don’t want to click on this link. Really. Don’t click on it.
Kalisthenics with Kirsten
In which Kirsten comes up (to the band rocking out to Van Halen’s “Jump”) in her 80’s head band and leads a couple hundred kids in doing crazy exercises. We’re doing some pretty aggressively contemporary stuff at this camp for sure 🙂
Superhero Art Tryouts
In which two superheroes (Flash and the Green Lantern) attempt to get a job as teachers at Genesis Arts Camp by demonstrating their different “gifts”. They could use some work. Their interpretive dance to “Let it Go” was particularly moving.
At the end of each session I’m sharing a quick teaching with the kids, in an attempt to communicate the gospel to them in a clear, understandable way. On Thursday or Friday I hope to invite kids to put their trust in Jesus for the first time if they haven’t ever done so. I’m excited!
On Monday I held up a bull horn and told them I had some really good news. “God loves you!” “God will always love you!” And how did God show us he loves us? By sending Jesus to die for us on the cross. We looked at a bunch of different logos. The kids knew all of them! I asked them what would God’s logo be? God’s logo would be a cross. He didn’t didn’t tell us he loved us. He showed us!
On Tuesday we looked at a bunch of pictures of cute babies. We oohed and ahed at the cute babies. But I told the kids that even the cutest babies are still born sinful. No one teaches a baby how to grow up and steal a cookie! No one teaches a little boy how to grow up and hit his sister on purpose. We sin naturally. It’s like I was born with a red choir robe on me (and I donned a lovely red choir robe for this example). And no matter what I do (give money to my friends, give food to the poor), I can’t get my red robe off. Then I walked up to the cross on stage, which had a white robe on it to show that Jesus died on the cross, but he was perfect. He took my sinful robe off of me! But… it didn’t stick to him.
Jesus defeated my sin! He stomped on it (so I stomped on the robe). He beat it (so I beat the robe). And he threw it far, far away (so I threw the robe far, far away). And he gives me his white robe (I put a white robe on). He makes me clean. He makes us new.
Today (Wednesday) I shared how Jesus wants to be our best friend. He wants to be by our side for our whole life (and after). He wants to be with us when we’re happy, when we’re sad, when we want to sin, and when we’re scared. Who would say “no” to having this kind of friend? I did a bunch of silly shenanigans like riding my daughter’s pink bike, and a pretend horse, and pretending to be scared of thunder… All to show that Jesus is with me all the time.
And the week will wrap up with me reminding the kids of what we’ve learned… and that Jesus is knocking on the doors of their hearts (and they should let him in!)
We’re singing mostly upbeat, action, call-and-response type songs. There’s a large number of little kids who can’t read, much less handle wordy songs. It’s been a lot of work but it’s been a lot of fun. And it’s reminded me of one major worship leading lesson.
I do the pointing. Jesus does the work.
Not everyone will sing along. Not everyone will get it. Some people (i.e. the super cool 5th grade boys) will sit there with their arms folded. Some people just won’t like it.
But if I use my microphone/guitar/pink bike/pretend (or real) horse/superhero skits to point people to God’s great love for them in Jesus Christ, then I don’t have to worry. My job is simple. Whether it’s a summer camp or a Sunday morning. Whether I’m leading 3rd-graders or 70 year-olds. My job description always has the same basic instruction: use your platform to point to Jesus. Then let him do the work.
The point of a worship leader is to point. Every context, every age group, every time you stand on stage.
May God increase our desire to see his name, and his name alone, exalted in the lives of those who sit in our churches. Even the sweaty ones.
My wife, Catherine, and I have 2 little girls at home (4 and 2 ½) and one on the way this Christmas. Our house is wonderfully full of noise, toys, crayons, random socks, baby dolls, shoes, and dirty dishes. Every night we attempt to clean it up again and every day our two little tornadoes carve their path of destruction again. We have a great time together.
When I come home from work, or when I have a day off, I can either take my worship leader hat completely off and focus on cleaning the house, getting the girls to help, putting them to sleep, running errands, doing fun outings, and matching up random socks, or I can try to find ways to keep my worship leader hat partially on while doing all of the above. If my calling is to lead people in worship on Sundays, then certainly that calling isn’t suspended during the week when I’m at home.
I don’t have a ton of experience yet, since our oldest is only four, but by God’s grace, I’ve been able to achieve a certain level of success at leading my kids (and wife in the process) to worship Jesus as we go about our lives together at home or in the minivan or in the grocery store. Here are some practical tips:
Sing a lot
When you’re driving the car or scrubbing a dish or sweeping up a gazillion cheerios off the kitchen floor, put a song of praise on your lips. “God is So Good” or the chorus of “Ten Thousand Reasons” or “Jesus Paid it All” or whatever. It doesn’t matter. Get in the habit of singing simple songs or choruses of praise out loud in the spaces that come up during a day. You will be permeating the atmosphere of your home with worship, and it will not only cover your family, but it will get into their hearts like little seeds, and those seeds will blossom in surprising ways in the years to come.
Make it a routine
Every night after our kids are in their PJs and have their teeth brushed, they sit on my lap for stories, songs, and prayers. They each pick one book, then I tell them some stories (the list of “must-haves” keeps growing), and then we each sing a “worship song”. It can be anything “to God or about God” (my rule). Sometimes they sing something that’s recognizable, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I hear something about how God wears sparkly shoes, or something about Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I’m not too strict. Then we take turns praying to God, and every few weeks I just need to remind them that Jesus is a real person, so we can talk to him like he’s in the room with us (because he is).
