What Children Sing

I’ve recently been considering the notion of children singing in the church, particularly as they sing a prepared piece to the congregation.  I take it as axiomatic that what believers sing ought to be true, not false, and as a corollary, it seems a questionable practice to me to indiscriminately gather the children of the church to sing to the congregation a song which expresses personal faith in Christ or the like.  In this regard, I’m thinking particularly of children who have made no credible profession of faith, although they may very well be part of a Christian family.

As an example of the sort of song I have in mind, consider a hymn written for children by the late James Montgomery Boice, which  says in one verse,

If Mary knew [that Jesus would die], she’d shed a tear;
I’m sure she loved him. So do I.
I want to serve him while I’m here
and go to heaven when I die.

(From “In Bethlehem Long Years Ago: A Child’s Christmas Carol,” copyright 1999 by Paul S. Jones)

Now, what would be the correct path to take as a church?  Ought we to limit any public performance of music by children to purely objective lyrics which communicate truth about God?  Or ought we to use songs like the above, and counsel parents to allow or disallow their child’s participation based on their credible profession of faith or absence thereof?  Or ought we to allow all children to participate in songs such as the above regardless of whether they’ve made a credible profession of faith?  Or ought we not allow children to sing at all to the church?

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3 Responses to What Children Sing

  1. Scott Aniol says:

    I think the ideal situation is for children to learn the language and forms of worship before they are actually converted. We do this with our children in other areas, don’t we? We teach our children how to respect their parents and other authority figures far before they actually feel respect in their hearts. My son says “Yes, Daddy” often enough, but he’s just doing it out of habit at this point. But the important point is that he’s learning the proper ways to show respect so that when he does actually feel respect, he’ll know how to demonstrate it.

    I think the same is true with children regarding prayer, worship, etc. While I certainly have wrestled with this issue myself, I believe that teaching children the language and forms of prayer, singing, reverence, and other aspects of worship is what child-rearing prior to conversion is all about. We are equipping them for when they are regenerated and then express faith. Of course the possibility of hypocrisy is always present, but I think we fool ourselves if we think they won’t be hypocrites just because we haven’t taught them to pray (or sing or whatever). They’d learn by watching anyway.

    This helps shape my answer for the original question. I’m in full agreement that normally those performing music in a worship service are leading the worship, and therefore I would limit those involved to believers.

    However, I would argue that when children perform, the purpose is not that they lead the congregation, but that it has a teaching benefit for them. Again, we are teaching them the language of worship, and even more, we are teaching them how to minister and serve. So I would make that clear to the congregation. We are having these children sing primarily for their benefit. And when they are finally regenerated, they won’t have to learn these things; they’ll already be habits.

    Of course, that means that we are choosing worthy songs for them to sing, and have them up their for a deeper purpose than simply the cuteness of it! 🙂

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful response, Scott. Are you aware of any historical efforts to wrestle with this question?

  3. Scott Aniol says:

    The only historical perspective I’ve seen has to do with prayer as opposed to singing, but the two are so related that I think it applies. Ironically, though, it’s a position opposite to what I posted above.

    It’s John Bunyan on whether children should pray:

    “Object. But if we do not use forms of prayer, how shall we teach our
    children to pray?

    Answ. My judgment is, that men go the wrong way to teach their children to
    pray, in going about so soon to teach them any set company of words, as is
    the common use of poor creatures to do.

    For to me it seems to be a better way for people betimes to tell their
    children what cursed creatures they are, and how they are under the wrath of
    God by reason of original and actual sin; also to tell them the nature of
    God’s wrath, and the duration of the misery; which if they conscientiously
    do, they would sooner teach their children to pray than they do. The way
    that men learn to pray, it is by conviction for sin; and this is the way to
    make our sweet babes do so too. But the other way, namely, to be busy in
    teaching children forms of prayer, before they know any thing else, it is
    the next way to make them cursed hypocrites, and to puff them up with pride.
    Teach therefore your children to know their wretched state and condition;
    tell them of hell-fire and their sins, of damnation, and salvation; the way
    to escape the one, and to enjoy the other, if you know it yourselves, and
    this will make tears run down your sweet babes’ eyes, and hearty groans flow
    from their hearts; and then also you may tell them to whom they should pray,
    and through whom they should pray: you may tell them also of God’s promises,
    and his former grace extended to sinners, according to the word.

    Ah! Poor sweet babes, the Lord open their eyes, and make them holy
    Christians. Saith David, “Come ye children, hearken unto me; I will teach
    you the fear of the Lord” (Psa 34:11). He doth not say, I will muzzle you up
    in a form of prayer; but “I will teach you the fear of the Lord”; which is,
    to see their sad states by nature, and to be instructed in the truth of the
    gospel, which doth through the Spirit beget prayer in every one that in
    truth learns it. And the more you teach them this, the more will their
    hearts run out to God in prayer. God never did account Paul a praying man,
    until he was a convinced and converted man; no more will it be with any else
    (Acts 9:11).”

    I understand what he’s saying, but I disagree. I believe children need to learn the forms of worship (and prayer), and the only real way to learn them is by doing them.

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