“Teaching Children to Worship,” Ensign, Jan. 2007, 24–27
When the Savior ministered to the Nephites following His Resurrection, He took care to include the children in the transcendent acts of worship that took place. It is recorded that “he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.” He said to the multitude, “Behold your little ones.” The adults watched in awe as angels descended “as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and … the angels did minister unto them” (3 Nephi 17:21, 23, 24).
Our children were not there; nor were they present during the Savior’s mortal ministry when He said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). Yet our children are also precious to Him, and their hearts can be touched by the Holy Ghost. One of His opportunities to so touch our children is in sacrament meeting, the sacred worship service held in His name for all Church members.
Even very small children can experience the beautiful, sacred, tender feelings bestowed by the Holy Spirit, and all children have a need and a right to do so. For our children to feel the Spirit, they need to take part in sacrament meeting and be tranquil enough to sense the whisperings of the still, small voice. It is not always easy, but we can teach our children to “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). In addition to setting an example of reverence for children, parents, relatives, teachers, and leaders may find the following thoughts useful in helping children to experience reverent worship.
The teaching of reverent worship begins at home. The earlier this teaching begins with young children, the easier it is. We need to teach our children how important it is to feel the Spirit; what to do to obtain these special, sacred feelings; and how to recognize them. We can also try to provide quiet moments conducive to the Spirit in the home. Many families have daily devotionals with scripture reading and hymn singing, in addition to family home evening.
Parents can take time in the home to explain to little ones why we attend sacrament meeting. During family prayers we can ask the Lord to help each child understand what we are trying to teach them.
We can remind our children before Church meetings what will happen and how we will all take part: “We enter the chapel quietly. We sit down together as a family and listen to the prelude music. When we listen to the music, we are getting ready for the sacrament service and can feel the Spirit. This is a happy feeling of peace and calm.”
Children can likewise be taught to listen in silence for the few minutes of a special musical number. Music is a vehicle of the Spirit, and children can feel that Spirit even if they don’t understand the words.
Children of all ages can enjoy taking part in the hymns at various levels. Tiny children love to listen for repeated phrases in the text. A great many of our hymns have such phrases or choruses, and we can help little ones to hear the words. If we whisper upcoming words into the child’s ear, he or she will hear the words as they are sung. For example, at the beginning of the chorus we might whisper, “Listen for ‘Jesus shows his smiling face,’” and then watch the smile spread on the child’s face when the congregation sings those words.
As children grow older, they can learn to join in the singing of these special phrases. Children love to sing, “Oh, it is wonderful” or “Glory to God” or “Beautiful day.” Gradually, children can join in longer parts, whole choruses, and eventually the entire hymn. It helps if we practice at home.
Children who can read a little can learn to read the hymns in the same gradual way, and they have a great sense of accomplishment in doing so. This sets a pattern for them so that as they become teenagers they will be more likely to continue singing the hymns.
Children can learn to pray from the earliest age. At home, instructed by parents, even tiny children fold their arms and bow their heads with the rest of the family. The same happens in sacrament meeting during the invocation, benediction, and sacrament prayers. We can read the beautiful, meaningful sacrament prayers at home with our children, explaining to them at the level of their understanding what the words mean. It may be helpful for some older children to try to memorize the prayers. As with the hymns, they will “hear” the words if they know what they are. We can also explain the meaning of the sacrament in a way that our children can understand.
We can do much to help our children appreciate the talks given in sacrament meeting. President Spencer W. Kimball counseled: “An occasional whispered comment to clarify … the speaker’s message may help the child to relate to what is happening. For example, the father could whisper, ‘That is Gordy’s daddy speaking now. He’s talking about pioneers.’”1
From time to time the parent can also briefly summarize what is being said and draw the children’s attention to any scripture stories they would recognize: “You know this story! It’s about Abinadi and King Noah.”
Of course all this must be done in very quiet whispers, into the child’s ear, so as not to distract others.
Some parents may reason, “Our children are reverent until after the sacrament has been passed, and we feel that is enough.” But the whole meeting is devoted to worship, and our children are invited to all of it. We take the sacrament to remember the Savior’s Atonement and to renew our covenants with Him. The talks are extensions of that remembrance and commitment.
Our children need to feel and show respect for the speakers. We can lovingly counsel our children: “I know you don’t understand everything, but the speakers will tell us what they feel the Lord wants us to learn. I’ll help you understand a little, and then we’ll talk about it more after we get home.”
When we sit with investigator friends in church, we long for them to feel the Spirit and be converted. In a sense our children are also our investigators. Do we not feel the same longing for them?
Many people come to sacrament meeting with a desire to draw closer to the Lord and to be inspired by the Holy Ghost. Irreverent behavior by any of us can distract others from the desire to worship. Elder Alexander B. Morrison, who served as a member of the Seventy from 1989 to 2000, tells about African sacrament meetings: “Everyone, children and adults alike, watches the speaker with intense, rapt concentration. There is no squirming on the benches, no wandering in and out for drinks of water, no visits to the restroom. Under such circumstances the level of spirituality in sacrament meetings is high.”2
We cannot force our children to worship, but we can help them to behave in ways that invite the Spirit. Each child is unique, of course, and what works with one may not work with another. But parents who prayerfully determine to help their children worship and feel the Spirit will find to their joy that they are entitled to revelation and inspiration on the matter.
In addition to the immediate family, others can encourage reverence and respect from children. Speakers can use simple language and include familiar scripture stories. Music directors and organists can include music that the children will recognize and enjoy. Priesthood leaders can work to ensure that the meetings invite the Holy Spirit to be present.
Worship services are a tremendous opportunity for children to learn about self-control and respect for the rights and needs of others. These sacred gatherings are occasions for all of us to work together to help children learn to feel and desire the ministrations of the Holy Spirit. Then as they grow they will gain a deep, abiding love for the Savior, a love that will sustain them on the strait and narrow path back into His arms.
“We need to strengthen our sacrament meetings and make them hours of worship in very deed. Cultivate a spirit of reverence, an attitude in which people come into the chapel and are quiet and reverent and thoughtful. … Sacrament meeting ought to be a time of spiritual refreshment for our people, when, on Sunday, they gather to partake of the sacrament and renew their covenants with the Lord.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Regional Conference, Apr. 27, 1996; quoted in Ensign, Aug. 1997, 6; July 1997, 73.