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Have you ever been to church when the music of children was featured? It is amazing who shows up¾friends, schoolteachers, grandparents, and more. Excitement fills the air, because you never know what might happen (and it often does). As young voices fill the auditorium, the promise of the future glows on the face of each child.
Indeed, the childhood years are critical for establishing Christian values in children, and the future of church music programs begins right here. Are we deliberate about what children are taught early, or do we just provide “fun time,” teaching everything by rote?
While preparing for a chapel service at Free Will Baptist Bible College on the hymns of Isaac Watts, I was intrigued by Dr. Watts’ interest in the education of children in the church. He wrote one of the first collections of hymns for children in 1715 titled, Divine and Moral Songs. His preface addressed “all that are concerned in the education of children.”
Watts makes four points regarding the advantages of teaching children Christian songs, which I will paraphrase:
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 melodies. It is an enjoyable way to learn as well.
The truths children learn in song are remembered longer and more easily recalled, which will help them overcome temptations and encourage godly behavior.
The songs they learn will be valuable when sung meditatively when they are alone and may fill a void easily filled by secular songs that do not encourage godly living.
These divine songs will be useful to young people as they participate and become involved in worship at home and church.
Four Important Questions
Many say that children learn more theology from songs they sing than from sermons they hear. If this is true, the church has a great responsibility to ensure that the music we teach our little ones is scripturally sound, age-appropriate, memorable, using musical styles which represent each church’s individual tradition in a positive way.
We might ask ourselves four probative questions regarding our children and their music:
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, not every song will address these questions, but it should be true of the overall repertoire of the music we teach our kids. During the Christmas season, children learn many carols that do address these questions. However, what about other times of the year? Do the songs we teach mainly focus on one of these four important questions?
Future Begins Now
Briefly consider the music education aspect. Many churches would like to have a good music program with skilled musicians. It all begins at a young age.
If we simply teach our children to sing along to CD tracks by rote, without teaching them to read music, don’t be surprised in 15 years when the church’s newest choir members are musically illiterate. With a little effort, children can learn a lot about music.
Everyone loves to hear the children sing in our churches. It is a very cold heart that is unmoved 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. We owe it to them to give careful thought to the music they sing.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Dr. James Stevens is a prolific musician and published composer of more than 200 songs. He is the winner of numerous ASCAP Standard Awards for Composition. He chairs the Music Department at Free Will Baptist Bible College. Dr. Stevens writes a column for Christian Today and serves as its senior music and culture advisor.
Reprinted by permission from Christian Today, June 28, 2006, edition.