Making a few worship songs part of your nightly ritual is a good idea for many reasons. First, kids love rituals. Second, it gives you accountability (once it becomes a ritual they won’t let you “forget”). Third, it means that one of the last things to happen in your family every day is singing songs of worship to God. What could be better? Fourth, it gets them used to articulating praise to God. It makes it normal for them.
Don’t make it too religious
About that nightly ritual: if they start to goof around and stick their feet in your face, don’t turn all grumpy and mean and insist that they behave themselves and act like perfect little cherubs. For goodness sake, they’re kids. Don’t make it too serious or they won’t look forward to it. But make sure they know that Jesus is actually listening, and that this is one of the most important parts of the day.
Capitalize on the “I’m scared” moments
Every kid eventually cries out after you leave their room, or in the middle of the night, or when they’re playing alone in a room, that they’re scared. Somehow they pick up on the idea that being scared is a thing, and so whether it’s just being alone, or a shadow, or a bad dream, they cry out for a parent to come back to their room because they’re scared.
This is a prime opportunity to teach your kids the power of worship. Yes, go to them. Yes, ask what’s wrong. But instead of another stuffed animal, or staying in their room until they fall asleep, or turning the light on and looking in their closet for the monster, or another cup of milk, practice telling them that when they’re scared they can worship Jesus.
Why? Because Jesus is the one who keeps them safe. Because Jesus is like a lion who lives inside of them, and when they worship him he roars and scares all the scary things away. Because when we worship Jesus he reminds us that he’s always with us even when our parents are in the living room. Tell your children this. Model it to them. Use the “I’m scared” moments as golden opportunities to point your kids to the power of Jesus and the power of worship.
Some of the most beautiful moments I’ve had with my kids so far have come when I stand outside their room and hear their quivering voices singing themselves to sleep with “Jesus Loves Me”. And it slowly teaches me to let go of my girls and trust them to Jesus who loves them more than even I do.
Keep them in church for the opening worship
If you’re in a church that asks you to keep your kids with you for the first part of the service until they’re dismissed, then be grateful. If you’re in a church with a more traditional model of dropping them off for the whole service, then consider keeping them with you until after the singing is over if possible, particularly if you’re at a church with an opening block of singing. Long readings, silence, or liturgy can be tough in long stretches for little kids. This teaches little ones how to behave in church, it shows them that they’re part of something bigger, and it gives them a chance to sing along with a whole bunch of other people who love Jesus.
Put it on in your home
We’re big fans of the Slugs and Bugs albums that mix scripture, silliness, good melodies, sibling love, parental affection, and the gospel in short singable songs. We also like to put worship music on in the car, or in the house when the kids are playing or coloring or eating breakfast. You’ll notice the spiritual temperature in your house change when you have worship music playing. I’m a big fan of Randall Goodgame’s new verses to “Jesus Loves Me” (on this album) which balance the fact that Jesus loves me when I’m good and when I’m bad.
Sing over your kids
One of my favorite songs to sing over my daughters is the old John Wimber Vineyard songs “The Spirit Song”. I sing this at every bed time.
Oh let the Son of God enfold you with His Spirit and his love
Let Him fill your heart and satisfy your soul
Oh let him have the things that hold you and his Spirit like a dove
Will descend upon your life and make you whole.
And then the refrain:
Jesus, oh Jesus, come and fill Your lambs…
What a great prayer to sing over your kids as the day draws to a close. Yes, feel free to sing silly songs and “Old MacDonald” and “Twinkle Twinkle”, but don’t miss out on the chance to sing worship songs to God over your children.
Encourage singing as a normal expression of love
When you as a parent sing love songs to your kids, about how beautiful and special and smart and creative they are, they begin to learn that singing is a normal expression of love. When you take the next step and sing love songs to Jesus, about how strong and wonderful and caring and forgiving he is, they begin to learn that singing to Jesus is a normal expression of love as well.
I wish I could share all of the little worship songs my little girls have made up on the spot. There have honestly been so many that I’ve become accustomed to them. It starts with the parents, and it starts with Dad. If you sing over your kids, if you sing to the Lord, and if you make it normal and fun and safe, then you’ll be on your way to leading worship at home (and washing a lot of dishes too).
The highlight of Easter for me this year was leading worship for our 10:15am family service. It was loud, crazy, fun, and sweet. In between our “main” services in the auditorium we welcomed families with young children to the gym for 40 minutes of songs, the Easter story, a short message, brief prayers, and some more songs. We handed out lollipops as kids (and adults) left, had a huge bouquet of balloons up front, and kept it moving to keep kids’ attention.
The best part was having my 3-year-old and 2-year-old come up and join me (they did it on Good Friday too). I didn’t expect that, but they seemed to love it and I did too.
Leading worship for kids is one of the most fun worship leading experiences in the world.
It keeps you humble. Leading worship for kids is NEVER below you.
It shows kids they matter. To have the regular worship leader, and a full band, lead for a kids’ service sends them a powerful message.
It shows you whether or not your songs say anything important worth remembering.
It helps you think carefully about whether or not you’re leading in an engaging way.
It provides you a chance to get away with saying things like “now come on, that was terrible. Let’s try that again.” How many times have you wanted to say that in the “main” service?!?
It reminds you that you need to be more childlike. Stop acting like such a professional and loosen up a little bit.
If you haven’t led worship for kids in a while, or ever, I can’t recommend it enough. It will bless you, bless your church, and thrill your children’s ministry director to have someone volunteering to help. And it will make you more effective when you get stuck with the adults again.