We are called by Jesus to be a counter-cultural community, reflecting the kingdom of God. God working in His people as they seek to follow the Word shapes what that looks like within each generation. At SBCC we have the opportunity and responsibility to examine our community in this light. This is what undergirds our church’s perspective in Children’s Ministries (as well as all the other groups in our church family). We take Jesus’ example as our inspiration. Professors May, Posterski, Stonehouse and Cannell summarize the New Testament perspective well in their book, Children Matter: Celebrating Their Place in the Church, Family, and Community (p. 39):
The writers of the Synoptic Gospels all chose Jesus’ teachings regarding children as essential: Jesus sets a child in the midst of the disciples as the symbol of humility and greatness (Matthew 18:1-5; Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48). Jesus warns those who would cause a child to stumble (Matthew 18:6-16; Mark 9:42-48; Luke 17:1-2). and Jesus blesses the children (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17).
This is the foundation that undergirds not just our ministry but also that of other churches and para-church organizations such as Compassion International. Dr. Wess Stafford, President Emeritus of Compassion International says, To welcome the young into the center of our lives is to enrich not only them but ourselves as well. (Too Small to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most)
Why, then, is it sometimes hard to incorporate the children into our church life? Why do we struggle to worship alongside children? Why is it easy to relegate children’s ministries to being mostly a childcare issue the parents are responsible for managing? These are questions we must address as we seek to be faithful to the countercultural teaching of Scripture on the value of children. Some of the factors have to do with the challenges of community life in general. There are many factors working against mutual submission and service, not to mention competing resources and energy. These will always be issues that must be dealt with as we seek to be a church family. I also realize that each generation has to grapple with culturally bound roadblocks. Perhaps taking a look at some of the current sociological factors in our present culture can shed some light on what stands in our way at SBCC.
First, the busyness intrinsic in a technological world can divide and deplete relationships. Not only are we distracted at church, we arrive often depleted. Specifically,
- The frantic pace of activities our wealthy society upholds as necessary for the proper development of our children. These can lead families to see the children’s program at church as the only “break” parents get during the week.
- The economic necessity for childcare in our society leaves parents feeling inadequate about their own ability to provide leadership to their children. The professionalization of parenting can bleed over into the church.
- A sense of fear in our world that fosters ‘helicopter parenting’ at the same time.
In addition, there are some factors from our Western protestant society:
- An overemphasis on “right thinking” can potentially marginalize children from being seen as full participants in the church because they do not have an adult level of reasoning.
- An adult-centered perspective on worship and didactic focus in preaching edges children out of the sanctuary.
- Church is for believers so anything that disturbs worship should be eliminated from our services.
It is therefore important to continue working to make our church a place for children as Christ commanded. Here are a few ideas to consider:
- We can use Jesus’ perspective on children to shape our church activities, allowing them to be a full partner in church life:
Jesus’ attitude toward children (and Jesus’ teaching through children) was so new and astonishing that his disciples could not grasp it. One even wonders whether the Christian Church since then has fully understood these amazing actions and sayings. Grasping and living the reverse values of the kingdom still challenge followers of Jesus in the twenty-first century. Like Jesus’ first disciples, we need children in our midst, showing us how to trust our gracious God and encouraging us to live kingdom values by welcoming, respecting, and serving the least among us, who are greatest in the eyes of God. (May, Posterski; Stonehouse, and Cannell, Children Matter: Celebrating Their Place in the Church, Family, and Community, pp. 42-43)
- We can examine anew our lifestyles and weekly rhythms to include church as a family event (not a time for parents to get a break). Schedule in a needed break another time of the week, allowing the Sunday worship time to be inclusive as Jesus encouraged His followers to do. (Schedule breaks other times, for sure, but come prepared to worship with your children whether in the sanctuary or joining in their activities elsewhere on campus as a leader or substitute).
- Take advantage of what happens on Sundays to actively pursue your family’s discipleship during the week.
In consideration of Deuteronomy 6…the juxtaposition of these verses is significant. When we recite God’s commandments to our children and talk with them about God in the flow of everyday life; when we remember the importance of the life our children see us live; when we tell our children the story of God at work throughout history and in our lives, it is hard to forget God. Teaching the faith to children strengthens the faith of adults. (Children Matter: Celebrating Their Place in the Church, Family, and Community, p. 35)
- Older parents and single adults, Jesus spoke His words of welcome to children to everyone, not just parents of young ones. God often uses other’s paths of spiritual formation to form US…take advantage of this opportunity to grow.
- Dream about how we can grow in terms of seeing children as Jesus does and the implications for the gathered church at SBCC. We have lots of room to grow if it includes the messiness of life with the very young, the very old, and all that lies between. When asked who is greatest in the kingdom of God, Jesus drew a child into the group of gathered disciples to teach them the ways of the kingdom. And Jesus promised to be with his people in some mysterious way when they welcome children (Matthew 18:3-5). Children must be involved authentically in the activities of the people of God and helped to become responsible participants in the life of the church, or the church will fail to incarnate Christ and to see truly the kingdom of God. (My emphasis; Children Matter: Celebrating Their Place in the Church, Family, and Community, by May; Posterski; Stonehouse, and Cannell, p. 143)