When we teach kids about worship, we often model it through singing. After all, the Scriptures make it clear that we are to “make a joyful noise to the Lord” (Psalm 98:4) and “come before Him with singing” (Psalm 100:2 ESV). Scripture even invites us to compose songs and perform them with musical instruments (Psalm 150:3). Indeed, children should learn that “it is good to sing praises to the Lord” (Psalm 147:1 ESV).
But if kids grow up thinking worship = singing, there’s a problem. Romans 12:1 reminds us that our spiritual act of worship is to present our entire bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. To surrender all we have—mind, soul, heart, and body—to the will of the Father is true worship.
This is where it gets tricky when you write a worship album for kids. Because you’re subconsciously telling them, “If you sing these songs, you are worshipping.” There are multiple problems with this message:
- Just because you sing songs about God does not mean you are worshiping. Worship is an overflow of the heart. Worship through song is when the mouth is declaring what the mind believes, what the heart trusts, and what the soul rests in. To sing is simply to inflect your voice along with music. To worship through song is to declare with your lips what you’re choosing to believe by faith. When you and I are standing in a church service, we cannot know who is singing and who is worshiping through song. Only God knows that. After all, man sees the outward appearance, but the Lord sees the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). It is our job to teach kids the difference, to remind them that singing songs and worshiping God are simply not the same thing.
- Our worship cannot terminate on singing songs. If all you could do with a basketball is shoot free throws, I would not want you on my team. And if all you knew how to play on a piano were the chords, I would not invite you to play at my wedding. In the same way, even if our worship through song is a real overflow of the heart, we cannot call ourselves true worshipers if that’s all we do. To worship God is to surrender your will to His will, to take up your cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24), to love Him so much that you obey what He says (John 14:21), and to offer your entire body as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). To worship God is to live as if you believe the lyrics in the songs you sing on Sunday are true, and that the God you are singing about is real. We must remind children that when the music stops, our worship can continue.
- Sometimes we are worshiping even if we are not singing. If worship does not only mean singing, then I can also worship without singing. I can be silent in a room where everyone else is singing, and I can still be worshiping God. Why? Because Jesus says that true worshipers “worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24 ESV). I might be silently having a conversation with God or I might be meditating on Scripture the Lord just brought to mind. I might be begging God to have mercy on me for a sin I committed that morning or entreating Him to answer a prayer I’ve been praying for weeks. Again, man looks at the outward appearance (including moving lips), but the Lord looks at the heart (including a heart that is bent toward Him, even if my mouth is closed). So when a child refuses to sing, we must not assume he or she is in active rebellion against God. We must remember that true worshippers worship “in spirit and in truth,” and sometimes that simply won’t involve singing a song.
Because KIDS at the Austin Stone wants to teach children that worship is more than singing, we decided to write a family worship guide to accompany the “Only Jesus” album. Through this guide, parents and children are encouraged to
- Read the Scripture passage that supports the lyrics in the song.
- Read the devotional that offers an explanation of the Scripture and connects it to real life.
- Apply the Scripture to the mind through discussion, to the spirit through prayer, and to life through taking action.
Consider the song “Jesus Forever.” Here are the lyrics to verse 1:
Before there was time, You were up in the highest place
Leaving Your home, You came down to make a way
There was nobody else, no other Name can save
You’ve stolen our hearts and given us everything
We want to lift You higher
We want kids learning these lyrics, worshiping God by singing them, and using them as a springboard for daily worship throughout the week. So we wrote two devotionals, one that explores what Colossians 1:13-17 teaches about Jesus’s eternal nature, and another that highlights the vision in Revelation 7:9-17 where people of every tongue, tribe, and nation gather together around the throne to praise Jesus. It is our hope that as families dig into these Scriptures and engage with the discussions, prayers, and action steps in the devotionals, every person will want to “offer their bodies as a living sacrifice” to this Jesus they are singing to, this Jesus who reigns forever!
In the end, it is good and right for children to sing catchy songs with theologically rich lyrics. But it is even better for them to understand the fullness of what God calls us to in worship. It is better that they think, ‘How does all of this impact my life when the music stops?’ If we can get kids to understand, first of all, that they need to ask that question, and then invite them to answer it for themselves, we are on our way to teaching them the true meaning of worship.