MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA (May 1, 2015) — On a recent Sunday in the small rural town of El Hato, children attending the local Covenant Church of Colombia congregation helped lead worship for the first time. They sang, played instruments, and shared from the Scriptures.
It was the start of a new way of involving children in the whole life of the church. Pastor Franklin Manuel Sanchez and his church had already begun to include youth in worship. Although they wanted to involve children more, they didn’t know how.
The change came after the church hosted a workshop led by Katie Isaza, project missionary to Colombia, who is helping with local church planting and leadership development, and Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, professor of theology and ethics at North Park Theological Seminary.
“It was encouraging to see the leaders recognizing that often they don’t take into account the children’s needs in the church, that often they are overlooked—but that they are committed to changing that,” Isaza said. “We spent a lot of time asking questions and listening.”
Children attended part of the workshop and offered additional insights for the adults and teens who minister to them. “We took advantage of having the children present. The adults and youth asked them how they wanted to participate more in church and how they would imagine the worship service to be,” Isaza said.
The stop in El Hato was part of a nine-day trip during which Isaza and Clifton-Soderstrom held workshops in Medellín, El Hato, Monteria, and Baranquilla. “We had rich discussions on why intergenerational worship is powerful and important,” said Clifton-Soderstrom, who co-authored with fellow seminary professor David Bjorlin the recently published book Incorporating Children in Worship: Mark of the Kingdom.
“We began with the question of what worship would look like were it to be planned with children in mind—even planned by children,” Clifton-Soderstrom said. “They analyzed their situations including the barriers and things they would need to overcome to include children. The teaching time focused on the importance of children and youth in the narrative of Scripture and how they can guide the adults into deeper faith, hope, and love.”
There is no one way to incorporate children into worship, and each group brainstormed about ways to involve children in their particular context, Clifton-Soderstrom said.
“One of the most intriguing ideas was the practice of having older youth mentoring children in worship,” Clifton-Soderstrom said. “That is something that would be easy to do, and be empowering both for the youth and the children.”