Toddler Worship

If you haven’t done it, you’ve seen it. Mom or dad can’t get one year old Billy to eat what’s good for him (strained carrots/baby cereal, etc.) and so they have to fake him out – they have to make him think that what he really hates is really good. And, of course, it is good for him – except it’s not good (at least on his palate – which is all he cares about). If he could talk, he would say it’s pooh-pooh.

To make little Billy open up and do what’s good for him we have developed some pretty impressive delivery methods. My specialty was the airplane buzz move where the lips were the runway which I would buzz a couple of times until my Billys would laugh and then I would shove in the offensive stuff. But my little Billys got wise pretty quick and developed immunities to my delivery methods which just forced me to be even more creative. I developed the itsy-bitsy-spider, the charging bull, and the hide-and-seek delivery method. (I was working on my black-belt in baby feeding.) Moms and dads sometimes have to fake out their little ones so that they will receive what is good for them. A lot of energy and imagination goes into the delivery systems which, if little Billy knew what was good for him, could be dispensed with.

You can take Billy out of toddlerhood, but sometimes toddlerhood doesn’t come out of Billy. Fast forward 25 years. Billy is exiting church on a Sunday morning and a friend going into the 2nd service asks, “How was the worship, Billy?” Billy replies, “Ah, not that good. They had no drummer and the bass was too loud and the keyboardist stayed on that mournful organ voice too long and they sang ‘Blessed be Your Name’ way too slow. Finally, I just gave up and stood there waiting for it to be over.”

Fast forward to the following Sunday. Billy emerges from the 1st service and the same friend says, “Hey, Billy, how was the worship today?” Billy responds, “It was an acoustic set w/ a percussionist. It didn’t rock. Too mellow for me. They said a couple of the songs were Maranatha choruses that were really big in their day. Whatever. I really wasn’t into it.”

Fast forward to the following Sunday. “Hey, Billy, how was the worship?” Billy, with excitement, “It was great! The lead guitarist was laying down some cool riffs and overlays. They set a floor mic right next to the bass drum – it was sick (meaning: good Laughing). They only did Tomlin and Hillsong. Oh man, I was so into it – I just closed my eyes and raised my hands. It’s so great to worship Jesus.”

OK, let’s analyze this. (I already know what your objections will be to my analysis. But we can’t analyze the analysis until we know the analysis – so the analysis first.)

Billy is a spiritual toddler. He has to be ‘faked out’ to worship God. He has to be coaxed into doing that which is healthy for his soul. Music poorly done and music not his liking leaves a bad taste in his mouth and he won’t open his mouth to worship Jesus unless the music is sweet to his palate. Unless worship, and all that accompanies it, is delivered in a package that suits him, he will stand there and cross his arms and close his mouth and Jesus won’t hear one peep of thanks from him. But if Billy gets his bass drum and electric guitar and his driving beat – he’s all about God. Billy is a spiritual toddler. (Please note – this is a multi-generational phenomena. If Sam and Peggy don’t get their piano and organ music and Fanny Crosby hymns and have to listen to those dab-nabbit guitars, they won’t worship God. “No, God, I will not worship You unless I can worship in a way that conforms to my preference and tastes.” This, too, is toddler worship.)

Yes, yes, I know – music poorly done can be (not necessarily is), but can be very distracting. And music not performed in the way that you have come to enjoy and therefore prefer can be (not necessarily is), but can be a dynamic that would keep you from fully participating in the worship of God.

OK, why am I so hard on Billy? Because I used to be Billy! Unless the music and the songs and the way they were performed fit my niche preferences, I would spend most of the time in a critical spirit toward those who were leading. I was at the place where if I had to listen to, let alone sing, “Open the Eyes of My Heart” or “Lord I Lift Your Name of High” one more time, I wouldn’t be responsible for what my actions. I was Billy.

Here’s where I am today. “Tim, how was the worship?” “Ah, the worship was awesome!” Even though the band was not hitting on all cylinders that day, even though the absence of the drummer threw off the bass and rhythm guitars, even though the melodies and harmonies of the singers were more maladies and harm-on-me, I worshipped God. I have purposed that wherever I go, whoever is leading, however it is led, I will lift my heart and voice (and maybe my hands) and worship God. My worship of God is independent of the music that is supposed to aid my worship.

