Even the babies shout out

While attending a remembrance about the ongoing atrocities occurring in the Congo, my husband and I attended our friend, Emile's, Congolese church.

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.

During worship, we sat with a couple of my high school students. Throughout worship, baby Hope got passed around, moving from one set of eager arms to another.

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.

Babies, too.

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.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and the forthcoming A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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