The Pastoral team at Spring Garden Church are approaching things a little differently these days. They are engaging the question, ‘how can better engage children and youth in our core practices as a church’. Prayer, Communion, Baptism, Dedications, Worship, Scripture-> How do children of all ages fit into the picture when we engage in these elements? Each month Pastor Gene explores what it could looks like to engage children in a different avenue of Spiritual Development. The following is Pt.1 of this series of reflections. These monthly publications are accessible digitally on their church website: http://springgardenchurch.ca/delve/
Engaging Children in Prayers of the People
Gene Tempelmeyer, Lead Pastor at Spring Garden Church
A school mate had a watch with a fancy stop watch built into it (this was in the days before ordinary people owned digital anything). When used why he needed such a device he explained he was time keeper for a game he and his church buddies played each Sunday in which they guessed to the second how long the morning prayer would last.
“When its Pastor Madden its never shorter than five minutes,” he informed me. “Last week it was seven minutes and 38 seconds. Seven minutes and 38 seconds!”
In retrospect I would say my friend was not engaging in congregational prayer very well.
As I’ve thought about how to engage kids in Prayers of the People it makes we wonder how we’re actually doing engaging adults. Sometime I would like to speak with whoever thought it would be a good idea to ask people to close their eyes when they pray. My problem is that I am now conditioned to close my eyes when I pray. Unfortunately, I am also conditioned to fall asleep when I close my eyes. This is not a good combination!
It is important for us to pray as a community: to bring our needs and the need of the wider world before God; to seek forgiveness of sin, personal and corporate; to offer God our collective thanks. It can be a challenge, though, making prayer in a large group a participatory activity.
Sometimes we address this by writing thoughtful prayers in advance that we can pray together responsively from a prepared liturgy. But if we used such liturgy every week we would lose a degree of spontaneity many of us also seek. The good news is that figuring out how to help children learn to participate in a prayer someone on the platform leads may help us how to figure out how to participate better, ourselves.
Perhaps the most important way to help our kids engage at prayer in worship is by engaging them in prayer at home. Followers of Jesus ought to consider prayer a natural response to things that happen in life: news stories that are frightening; incidents at school; challenges that are difficult to meet. Of course, prayer ought also to be positive: thankfulness for good friends, happy times, and things we enjoy. Prayer in the home should not be limited simply to the predictable prayer times before meals and bed – although they are a great place to start.
That said, meal time prayers might be the best place to help equip kids for Prayers of the People.
Mealtime prayer collects the prayer of several people at once. Here are some things you might want to try in your mealtime prayers to help acclimatize your children to group prayer:
- If prayer is a normal response we should make it normal. When you pray in front of your kids, use a normal tone of voice at a normal volume using normal daily language. Speak to God as you would speak in normal conversation that includes both kids and other adults. And can we, please, dispense with the idea that you have to have your eyes closed to pray. Isn’t it easier to thank God for the roast beef when you can see and smell it? (Of course, if you are serving lima beans and Brussels sprouts go ahead and have them close their eyes.)
- Take turns leading prayer from meal to meal. Kids should lead sometimes, and they should participate by following sometimes. When it is their turn to pray, let them pray what they want how they want. They might have something they would rather talk to God about than your roast beef and lima beans. Let them know that prayer is a key to their unique relationship with God. If you are puzzled why they are praying about something irrelevant – ask. You might learn something important.
- Remember that, just like adults, kids are different. Some will find the exercise of prayer natural, others will find it more difficult. Some will sit still, others will squirm in their chair. Some will go along with the flow of the family’s spiritual life, some will noisily splash their way against the stream. Some attention spans are long, some are short. Let each child be exactly who they are as you pray together. Know that as your child grows and matures you will see changes in how they respond to spiritual – and all other kinds – of stimuli.
Next Sunday, we will keep the kids upstairs for a few extra minutes so they can begin to learn how to be part of a church praying congregationally. Some things you might want to do to prepare your child for this.
- Explain that they will have the chance to pray with the whole church. We will keep the Prayers of the People simple and brief. We will also include a time of quiet so they can silently pray for things important to them. You might want to get them thinking about this in advance.
- Before we worship on Feb 15 ask if there is anything they would like the whole church to pray about. When you arrive, speak with Gene and the request will be included. Don’t dismiss any request as being too small or trivial. Prayer is relational. We want our kids to know that God cares about what they care about, and we also want them to know that we care about what they care about, too. Our willingness as a church community to take kids seriously is a way in which we build into them a foundation for their relationship with God.
- Debrief with them after worship how they experienced our prayer time. Could they understand what was going on? Did they feel like they were praying? Of course, don’t expect a 15 year old answer from a four year old child!
Next month we will be teaching the kids about the offering. If you have seen or experienced something that would help introduce kids to how to think about and participate in the offering, please let Gene know.