Children’s Church is the Church

By Rodger Nishioka

one-eared-mickeyIn their book, The Godbearing Life, which has now become a youth ministry standard, Kenda Creasy Dean who teaches at Princeton Theological Seminary and Ron Foster, pastor of a United Methodist congregation, identify one of the most problematic models traditional youth ministry as the “one-eared Mickey Mouse.”  In their description, the congregation and its ministry form the head of Mickey Mouse while youth ministry forms one ear that, like the Mickey Mouse image, is barely attached to the head.  The problem, they say, is that young people grow up with an understanding that youth ministry is only tangentially connected to the life of the whole church if it is connected at all.  They view youth ministry as something that is separate.  This view ends up reinforcing the natural egocentrism of adolescence and while that may suffice for a while, when young people grow up, they find themselves bereft of any understanding of church and the whole church’s ministry and their part in it.  That is when they drift away.  Tragically, we set them up for this by locating their ministry as something apart from the rest of the church.  This analogy is potent as we consider the place of children in the church.

In too many congregations, our children are “dismissed” to go to “children’s church” or something like it either a few minutes into the congregation’s worship or in place of being present in the congregation’s worship at all.  As far as I can tell, this is a 20th century phenomenon.  In reviewing session minutes from Presbyterian congregations in the archives here at Columbia Theological Seminary, this action of sending children out of worship began in the 1950s at the height of the post-war baby boom.  Prior to this, no such thing existed.  Children were in the whole of worship with their families.  But in the years following the second world war with the tremendous influx of newborns, congregations began looking for immediate and cost effective ways to gain more space in the sanctuary to accommodate all these young families and their children and some inventive pastor or church educator thought about sending the children out to make more space for adults and thus, the phenomenon of “dismissing” children from worship was born.  If a generation runs approximately 20 years, then we are into our third generation of this experience and it has become normative for us all.  Indeed, when I have preached in congregations where there is now plenty of room for all ages to worship together, church after church still sends children out of worship because “that’s what we have always done.”  The truth is, that is NOT what we have always done and even more, we are now reaping what we have sown.

We have sown three generations of children leaving or never worshipping with us, and it is no wonder that so many find worship boring and incomprehensible when they come of age and are expected to join us.  Further, when I suggest that children remain with us during the whole of worship, some of the loudest objections come from some young parents who want worship to be a time for them when they do not have to worry about their child’s behavior.  My own sense is that this reflects the current belief among developmental theorists that adolescence is extending well into young adulthood and what else is a true sign of adolescence but the primary focus on one’s own needs over others.  And after all, these parents of young children experienced the pattern of a separate “adult worship” and “children’s worship” when they were young so is not that what church is supposed to be like?

Here is the greatest problem I find in separating our children from us in the worship of God.  In Matthew’s gospel, he relays the story also found in Mark and Luke about Jesus encountering little children.  Parents are bringing their children to Jesus because they want their daughters and sons to meet him, but the disciples turn them away.  Jesus tells the disciples to , “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”  (Matt. 19:14).  Readers of Matthew know that the gospel writer often uses the words “kingdom of heaven”  euphemistically for “God.”  Given the quote from Jesus, he seems to be telling us all that God belongs to children.  This is unique, truly.  I can find no other place in the gospels where God is said to belong to anyone.  It seems that there is something about children that they alone are named as the ones who possess God.  For me, then, the question of children and the church is first and foremost a theological one.  If we are called as the body of Christ to worship God and to glorify God and to enjoy God (as the Westminster divines tell us in the catechism), then does it not make sense that those to whom God is said to belong, our children, should at least be present among us?   In fact, should not our children be leading us in this endeavor for which we were created?

There is no “children’s church” separate from the “church.”  Children’s church IS the church.  Amen.

Rodger Nishioka is the Benton Family Chair in Christian Education at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA.

Getting Out of the Rut, then Moving Toward Abundant Joy

By Sophie Maness

Joy smallTwenty-five years of working in the church is a mere “drop in the bucket” to the length of time that many of the education models of the church have been in existence. Studies and personal experiences regarding current trends verify that a large percentage of individuals and families come for only one hour on Sunday mornings, and inconsistently at that. Many who are paid to work in the church, as well as volunteers, know the old models have lost much of their effectiveness due to changing rhythms in our culture.

I have worked with amazing volunteers, who have done – and continue to do – great work on Sunday mornings. Still, if a child comes to Sunday / Church school every Sunday, never missing, even on vacation, from pre-school age through senior year in high school, that child in the number of hours of Christian Education from Church School, will have received the equivalent of a first grade education. We are falling short and we know it.