When the question is asked, “How was the worship?”, I think what is meant is, “How was the worship band? Did they bring it? Were they hot? Did the music get you revved up and passionate and cause you to lose yourself in the experience of worship?” I don’t think I’m too far off the mark there. And, please don’t get me wrong – I want the music to be spot on. (A possible future blog is how performance music has manipulated the emotions and diluted the worship of the church.)

What I have done in order to keep my sanity in the worship service is to separate the music from the worship. I can say, “The music did not help me to worship, but I worshipped nonetheless.” I don’t want to participate in toddler worship. Even though the music, style, beat, and songs don’t please me, I am not going to stand there with arms folded, mouth closed, enduring the duration of this mediocre performance. My attitude now is, “It is what it is.” I am going to use this occasion to worship the mighty God who created and redeemed me. God is worthy of my worship wherever I am. If, in the middle of a mediocre musical presentation I open my mouth and worship my God, worship has taken place. God is glorified. My soul is open to that which is healthy and good and right and righteous. You don’t have to coax me or fake me out or pamper me to get me to worship God. The worship of God flows from me even though nothing may be flowing from the platform except noisy gongs and clanging cymbals. Though the instruments are out of tune, the singers are off key, the melody line is wrong – I will worship. (As a pastor, this doesn’t mean I won’t speak with the leader of the worship band about improvement. It means that, in the moment, it is what it is, God is who He is, and I will worship.)

“But, Tim, if we are going to reach the (fill in the blank) generation we have to reach them where they are.” I get that, I really do. Be the best, strive for the best, put on the best you can. But let’s make sure we’re not creating little Billys who won’t worship our awesome God unless the context, style, song selection, instruments, melody, mood, and beat are exactly to their preference.

Yes, music greases the wheels of worship and when the wheels are turning and there is no grease, things can screech. I have purposed to worship when things screech. Instead of coaxing Billy,

Come on, Billy – here’s a Tomlin song, will you worship now? Come on Billy – here’s a class A lead guitar riff, will you worship God now? Come one Billy – here are people you think are cool, wearing stressed jeans and untucked shirts, playing music the way you like it, will you worship now? If I throw in a power point presentation with a dynamic moving background showing scenes of creation care, will you worship?

Instead, I want to teach all the Billys that worship music is important and it should be done well. But more important than the worship music is the God we are worshipping. When worship music overshadows worship, we are in danger of toddler worship.

God is worthy even when the music is not. The motive to worship has to be greater than the music of worship. It is easy to get to the place where we depend on the music to supply the motive of worship. Music is to be a handmaiden to worship, but for many, she has become queen and worship is the handmaiden. Music should be the grease on the wheels of worship. (Yes, I know, music is worship, too – at least for those who make it.) But I wonder if we are depending on the music to be the motor that turns the wheels. My love for God should be my motive to worship God. Music should assist my worship, not be the motor that drives it. When all is said and done, if I am depending on the music to get Billy to worship, to get Billy to open his mouth and do the healthy thing, I am aiding and abetting toddler worship.

14 replies
  1. Miles DeBenedictis
    Miles DeBenedictis says:

    “Music is to be a handmaiden to worship, but for many, she has become queen and worship is the handmaiden.”


    I’ve thought a lot about this topic of the last several years.  I was involved in a ministry about 10 years ago that was largely centered around musical worship.  Weekly we were led by the likes of Phil Wickham, Jeremy Camp, Tim Chaddick, Scott Cunningham, Luke Caldwell, and many other great musicians.  The setting was concert-like, the music was spot-on and loads of teens and twenty-somethings would passionately sing along.  After nearly a year of serving and observing those who gathered I began to be troubled by a reoccurring thought, “I think we’ve moved from worshiping God to worshiping worship.”

    Worship should involve our emotions.  Music, I believe, was created by God to stir our emotions.  Thus music can be one of the fastest “onramps” to genuine worship.  The problem comes when we become enamored with the emotions and fail to enter into worship, then the “time of worship” falls into pure emotionalism.  

    The realities of this have become more apparent to me in the last few years because I’ve [sadly] lost the ability to sing.  I know that may sound odd, but as a result of some damage done to my vocal chords, I can’t really sing anymore.  So, I’ve had to rethink “worship.” 

