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Entries in children in worship (5)


Jesus Loves Me releases TODAY!

A while back, Coral Ridge Music purposed to write kids' songs for our local church that gave shape to the liturgical rhythms we hope to instill in our little ones. We wrote several songs that our kids currently sing, and we're writing more. We've written songs of praise, songs of confession, and songs of grace and absolution. The first-fruits of this labor was a project tackled by our interns this past summer: the laying down of our additional verses to "Jesus Loves Me." Our goal with this was to provide simple ways for kids to sing about sin and grace. We wanted it to be accessible, yet profound. Below are the lyrics. We hope you enjoy it. It's available everywhere, and it only costs a buck!

iTunes | Bandcamp | Spotify

Jesus Loves Me (Lyrics)

1. Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak but He is strong

Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so 

2. Though I try to run away
God pursues me every day
Sin might lead o’er farthest hill
Jesus’ grace goes farther still

3. Though the enemy accuse
What I have, I cannot lose:
This is mine, no more, no less
Jesus blood and righteousness!

4. When I doubt in guilt and shame
God reminds me of my name:
Child, adopted by the King
He’s my Father, so I sing:

Words: Anna B. Warner, 1860 (verse 1); William Bradbury, 1862 (refrain); Zac Hicks, 2014 (verses 2-4)
Music: William Bradbury, 1862 

Exciting New Projects for Coral Ridge Music

I want to share two things that we're doing with Coral Ridge Music that really light my fire. They are extensions and expressions of the way that we're trying to think pastorally about the way we write and produce music for our local church...with the hope that it will help some other churches out there, too.

A Kids' Worship EP

One of the things we felt burdened to do was to translate for kids some of the ways we're experiencing the Law and the Gospel in worship at Coral Ridge. We also want to be able to bless the young families that are a part of our community by giving them something to bump in their minivans and at home. So, we've tasked our summer interns (Scott Bajgrowicz, Dasia Canales, Caleb Koornneef, & DJ Vining) with recording a kids' EP of six songs. Some of them are simplified rewrites of previously recorded songs, like, "His Be the Victor's Name," and "Wake Up Sleeper." Others are fresh takes on some children's classics: "Jesus Loves Me" has some added verses that flesh out grace for our kids; "Father Abraham" (with a modified tune) weds some sweet covenant theology and Christological themes into a classic. Yet other songs are attempting to liturgically train our kids to experience the gospel narrative in worship, so we've written a confession song called, "I'm Sorry, God," that walks through in a simple way the "thought, word, and deed" of sin in our lives.  This is a blitz project and will be ready for our families and the broader public in the fall. Keep on the lookout for a Kickstarter campaign by our Terns! 

A "Feedback Panel" for Some New Worship Tunes

Julie Anne Vargas and I have been in the woodshed, working on new songs. I can honestly say that I've never worked so hard and put so much effort into crafting these texts and melodies. Many of these songs have been wrestled into submission. We're adding a layer, though, to the songwriting process. Tonight, we're bringing together a small swath of our congregation, along with some friends and local area worship leaders for a "Worship Night Song Panel," where we'll present these songs, talk about them, solicit feedback, and sing them together. Before we fully commit to these songs, we want to create a safe space for them to "hit" our congregation in order to see what sticks. We're anticipating that this night will give us some important insight on the traction that these songs will or will not have in our community. We'll go through six songs in a conversational, coffee house-style format and hopefully God will bless us with a rich sense of His presence among us. We want to worship our way through this experience.

These songs will travel through this process and then hopefully make it on to an EP or LP due out in February 2016.

If you all have done similar things in your churches, I'd be very curious how the process went for you...what it looked like, how successful it was, some do's and don't's you learned. Please comment!


Can Kids be Formed by Worship Even if They Can’t Understand It?

The local assembly that I've had the privilege of serving alongside for the last nearly six years tries to cut against the grain by not catering to any one demographic but intentionally seeking to be intergenerational in our approach to community, discipleship, and worship.  With regards to kids, this means that we don’t view worship as an “adult activity” and then shove off our kids to do crafts in the basement.