I, for one, have been frustrated along with many of my colleagues. We have likened it to the dry bones of Ezekiel. It is time to let the Spirit move and put a new flesh on our education practices in the life of the church.

I hope we can dream about what will bring families together for learning and fellowship, rather than to separate them due to scheduling that limits participation.  Hearing the stories of our faith with and from our families and neighbors is an involvement that promotes greater understanding. This environment tends to open up better conversation, more opportunities for service, more creative expressions of joy and added room for the spirit to move.

Where can we find that common ground of learning the stories of our faith and living out those stories in partnership with all our neighbors? I think the ground is fertile, and with a little exploring we can and will come up with new models.

Noted writer, G.K. Chesterton gave us, “The gigantic advantage of the Christian is joy.” For me, part of that joy plays out by living in a fellowship of believers willing to dream about possibilities and new ways of living into our rich Presbyterian identity. So how we do we begin to move from the comfortable and familiar to the bold dream?

For me that joy came when we were planning the children’s piece of a day of service for our church. We put several children on our committee. They ranged in age from 5 to 12. We had several adults as well. Having children on the committee meant we needed to be organized and clear. My hope is we are that way anyway, but this was a new and healthy push. The children asked honest questions, had great ideas and loved being included! The joy was experienced by all!! The children felt like valued members of the planning. The adults had a ball getting to know the kids. Our planning was richer and our hospitality was wider. We kept our meetings short and to the point. We had a little snack and lots of laughter. ALL the adults said, “I wish all church committees, could be like this.”

Yes, it was not a hard task, but the inclusion of all ages, and the cross generational connections were giving voice to a deeper hunger of being a part of the faith community.

This small experience has helped me feel a little more bold in tackling bigger pieces, so one thing at a time. First up for us is VBS.

Although there are some churches who have moved away from it, the basic model for Vacation Bible School for us has been the nine to noon, Monday through Friday model. It is comfortable and familiar. We know how to do it, and it has gone really well in the past.

What I see now is that it is getting harder and harder to pull off every year. The children have a ball, but the adult volunteers are worn to a frazzle. When we are frazzled, even the most dedicated find it challenging to love children into the faith. The reality is that getting enough volunteers, when more and more women are going back to work, makes pulling off the traditional daytime VBS almost impossible.  Surviving VBS is not nearly as appealing as thriving in VBS.

My hope is to soon pull together a group from our church who will dream with me about our priorities: (1) nurturing children in their faith development, (2) connecting with our community, (3) planning creatively to move toward rhythms that make room for the spirit to have its way with us, not the frazzle of moving from one thing to another of our culture.

What I hope for our church and others is permission to play with possibilities. When we play well there is common ground and lots of grace. It does not have to be perfect to glorify God.

It is time to be bold in our exploration of new models. We are in the midst of change and our tradition is about reforming, so let’s reform what is no longer working very well.

I am grateful to be in a place willing to dream. One model at a time, we will watch for God’s leading how to put new flesh on dry bones.

Sophie Maness is a life-long Presbyterian and a certified Christian Educator in the Presbyterian Church USA and serves as Director of Children’s Ministry at Westminster Presbyterian in Nashville, TN. Her calling is to educational ministry because she loves the ah-ha moment when people of any age connect their faith and their life, especially children.

Image: Grzegorz Mordecki/

Kirk Winslow — Southern CA Regional Gathering 2013

Kirk Winslow talks about Canvas, the PCUSA church he leads in Irvine, CA.

Read more about Canvas here. Check out Kirk’s blog here.

Let the Children Come

hands old and youngToday we aren’t posting new material, but pointing everyone back to the fabulous Theresa Cho and her blog Still Waters. Theresa and the saints at St. John’s Presbyterian Church create masterful, meaningful worship experiences for God’s children of all ages. Check out these two posts in particular (and while you’re on Theresa’s blog, check out the wonderful prayer stations!)

Theresa shares some of the challenge of being a parent and in worship leader or participant and offers some tips on welcoming children (and their parents) in worship from their experience in making worship intergenerational at St. John’s.

Let the Children Come – Intergenerational Worship

Intergenerational worship based on different learning styles sounds great! But how do you get from here to there? You make change along the way. Theresa shares the step-by-step experiment they led to increase variety and flexibility within worship. Hint: She also highlights Storypath, the new online resources from Union Presbyterian Seminary to connect children’s literature with the lectionary and biblical/theological themes.