    I’m glad you brought this article to the table, Tim… I’ve been slowly putting thoughts down for one of my own.

  2. Bill Walden
    Bill Walden says:

    Great word Tim….I totally agree with you.
    You have well postulated an idea that I have been trying to develop and share, but without much success.

    You mentioned aiding and abetting toddler worship.
    While we need to be aware of speaking the language of the a certain generation, how do we also avoid creating and catering to a subculture that leaves others out, and in essence, perpetuates toddler worship? Do we intentionally force 2-3 styles of worship music, just to force some people to grow. (I am in favor of that, BTW)

    I have to fight through a toddler worship mentality. I have just enough musicianship in me to be critical of musical flaws, especially meter and timing. I hate that I am so easily moved away from worship by musical inconsistencies.

    And for the sake of emphasizing your point about Billy…..that is still what my older uncle and cousins call me. :-/

    As always, good word Tim.

  3. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Miles – I like the ‘on-ramp’ to worship analogy – very helpful. I agree, music should stir the emotions and there is definitely an emotional dimension that shouldn’t be ignored or manipulated.

    Billy! – I know that some churches have a contemporary worship service followed by the traditional worship service. I don’t want this to sound harsh, but what you have are two groups informing the other that they cannot/will not worship God using each others musical styles and traditions. Do you have two toddler worship services? We speak of the older generation being stuck in their ways and not changing and yet this criticism is a two-edged sword. The younger generation is just as stuck in their tradition as is the older.

    I remember going to Calvary Chapel in the early 70s and rocking out at the Saturday night concerts. And then, the first time I attended a Sunday morning, I was stunned to see Pastor Chuck wearing a three-piece suit, and we worshiped out of the hymn book with a organ! Something I hope I am learning, is to contextualize with out catering. And this brings me to the question you asked: how do we also avoid creating and catering to a subculture that leaves others out, and in essence, perpetuates toddler worship? Great question – maybe some others can chime in on this.

  4. Peggy
    Peggy says:

    Banks for putting into words something I have struggled with for years, on boy sides. On one have I was blessed bby going to a church for several years where we had a rotation of professional musicians who would play whenever they were in town. The lineup was rarely the same and it was nice because they were not up there for their own glory. They got that on the road. Fast forward to a new church (new city and state) where the “band” is a group of once-upon-a-time and wannabe musicians. It was the one time they could “jam” in front of an audience and hey made he most of it. But it was all about them. (Although in all fairness they may not have had that mid set. Its how it came across) So we quickly had to learn to put aside hose prefrences and learn that worship was more about our response to God and his working in our lives. Its just hard when you feel like you are in an audition for AI. And thanks for offering the other side too (Although I am not THAT Peggy…lol) My mom refuses to go to church because she hates drums and she dosn’t like the music…..its one thing I always liked at Costa Mesa when we first went there. It seemed like there was something for everyone.
    All that said, there will always be distractions during worship. From wrong notes and bad timing to the people who use the time as scocial hour, and we need to rise above the distractions and remeber what we are there for.

  5. Terry
    Terry says:

    “Separate the music from the worship…” This one hurdle could bring immeasurable blessing, maturity and a way forward. Worship isn’t music, nor is music worship; sadly, our semantics betray our hearts, and too often our hearts betray our God who is to be worshiped.

    Thanks Tim. Now we just need to dance while this elephant is in the sanctuary (me, not the room.)

  6. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Well, I’ve managed to pick on Billy and Peggy! Thanks for the good words, Peggy. It looks like you’ve seen it from both sides over a span of time. And I think that this is the best vantage point for something like this – time and experience.

    Terry – elephant-like is not the same as elephant! I think that when you say, “…nor is music worship…” you’re going to cause some fistfights in the vestibule.

  7. Don Brown
    Don Brown says:

    Thanks Pastor Tim… It’s so very important for us to remember these things. There are times that we want so badly to have our worship (music) to be a fragrant offering to the Lord and we forget it is a WAY to worship and not WHAT to worship.

  8. Chuck Musselwhite
    Chuck Musselwhite says:


    Another great post. You really have your finger on the heart beat of the church and the issues that are really effecting it. I would like to request another day to post my blog because I always post right after you. In fact I am rethinking my post for tomorrow after reading this.

