How we made our children’s ministry classrooms like a worship gathering

July 7, 2021

I long wrestled with dissatisfaction around the schedule for each of our children’s ministry classrooms. Don’t get me wrong. My Type A personality loved the down-to-the-minute schedules handed to each lead teacher, and I felt a sense of success when things ran on time. Grasping to the slightest amount of order in a classroom of 3-year-olds felt like a win on a Sunday.

But my heart began to stir for our children and team members to make their way through an order of service that carried deep, theological purpose. I began to dream of making the moments we had with our children more aligned with the service their parents attended. From that desire was born our Paradox Kids classroom liturgy. 

Let me explain the basics of this classroom liturgy, and then I’ll walk you through how we train the volunteers at Paradox Church to use it. The word liturgy means “the work of the people.” The order of service we repeat as adults on Sunday morning is our work of service rendered unto God. And simply put, liturgy is the rhythms and patterns we rehearse every week as we gather for worship with God’s people. Even our youngest children can be invited to participate in liturgy rather than sitting back to observe or be entertained. The work we invite them to participate in — individual pieces of our classroom liturgy serve as habits and practices that shape their hearts to love and know Jesus.

We keep our children’s liturgy simple so that children will know the glory and grace of Jesus throughout our classroom time and their lives: we invite children in, preach the gospel, give room for response, and then send our littles out on mission. The five liturgical movements of the classroom liturgy are as follows:

This language gives our team members a vision to lead in the classroom, not merely serve as babysitters. By identifying the flow of our classroom environments with the flow of a worship service — God initiating and people responding — every volunteer can see how they fit into the work God is doing in our children’s hearts. 

Here is how it works. We have a poster on the classroom wall with the schedule/liturgy. Classroom time is broken down by minutes so that volunteers and children know what is coming next. Here is how each section of the schedule works. 

God gathers his people

God loves to be with his people.Throughout the Scriptures we see God pursuing his people. He gathered his people to the tabernacle and later to the Temple. He established festivals and sacrifices that called his people together to meet with him. Now God’s church gathers on Sundays because God dwells with and among us.

We remind our children’s ministry team members that it is God who brings families each Sunday. We greet them with kind eyes, soft smiles, and welcome children into the classrooms warmly as Jesus gathered children around him — saying each child’s name and getting on their level. As kids enter the classroom, they gather with their peers over a puzzle or coloring sheet, and we follow the Spirit in reminding kids about how God longs to dwell with his gathered children.

We pray to God for help

If you’re familiar with The New City Catechism, you may know that one of the questions is, “What is prayer?” The answer to the question is, “Prayer is pouring out our hearts to God.” This language communicates to kids that we can trust God. What a beautiful habit for our children to be taught. When they have a need, when they are suffering, when they are grateful, when they find joy outside of God, they can come and pour out their hearts to their Good Father.

I want every child in our ministry to stand in awe of God and his power and his might. I want them to tell stories of the God who is so close that he hears our every prayer, so mighty that he can part the Red Sea. We don’t shut down children’s prayer requests, knowing that what might seem silly to an adult is precious to Jesus. We train our teachers not to hinder the children in their classrooms by making prayer eloquent or fancy or by merely dictating the content of their requests. But rather to believe that God hears both our silly requests and our suffering requests. It is the pouring out of our hearts that matters.

We listen to God’s Word

The third movement in our classroom liturgy is the most central. When we gather as a congregation, we read the scriptures and hear them taught through the sermon. In the case of children’s ministry, the teacher’s “congregation” is made up of young children who were created by God to know and love his Word.

As Haylee Bowden, our current Paradox Kids Director, and I worked on training materials for the team, she wrote these words about this part of our liturgy: 

“Each week as you lead our kids to listen to God’s word, you are not leading them to listen to a historical story or learn helpful life lessons. You are leading them to commune with the God who made them, loves them, and desires to be in relationship with them. When we believe that God’s Word is true, alive, and that it changes us, we can freely lead children to listen to God’s Word. We don’t have to carry the weighty responsibility of changing kids’ hearts. We get to rely on the true, alive, and transforming Word of God to do that. May that truth free us to delight in leading our kids to simply, yet profoundly, listen to the words of our Maker.”

We respond to God

As we — both adults and kids — listen to God’s Word, it changes us. It evokes a response in us. Have you thought about how you respond when God’s Word is read or taught to you? We stand in awe of God, or we’re convicted by his Word and we respond by repenting, bursting forth in song, or rejoicing as we take communion. What if in the flow of our classroom schedules, we made room for a response from our children?

To help kids learn the classroom liturgy, consider making cards to hand out when children enter the classroom. Cards can have icons so that even non-readers can follow along with the schedule. This can help children who struggle with transitions to know what comes next.

Giving kids an opportunity to respond involves more than doing a craft or pulling out a bag of blocks to entertain kids during the last minutes of class — though those activities could be a part of the response time that reinforces the teaching. 

The goal of the response is for children to wrestle with the truths they have heard. When we confront the reality that we are sinners who need the grace that only Jesus can provide, this reality chips away at hardened and dead hearts so that we are led to burst forth in joy. So most often during the response movement, we invite kids to sing and confess their sins. 

God sends us on Mission 

Our classroom liturgy concludes with an emphasis on how God sends his people on mission. Our children are called to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13, 14). Jesus commanded his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matt. 28:19). Children can learn about the importance of God’s mission even as God is calling them to salvation!

As class time is wrapping up, we prompt kids to hold out their hands and receive the blessing of God’s Word read over them. (The Great Commission is a good place to start!) Some of our teachers have put to memory a phrase like: “God is with you all week, and we can’t wait to see you again next week!” 

We train our team to see this as a powerful spiritual moment, and we give them a vision for being faithful teachers up to the last minute of class time. The spoken blessing and “sending” lets a parent hear at pick-up time how we see their child as valuable and important in God’s kingdom.

This classroom liturgy is what we use to train our team members. We pray that its simplicity and richness will sow a love for Christ’s church in our littlest people that will bear fruit for decades to come. We also believe that the children’s liturgy trains our team members’ hearts. It shows each teacher how they can model to children their dependence on God through prayer, listening, and singing to God in grateful worship.

May the children in your classrooms be transformed by the Word of God. May God pour out his love for his people in a way that forms our children in the gospel and gives them a firm foundation for a lifetime of faithfulness. Amen.

Heather Thompson

Heather Thompson serves as director of Communications for The Paradox Church in Fort Worth, Texas. She loves country living with her husband, Brad, and their three kids at home. Life outside of ministry includes good coffee, making chocolate chip cookies, and wrangling dogs, cats, chickens, and a tortoise. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24