A Disciplined Experiment on Changing Worship

Theresa Cho is the Co-Pastor of St. John’s Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, CA and blogs at Still Waters.

In Christ Alone, but Not in the Hymnal: A Theological Reflection Case Study

“Fans of a beloved contemporary Christian hymn won’t get any satisfaction” in the new Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) hymnal, Glory to God, according to USA Today. When the hymn’s authors refused to change their lyrics the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song voted to drop it. Some say it’s about the “wrath of God.” Others that it’s the word “satisfied” and the theology that goes along with it. When Stuart Townend and Keith Getty wrote their 2001 hymn one stanza went like this:

In Christ alone, who took on flesh, Fullness of God in helpless babe! This gift of love and righteousness, Scorned by the ones He came to save: Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied – For every sin on Him was laid; Here in the death of Christ I live.

The new hymnal committee, though, had found the song in a recently printed hymnal by a group of Baptists where the words were different: “Till on that cross as Jesus died The love of God was magnified.” In the process of clearing copyrights the committee discovered that the authors had not approved and would not approve the change. The altered words went too far. People making a case to retain the text with the authors’ original lines spoke of the fact that the words expressed one view of God’s saving work in Christ that has been prevalent in Christian history. This was the view of Anselm of Canterbury and John Calvin, among others, that God’s honor was violated by human sin and that God’s justice could only be satisfied by the atoning death of a sinless victim.

While this might not be one’s personal view it is nonetheless a view held by some members of the Presbyterian family of faith. In addition, the hymnal is not a vehicle for one group’s perspective but rather a collection for use by a diverse body. Others pointed out that a hymnal does not simply collect diverse views, but also selects to emphasize some over others as part of its mission to form the faith of coming generations. They said it would be a disservice to this educational mission to perpetuate by way of a new text the view that the cross is primarily about God’s need (via Jesus’ death) to assuage God’s anger. Rather, Jesus’ death on the cross is the supreme example of God’s suffering love and that love changes our lives entirely.

As you reflect on the “work of Jesus on the cross” remember that the “Confession of 1967” says that “God’s reconciling act in Jesus Christ is a mystery which the Scriptures describe in various ways. It is called the sacrifice of a lamb, a shepherd’s life given for his sheep, atonement by a priest; again it is ransom of a slave, payment of debt, vicarious satisfaction of a legal penalty, and victory over the powers of evil. These are expressions of a truth which remains beyond the reach of all theory in the depths of God’s love for man. They reveal the gravity, cost, and sure achievement of God’s reconciling work.” (Book of Confessions, 9.09) Questions for Discussion What did Jesus accomplish on the cross? Is the cross necessary because of God’s wrath toward human beings because of our sin? Does “satisfied” mean that Jesus paid the whole price for sins, the price necessary to overcome God’s wrath? Or is the focus on the love of God thus “magnified”? What do you think? And why?

Sources: a USA Today article printed in the Charlotte Observer (August 10, 2013, p. 2E); an article by Mary Louise Bringle in the Christian Century (May 2013); Donald K. McKim, Presbyterian Questions, Presbyterian Answers; a blog by Adam Coleman.

Notes From the Field #1 — Plaza

Editor’s Note: Periodically, we will be sharing “notes from the field” from Plaza and Community Church. We hope their experiences will help inform your own… Perhaps to shape your thinking, spark a new idea, lend some energy to tackle something new, or invite leaders in your community to reflect on a particular guiding question.

If this is the first you are hearing of this project, click here for the full introduction to this pilot program. If you missed the introduction to Plaza Church, click here

Notes from the Field #1 – Plaza

The summer at Plaza Presbyterian Church was refreshing, different, and energizing! We spent the summer exploring a number of church “practices” that have helped other congregations turn the corner to vibrant ministry. (Thanks to Diana Butler Bass’ Christianity for the Rest of Us for outlining these practices.) We have learned that there is no single path.

Last Spring we discovered that the air conditioning in the sanctuary was not working. Since every crisis is also an opportunity we took this one to move worship out of the sanctuary (a beautiful space that will seat at least 400) into a multi-purpose meeting room that will seat around seventy. With individual seats arranged “in the round” we’ve discovered how much we like being together, how we could recapture good times of fellowship, how helpful it is to be so close to the choir when they sing/pray with and for us, how we can be led in our singing in a variety of ways (piano, guitar, unaccompanied, as part of prayer, with poetry read between stanzas, and more).