In the last twenty years or so, developmental theory has greatly influenced the church in how her children are nurtured in the faith.  New approaches to corporate children’s education are manifesting themselves in new kinds of curricula and kids’ programming that take into account the developmental stages of children. 

You can imagine that, at a church like ours, we have lots of healthy, passionate conversations on staff and leadership levels about how our kids are engaging or not engaging our worship services.  When we wrestle through feelings that our kids are not engaging, the first card that usually gets flipped is the child development card.  “Kids are just not at a point in their development to be able to grasp and imbibe certain aspects of our worship (preaching is often mentioned here),” we say.  Responding to this, churches often adopt one of three postures: (1) too bad, the kids stay in and hopefully learn to “grow into” it; (2) have the kids depart the service for some or all of the time for a more age-appropriate activity; or (3) change an aspect (or, in rare cases, all) of the service to be more kid-friendly.

All of this, however, hinges on a certain understanding of learning which is challenged by James K. A. Smith in his book, Desiring the Kingdom.  Firstly, what if we owned up to the fact that some, or even much, of Christian worship is not something that kids can fully grasp at their stage of development, and that worship for them is just “going through the motions?”  But, secondly, what if we had a learning theory broad enough to include “going through the motions” as a strong and valuable part of the formational process of learning?

In other words, what if our kids are shaped by the acts, structure, and flow of worship (including the sermon) even if they don’t understand it all?  What if the rote prayers, the stand-up-sit-down, the confession, the Doxology, the singing, the Call to Worship, the reading and preaching of the Scriptures, and Communion have a formative quality to them not only as they are understood cognitively (which is important for the most full-orbed experience, by the way) but also as they are enacted by the people of God?

Smith says:

It is important also to keep in mind that worship is best understood on the order of action, not reflection; worship is something that we do. And even if we don’t think about it in this reflective way—and even if some of us (children, the mentally handicapped) can’t think about it in this way—the core claim of this book is that the practices of Christian worship do this work nonetheless because of the kind of creatures we are. The practices carry their own understanding that is implicit with them, and that understanding can be absorbed and imbibed in our imaginations without having to kick into a mode of cerebral reflection. Reflection certainly deepens the doing; but the point is that there is always more happening: our imagination is being formed in ways that we are not (and perhaps cannot be) aware of.1

Smith goes on in a footnote to admit what is implicit here, namely, that “the motions” are valuable in and of themselves:

I recognize that some might be uncomfortable with this claim, since it seems to suggest that there can be some sort of virtue in “going through the motions.” On this point I’m afraid I have to confess that I do indeed think this is true.  While it is not ideal, I do think that there can be a sort of implanting of the gospel that happens simply by virtue of participating in liturgical practices.”2

It is not that developmental theory and important educational concepts like learning styles are unimportant.  It is that they are incomplete when it comes to asking the question about how worship forms us and our kids.  We need to be able to reframe the questions we ask when we’re evaluating the kid-friendly nature of our worship services.  Sure, our kids will say they’re bored, and many, if not most, couldn’t regurgitate the propositional content of the form and elements of the worship service.  Sure, this is something that goes on in the life of a child for a long, long time.  Nevertheless, we have now seen that it is probably making a big, unqualified leap to say that, because of this, our kids aren’t “getting” anything out of worship and should therefore be somewhere else.

The only thing left to ask is, How do we apply this in a cultural age where parents expect to have a certain kind of worship experience without their kids?  How does this work when, in our consumer-oriented climate, parents who are visiting a church will decide yea or nay on staying there based on how much they had to “fuss with” their kids in worship versus how much they were able to shove them off so that they could have their ideal experience?  Whew…important questions…for another post.

1 James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 166-167.
2 Ibid., 167, n. 29.

Maundy Thursday at Pictures

(Special thanks to Paul Adams Photo for the oustanding photography!)

Our annual Maundy Thursday Family Service at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Denver is probably one of the more unique times of worship that I've ever been a part of.  It is an interactive, multi-sensory, truly intergenerational experience.  We started doing it in this format four or five years ago, and it's quickly become a tradition.  Several years ago, God convicted our staff and leadership about our lack of attention to children as full-fledged worshipers.  We began a slow but persistent overhaul of how we thought about and engaged children in worship, and the Maundy Thursday Family Service was a part of that process.

