One of the things I vividly remember about that worship service was the young children. There were just as many young children as there were adults. In fact, the young children may well have outnumbered the adults.
Yet, far from being bored by worship, these kids were engaged in it – especially with the music. Although few of them were old enough to read the lyrics, as soon as the music began, they jumped into the aisles, threw their arms up into the air, and began dancing excitedly, occasionally screaming as well. Rather than chastise them for doing so, the adults joined in, recognizing their contribution for what it was: Humble acts of worship to the One worthy of our praise.
As someone who was not yet a parent, I filed that image away in my memory.
On Sunday, I found myself thinking about it again.
At one point during a communion hymn, Hope cried out excitedly in a demonstration of her newfound vocal abilities. The girl holding her looked at me with a worried expression and quickly shifted her in a reflexive effort to try and silence her.
In that moment, my memory of the Congolese worship service emerged and I thought to myself, "Why is it that so often, we try to prevent babies from doing what they were created to do?"
I mean, at her four-month doctor's visit, Hope smiled at the doctor as soon as she entered the room. Immediately, the doctor commented, “People must smile at this baby a lot!”
Babies mimic the people around them.
When we smile, they smile.
Why then should we expect babies to be silent in worship? When everyone else is making noise, why shouldn't we expect them to mimic that as well? In the absence of words, of course those sounds will come out as screams and squeals.
Having realized this, I leaned over and assured my student that it was OK for Hope to squeal during the hymn and that she need not be self-conscious or try to silence her. I even said, “Hope is just singing along with us, joining us in worship.”
My student looked at me like I was a little nuts.
But you know what?
I don't think I am.
During Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Pharisees tell him to make his followers stop worshipping him, to stop praising him. In response, Jesus says, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19:40)
All of creation was made to worship its King.
So rather than silence our children during hymns, let's unashamedly affirm their natural response to join in our worship and make a joyful noise.
Better yet, may we unashamedly worship our King.
After all, if kids learn by mimicking adults, my prayer is that when they look around our sanctuaries, they won't see bored people fighting to stay awake, but rather people squealing, singing, dancing, and praising God.