Every week we worshiped at 10:00 a.m. and explored a practice together. We practiced and discussed it during Sunday school at 11:00. We left the church building for lunch at 11:45 to practice what we were learning.

We began with hospitality when we welcomed every worshiper with a cup of coffee or a bottle of water, a smile, a pastry, a tour of our summer worship space including a family bowl that became our baptismal font that first Sunday, a personal Bible represented the Word, a wooden chalice and platter served as reminder of the Lord’s Supper, and a small oil lamp was lighted with the flame of Pentecost’s Holy Spirit. Each week a different member brought the bowl and the Bible. Each week the waters of baptism welcomed us. Each week we gathered around the Word and sacraments.

Recognizing that we all want to find home we considered how some of us simply knew we were home when we first arrived, others had to learn our particular language, but all of us were seeking to become followers of Jesus Christ.

We discovered that when it came to the work of justice all of us had wanted to fund and build a Habitat house to begin our Second Century of service in 2007. But we didn’t know how different our reasons were until this summer. One group (among them some of our longtime members) thought we built the house to get a new family in our church. (That didn’t happen and was quite a disappointment for some.) Another group (among them our younger and newer members) said their rationale was because our community needs affordable housing and it was the “right thing” to do and they wanted a “hands on” experience in ministry. Gil Rendle’s The Multigenerational Congregation gave us a framework for recognizing such differences without having to change each others’ minds.

We entered shalom as we considered how important peace and harmony are for a people.

We found that we could pray in a variety of ways, using prayers printed and read in unison, lined out and repeated one section at a time, read responsively, and sung. We can even pray in silence encouraged with a variety of prompts, or none at all.

We have wondered about the place of testimony in our lives and whether what we have to share is something we want to include as part of our weekly worship.

We discovered that we don’t have to be alike for the church to prosper.

We’ve experienced God’s presence during our Sunday mornings together and we’ve reflected theologically, coming to the conclusion that we know something about what it means to think theologically. We even used a case study regarding the decision to exclude a hymn from the new hymnal because of theology. (Read the case study written for our Sunday School.)

This is written in September 2013. We have moved back into the Sanctuary for worship and resumed our old schedule: Sunday school begins again at 9:45; worship at 11:00. We’re taking some of what we did during the summer with us, though. Worship is still forty-five minutes in length. We are considering ways to make worship in the Sanctuary more intimate; we may even return to the Conference Room for worship on fifth Sundays. We are more creative. This Sunday, for example, the sermon will be incorporated in the Assurance of Pardon since it is about how we live in the world of God’s grace.

What’s NEXT? We’ll see.

2014 National Gathering

Register today to join us in Minneapolis!

March 31-April 2, 2014

Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis, MN

Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you • Jeremiah 29:7

More information here. Register Today!


Minneapolis skyline

A Child Speaks About Church

By Steve Lindsley and Lynn Turnage

Hey.child reading bible small


Down here….

Yes, thanks.  Hello.  It’s me.  I’m a kid in your church. Nice to meet you.

I’m sure you’ve seen me before.  I’m the one who sits with my family in front of you in worship every Sunday. Remember that blur you saw running around the fellowship hall at the church potluck dinner last week?  Yours truly.  I sang a stellar solo in the children’s choir last month; I’m sure you remember.

Anyway, now that I have your attention, I thought I’d share with you what I need from the church.  Because there are a whole lot of ideas out there about what kids need to grow in the faith and stick with the church when we become grown-ups ourselves.  Thing is, no one’s bothering to ask us kids what we think.  So here are some thoughts to ponder:

Just tell me the Bible story.  I know it sounds simple enough, but it’s amazing how complicated this can get.  Honestly, I don’t need gimmicks, flash, fluff.  If I want entertainment I’ll ask my parents to take me to the movies.  I don’t need a Vacation Bible School that “takes me on an Amazon expedition” or involves surfing, camping or clowns.  And please, don’t let some random B-rate Bible cartoon video do it for you.  I want you to tell me the Bible story. You. Me. The Bible. That’s it.

Remember: I can’t sit still for long.  I know, shocker.  Don’t blame me; God made me this way.  Anyway, just make your story-telling segments a little shorter and cut to the chase, and help me experience the story with as many of my senses as possible.  And when it comes to worship,  give me something to do – “worship bags” with chenille sticks, or some paper or mandalas and good crayons or markers would be great (although I’d suggest changing them out frequently so I’m not coloring the same picture of Jesus every week).