We observed how high and formal our Good Friday Service was, and we wanted to be able to allow for a service where our kids would feel less on the outskirts, straining to understand, and more in the inner circle, quite literally.  So we devised a more informal worship service that included dinner as a part of the worship service. Dinner...yeah, it's biblical...and maybe it's especially appropriate for Maundy Thursday, a day commemorating the happenings in the Upper Room and Christ's great mandatum (where we get the word "Maundy"): "a new command I give one another."

As best as we can, with the supplies we have, we transform center court of our multi-purpose center into a replica of what the original Last Supper table might have looked like.  The seating most likely would have been a Roman triclinium setup, with a U-shaped table, where those participating would have reclined forward on cushions.  We modify this idea, creating a center table on floor-level where, during a portion of the service, the kids come to gather for an interactive teaching time, bringing pillows around the table's edge, where the kids, while munching, learn about what the Last Supper would have been like and what Communion is all about (the adults end up learning a bit, too.)

With circular dining tables surrounding center court, we create a pretty communal atmosphere.  People share a meal that would have (slightly) resembled a typical first century meal: fish, chicken (because fish is scary for some), dates, grapes, bread, and a few slight variations like hummus and cheese.  And that's how the service begins, with people eating, talking, and enjoying one another's company.  We opened the meal in prayer.

Zac Hicks (guitar), Lucille Reilly (recorder, hammered dulcimer), Paul Adams (percussion)This year, as dinner was wrapping up, our ensemble (me on guitar, a percussionist, and a hammered dulcimerist) led some music (Rich Mullins' "Creed," to connect communion with the Apostles' Creed), with the congregation joining in on Matt Redman's "How Great is Your Faithfulness," interspersed with amazing, lengthy recitations from three of our kids on God's faithfulness in Christ through every book of the Bible.  The people cheered each kid on, and we were all moved by God's faithfulness from Genesis through Revelation.

We gathered all the kids around for the table experience, which is always a magical, unforgettable encounter, led by our Director of Student Ministries, Chris Piehl.

Our senior pastor, Brad Strait, then taught briefly on Communion and instituted the elements.  As our people came forward to receive the Lord's Supper, whole families came, and kids not ready to receive Communion were invited to take from a cluster of grapes that one of our youth were holding alongside our elders with the bread and cup.

We played an instrumental version of "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded," adapted for guitar and recorder, pulling from J. S. Bach's arrangement along with some of Paul Simon's variation on the tune in the last verse.  

Our music moved into one of our favorite Communion songs at CCPC, "We Will Dance," a Vineyard song by David Ruis that does a really nice job bringing the festive, eschatological themes of the Eucharist to the fore--lots of longing for the Second Coming and the marriage feast of the Lamb:

Sing a song of celebration, lift up a shout of praise
For the bridegroom is come, the glorious One
And oh, we will look on His face,
We'll go to a much better place

So dance with all your might
Lift up your hands and clap for joy
For the time's drawing near
When He will appear
And oh, we will stand by His side
A strong, pure, spotless bride

We will dance on the streets that are golden
The glorious bride and the great Son of Man
And every tribe and tongue and nation
Will join in the song of the Lamb 

Words & Music: David Ruis; ©1993 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing

The final part of the service was an interactive time of people grabbing a few inches of chain from the center of their tables, tying red ribbons on them, symbolizing sins that we're holding, burdens that we're carrying, and bonds holding us down.  Then, while singing "Amazing Grace," people came to center-court and threw our chains down.  

It was a moving experience to hear the chains slamming against the table; it made the freedom of the good news God's grace through Jesus all the more visceral.  After a prayer and the benediction, people left with a strong sense of the "heavy joy" of Maundy Thursday evening.

We musicians shared in communion together at the close of the service.


Taking Children to Jesus in Worship

I just finished reading the fabulous booklet How Our Children Come to Faith, by Stephen Smallman (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2007).  I’m buying a bunch of copies for the young parents in my small group, and I’m now insisting that it be on hand at our church to give to parents who are bringing their children forward for baptism or simply interested in the topic.

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