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London, England – Have you ever been to church when the music of the children was being featured? It is amazing who shows up ? friends, schoolteachers, grandparents, etc… There is always excitement in the air, as you never know what might happen (and many times does!) The promise of the future can be seen in the face of each child.
Indeed, the childhood years are critical for establishing Christian values in the lives of our young ones and the future of our church music programs begins right here. Are we being deliberate in what children are taught early on or are we just providing “fun” times and teaching everything by rote?
Recently, while leading a chapel in the college where I was teaching on the hymns of Isaac Watts, I was very intrigued by Dr. Watt’s interest in the education of children in the church. He wrote one of the first collections of hymns for children in 1715 entitled, Divine and Moral Songs. His preface is addressed “to all that are concerned in the education of children.” He makes four points regarding the advantages of teaching children Christian songs, which I will paraphrase:
1. Teaching the truths of scripture to children by using music is an excellent and easy way for them to learn because of the rhymes, meters, and the melodies. It is an enjoyable way to learn as well.
2. The truths that children learn in song are remembered longer and easily recalled which will help them overcome temptations and encourage Godly behavior.
3. The songs they learn will be valuable when sung meditatively when they are alone and may fill a void that is so easily filled by many secular songs that do not encourage Godly living.
4. These divine songs will be useful to young people as they participate and become involved in times of worship, in the home and in the church.
Many say that children learn more theology from the songs that they sing than in the sermons that they hear. If this is true, then the church has a great responsibility to ensure that the music, which we teach our little ones, is scripturally sound, age appropriate, memorable, and in musical styles which positively represent each church’s individual tradition.
Some questions that we might ask ourselves are:
Does our music teach children ?
• to worship God?
• to enjoy Christian fellowship with other believers?
• to live a life for God?
• the great truths and stories of the Christian faith?
Of course, every song will not address all of these questions, but the overall repertoire of the music we expose our kids to should. During the Christmas season, children learn many carols that actually do address these questions. However, what about at other times of the year? Do the songs we teach mainly focus on one of these?
Another thing to briefly consider is the music education aspect. Many churches would like to have a good or better music program with skilled musicians to assist. Well, it all begins at a young age. If all we ever teach our children is to sing along to CD tracks by rote, with no teaching of musical reading skills, then in fifteen years, don’t be surprised if the church’s newest choir members are unable read music. With a little effort, children can learn a lot about music!
Yes, everyone loves to hear the children sing in our churches. It is a very cold heart that is not moved when a child sings about the love of God. However, more important than the congregation’s response, is the instilling of Christian values and worship in the lives of our children. Children are the future of our churches. We owe it to them to give careful thought to the music that they sing.
James M. Stevens
Senior Music and Culture Advisor
Dr. James Michael Stevens is a prolific musician and published composer of over 200 songs. Winner of numerous ASCAP Standard Awards for Composition, he has formally served as President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Chapter of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), and currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee as Chairman of the Music Department at Free Will Baptist Bible College.