Give me, at the bare minimum, an hour a month with the pastor.  This would be awesome. Because sometimes it feels like you all think that I’m too little or too young for the pastor.  Which is just silly, if you ask me (see: scripture on Jesus and the children).  So give me time with him or her.  Let them tell me a Bible story or take me on a nature walk or just have doughnuts with me.  You tell me all the time how important the pastor is. Well, I’m important too; so it’d be the perfect match, right?

My best adult teachers/leaders/volunteers are the ones that I KNOW care about me.  Makes sense.  Because they’re not there out of some sense of obligation, or because they were guilted into it by a desperate teacher recruitment committee member.  They’re there because they want to be there, because they genuinely like me.  And because they like me, they tell the stories better, play the games better, teach better. So I learn more.  And I make an adult friend too.  Because I really like it when someone calls me by name and says “HI!”  The don’t have to comment on how cute I look, just call my name in a nice voice.

Give me some responsibility in the church. See, here’s the thing: you expect me to be a bystander in church until I hit some age (18? 22?) when voila!, I’m suddenly supposed to dive in and do everything.  Honestly, that’s silly.  If you want me to grow up committed to and participating in the life of the church, you need to empower me to do that now.  I’d make a great usher on Sunday morning.  I know I could help serve food at the weekly homeless meal if you’d be there to help me.

I like to be with my family and all ages together in worship.  There’s this tradition a lot of churches have in worship of escorting the kids out to some remote location following the “Children’s Time.”  Personally, I’m not a fan.  You think I don’t want to be in worship during the sermon because it’s “boring.” I actually listen to what they say and it sticks with me – as you are well aware in other contexts, I’m great at remembering everything you adults say.  All things being equal, I’d rather stay in worship with my church family – we call ourselves a family, right?  I might get a little antsy (worship bags will help).  But I promise you I won’t fall asleep like that dude in front of me every week.  Surely you’ve seen him.

So that’s it, I guess.  Mainly just focus on telling the story and letting that be the focus.  If you do that, I have a pretty good feeling I’ll stick around in church for a long time.

Steve Lindsley is Pastor/Head of Staff at First Presbyterian Church in Mount Airy, NC.  Lynn Turnage is Director of Children and Family Ministries at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC.

Image: Andi Berger/

Paracletos — Who Is Involved?

[First you’re hearing of Paracletos? Welcome! Read the introduction here.]

Paracletos LogoThe Two Congregations

Plaza Presbyterian Church is an urban-residential congregation located just outside uptown Charlotte, NC, in a rapidly changing community. Ours is a familiar story in the PC(USA):

  • From the heyday in 1958, with a peak membership of just over 1000, Plaza has experienced steady decline over the past five decades.
  • Our current worshiping congregation averages less than fifty on Sunday morning, with the average age well above sixty. There are a handful of younger families, with two teenagers and one young child in regular attendance. The majority of Plaza’s members are in retirement.
  • The pastor, Tom Tate, has been at Plaza for 25 years. Over the years strong relationships have developed between Tom and the congregation and we appreciate greatly his care and thoughtful sermons.
  • Sunday worship is traditional. The music program includes four paid soloists/section leaders.

Our church plant consists of three buildings constructed over a number of decades, in various stages of repair: A large gothic sanctuary with a fellowship hall below, facing the intersection; a two story office building, housing the church offices and a non-profit employment agency; a two story education building, housing a weekday school and community room. Of the three, the education building is in the best shape; the office building shows the most signs of aging.

Financially, Plaza faces a crisis. Current pledges and other offerings total just under $168,000 (with an average pledge of $3,300), with $32,000 of other income, toward a $250,000 budget, leaving a $50,000 shortfall that is being paid out of reserves (which currently total $330,000). Compounding the budget shortfall, the AC unit in the sanctuary has malfunctioned, requiring close to $50,000 in repairs.

In 2012 the Session projected that if current expenses did not change the congregation’s level of funding could be sustained for only five more years. A series of congregational lunch meetings were held to face this reality and talk about future. Here’s some of what we uncovered:

  • There is a certain amount of wistfulness and frustration among us. Older members remember when the sanctuary was full, with Sunday School and youth groups thriving. Even though this has not been the case in many years, for many it is still the model of a healthy congregation.
  • As the neighborhood around us has changed and many church families moved out of the immediate community, we have a less organic relationship with the surrounding neighborhood. In recent years, many areas of the nearby community have experienced gentrification, with younger, more affluent residents. The congregation has not figured out how to connect successfully with this changing reality around them.
  • Over the years, we have been involved in a variety of community outreach efforts, including active involvement in local Habitat for Humanity.
  • The big question before us is this: Are our best years behind us, or do we still have one more chapter in our future?