  9. Terry
    Terry says:

    Tim, elephant-like could possibly mean you’re referring to me, when in all actuality the elephant would be the issue, and I would be making reference to myself as the sanctuary.

    As to “…nor is music worship…” — bring it on. 🙂

    LAURA RUELAS says:

    Hope you will welcome my truths… I was serving Sunday, so luckily I got an announcement and saw the insert. I read it last night and was relieved that you BUSTED the elephant out of the closet. Not to bore anyone, but this topic has been on my heart for some time and I will share my story/experience on this subject and hope to provide re-inforced confirmation of your adherance to the Lord by addressing this subject and insight to the heart of returning Christian who loves to worship and is discovering the true meaning of actually having a relationship with the Lord.
    Toddler Worship Intro:
    Was married, pregnant with my third child when I realized, I cannot do this, i.e. control my own life… and also realized I needed God, my children need God and wondered where to start. Began attending local churches and enjoyed a few for familiar reasons like, acceptance, warmth, the Lord’s word and of course worship. Coming from a Southern Baptist background, I was used to the “Hymns”, but I also grew up in a time where Christian music has options, from Hymns, to Gospel, Instrumental, Country, New age, etc. and where church names and doctrines have evolved from religious distinctions to welcoming titles like Calvary Chapel with faith and Bible driven practices/philosophies.
    In our current era… we are on information overload, sometimes just going mindlessly through the patterns of life, where we are familiar and also living in a society where we are geared for autonomy, which in my thought process…leads to entitled music preferances for Sunday morning worship. I sound crazy right? But no, that is where I was almost two years ago before attending Calvary Chapel Fremont. I thought, this pastor is right on the mark, he teaches from the Bible, appears respectful and trustworthy and I considered attending this church more because I liked what I heard and God began to appear in my life, however, I was guilty of “Toddler Worship”.
    Spiritually immature, I really considered not attending this church for a few personal reasons, but I also didn’t care for the worship Sunday morning, I didn’t feel the holy spirit, I cringed at the off tunes and felt embarassed for those worshiping on stage, but regardless, I recognized that I was there for the Lord and not the music and opened my heart to what the Lord would do in my life and began regularly attending CCF with my kids and eventually my husband started attending. That decision was the best decision I could have made for my family.
    Little by little, I followed the Lord, building a relationship and expressed my concerns for Sunday morning worship. My intentions were not to be rude or hurtful, but to try and understand why I felt this way and what I should learn from the situation. The Lord ever so graceful, enlightened my stupidity and self-serving attitude by providing K-Love… During my 45 minute commutes to/from work I began to worship. I mean really worship, driving and pouring my heart out to the Lord, then listening and worshiping at home with my kids… and slowly began to forget my selfish thoughts regarding the Sunday morning worship.
    Pastor Tim must really be in the “Know”, because we have had a good number of guest worship leaders. My perspective is to try and see each of these guests as gifts from God and I try to enjoy every musician/singer/servant of the Lord and ask God to open my heart, mind and spirit to receive his blessings through their gifts. I can admit that I was guilty of Toddler worship, but proud to say the Lord has enlightened me and made me cognizant of what I wasn’t considering: the Pastor’s feelings, the worship leaders/musicians efforts and service to the Lord, their time and efforts to lead our praise and others who are there praising the Lord regardless.
    I love Jesus and am thankful that he lead me away from “Toddler Worship”, and I’m also glad I realized it before my Pastor had to bring it to my attention, but glad the topic is being addressed. We each have our own journey and relationship with the Lord and God knows I should be further in my walk with him, but for those who do not realize they are in “Toddler Worship Mode”, my heart is sad because I wonder how Jesus feels? I wonder if he is trying to speak to the them and they just aren’t listening? Guilty of that too.

    In Christ,
    Laura Ruelas

  11. Katie
    Katie says:

    I’m VERY happy that you wrote this and that you put it as an insert in Sunday’s bulletin. It has been bothering me for a long time that people seem to confuse “worship” with “concert”.

    The worship team is not there to entertain or make people feel all warm and fuzzy about God. They are there to worship their God and so am I. Music is a very powerful tool and it’s natural when people want to sing along to songs they like or a style they enjoy. But, worship is supernatural. It’s not about ME, it’s about the Lord.

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