Dear Worship Leaders and Planners

I love doing jigsaw puzzles, whether it’s a 1,500-piece Thomas Kinkade painting spread across my in-laws’ dining room table at Christmas or a 15-piece Thomas the Tank Engine puzzle with my child on the kitchen floor. There’s something so satisfying about the way each piece has been crafted for a particular location, and as you examine shapes and shades you find a way to build something whole and beautiful piece by piece.

Do you have moments when you sit down at your desk, open up a blank Google document or new week on Planning Center, and feel like you’re about to start assembling a jigsaw puzzle? There are the standard components in your worship service that don’t change from week to week. Put those pieces in. Then there are the seasonal elements for holidays, holy days, or denominational days. Add those pieces to your pile. Will you be having the Lord’s Supper or a baptism this week? Put in the piece. Has something happened in your community or elsewhere in the world that needs attending to? Is it a meaningful Sunday to the church, either for celebration or for grieving? Leave ample space for those pieces because they are often last minute and always important. Will there be people worshiping online, listening on the radio, or watching a recording? Make sure there are pieces to include them as well. By the time you’ve identified all those pieces, sometimes all you can do is find a way to connect some of them and vow to incorporate the leftover pieces another week.

I want to affirm you and tell you that you are doing hard and holy work. The fact that each week God’s people are gathered for worship and the Holy Spirit is present in the worship of your community is a testament to God’s faithfulness at work within your planning efforts. Whether it was a week you barely pulled it together or a week where you were energized and ready to go, God’s name was praised.

There are many puzzle pieces that might never have been taken out of the box. During the pandemic years, some of us discovered new pieces and were able to try them out; others of us ended up putting well-worn and even beloved pieces back in the box because they just didn’t fit. And now many of our congregations are trying to figure out what pieces are necessary to make their worship feel right and complete once again. As many of our churches begin to evaluate some of these pieces with new eyes, I want to encourage you to think about how to include our children not just as worshipers, but as worship leaders. This puzzle piece is vitally important for them and for you.

Children and youth need to be reminded that their presence matters. The church laments the time when we weren’t able to gather in person with people of all ages. We didn’t just miss the cute Christmas pageants with children in sheep ears and angel halos. We missed the children themselves. We missed their wonder, their curiosity, and their life. We missed them as our brothers and sisters in Christ who bear God’s image. We missed them as those who experience and engage worship every bit as meaningfully as we do, who often open our eyes to see the ways God is working in the world through a whole new lens. We missed them as fellow worshipers whose voices join in to mirror the resounding praise in heaven above. When we intentionally involve them in church life and leadership, we communicate that their presence with us as equal worshipers matters.

Children and youth need to be reminded that their leadership matters. Of course we did actually miss the children acting in pageants and singing Sunday school songs. But their participation isn’t just about making cute videos to send to grandparents. When our children lead us in worship—as a group, as a family, or on their own—they are not performing for recognition. They are worshiping! God’s call to worship is every bit as much for them as it is for adults. We want them to worship in ways they can understand and engage with their young bodies and minds. We want to honor what the Holy Spirit is doing in and through them and how God might be using them. We do this best when we involve them as leaders—when we mirror what they are doing instead of always expecting them to follow us. Their worship is genuine and real, and there are times we need to follow them.

Children and youth need to be reminded that their perspectives matter. I wonder what it would look like if you sat down on the metaphorical kitchen floor with a child of your congregation and started building the puzzle together? And what if we did that from the posture of “What can I learn about worship and about God from you?” instead of from a posture of teaching the “right” way to worship? I wonder how the past two years have affected our younger minds and how they might want to lament the brokenness and the pain they’ve experienced in their lives. I wonder what questions or memories they have when they hear water pouring into a baptismal font and over a forehead. I wonder what they wonder.

As both a parent and a worship planner, I know that giving children and youth leadership responsibilities in worship takes extra work. It is easier to hand off a Scripture reading to an adult who can practice on their own. It is simpler to ask someone who has an email address and doesn’t need additional permission to participate so you can put one more piece securely in its place as Sunday draws closer. It is far less stressful to have a predictable soloist who won’t need extra rehearsals and multiple sound checks. But I urge you to consider recent worship shifts from a child’s perspective. How confusing it must have been to lose the stability and rhythm of Sunday worship, instead being at home with a bowl of goldfish crackers or in a sanctuary sitting far apart from other worshipers! What have they learned and observed about church, about worship, and about God? Now is the time to ensure that their presence and participation in church is not just tolerated, but fully embraced as a vital part of worship. These pieces might require additional time to fit into the puzzle, but including children where they rightly belong brings us one step closer to a fuller picture of God’s grace and God’s presence in our worship each week. Each piece matters.

Praying that every person in your church find their place in this glorious picture,

A fellow worship leader and planner

Kathryn Ritsema Roelofs is a commissioned pastor in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and serves as a worship specialist with Thrive, a ministry of the CRC. She is also the managing director of the Worship for Workers project through Fuller Seminary. 

Reformed Worship 144 © June 2022, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.