The lunch meetings led to two things. First, a special summer of worship and Sunday School based on Diana Butler Bass’ Christianity for the Rest of Us. Second, entering into a relationship with NEXT Church in which Jeff Krehbiel, pastor of the Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, D.C., would serve as a coach to Plaza and our pastor, Tom Tate.

Community Presbyterian Church (CPC) is located in San Juan Capistrano, CA – a small historical (18th Century Catholic mission) town surrounded by modern suburbs and connected by the I-5 freeway as part of a long corridor of communities stretching from Los Angeles to the southern border of Orange County. At the founding in 1919, Community Presbyterian was the first Protestant Church in San Juan Capistrano. The congregation grew steadily to a peak of 400 members in the mid-twentieth century.

Our current community includes 160 households with weekly worship attendance of 110 at either our contemporary or traditional worship services. The median age in the congregation is 67. There are 8 families with young children on the rolls, with some additional children and youth who are regular participants in church programs. In recent memory membership and programmatic growth has been limited.

In recent decades, our congregation’s leadership has attempted many self-studies.  In 2005-2007 CPC undertook a two-year process to refocus our direction, mission, vision, etc.  CPC engaged in a Congregation Mission Study in 2003 and completed the Natural Church Development survey in 2005.  This survey clearly told us we were very strong in loving each other, but weak in evangelism.  The outcome of the refocusing effort was a strategic ministry plan.  This largely was begun with energy (e.g., we spearheaded building 27 Habitat for Humanity houses in cooperation with the city and many other organizations).  Energy began to dissipate when we lost our pastor of four years and then had two interim ministers before our current pastor, Mike Vaughn, joined us in 2010. CPC completed a three-year growth plan in October 2012 and many portions have been implemented to date.  Most notable is our communications plan, culminating in our new website. That said, there is much left to do.

Today our identity remains strongly vested in mission and the Reformed tradition. There is a progressive and inclusive emphasis in our congregation that puts us in tension with other churches in our area (like Saddleback Church, just down the road) and with some of our sister churches in the presbytery.

CPC has a beautiful church plant, well-maintained, nestled below a major local road (add photo??).  We are very blessed with talented staff in many roles (office, accounting, preschool/kindergarten, music leaders, children’s ministry) and have an unfilled youth ministry role.  Our finances are OK.  With an annual budget of $349,000 our shortfall is about $11,000 for 2013, funded from reserves.  We have an exceptional Preschool and Kindergarten which are financially healthy and we house a Head Start program on our campus as well.  Our pledges continue to shrink as our congregation ages and some of our large givers have to cut back.

We feel confident God is not done with us but feel stuck as we look toward our second hundred years of ministry.

The Coaches

JAMES M. KITCHENS, Principal, PneuMatrix   Jim Kitchens was most recently the Interim Pastor of Calvary PC, San Francisco.  A native of Mississippi, he holds a degree in Chemical Engineering from Ole Miss, and a M.Div. from Pacific School of Religion.  Prior to coming to Calvary, he served three pastorates, including Oakland’s First Presbyterian Church, Davis Community Presbyterian Church (CA), and Second Presbyterian Church in Nashville (TN). Jim played a major role in the development of the Bread of Life Center for Christian Formation in Davis, served a term as moderator of the Presbytery of Sacramento, served as Pastor-Theologian in Residence at the Center of Theological Inquiry (Princeton, NJ), and on the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Committee on Theological Education while also mentoring first-call pastors. He has served on the Board of the Company of Pastors, and is one of four Regional Directors.  Jim is a published author, whose book, The Postmodern Parish: New Ministry for a New Era, focuses on creatively engaging rapidly changing cultural trends in the light of the Gospel. He has just completed a Coolidge fellowship at Auburn Seminary researching the application of Positive Deviance Theory for use in congregations and judicatories.

DEBORAH LONDON WRIGHT, Principal, PneuMatrix   Ordained by the PC(USA) in 1978, Deborah London Wright has specialized in adaptive change management, strategic planning, program development, and Positive Deviance implementation as a Corporate Chaplain.  With degrees from Duke University and San Francisco Theological Seminary, she served as Associate Pastor of Calvary SF, was a Trustee of the Presbyterian Foundation, adjunct faculty at SFTS, host of the KPIX-TV talk show Mosaic (CBS Affiliate), and Director of Major Gifts at SFTS.  Following Ph.D. studies at the Graduate Theological Union, she formed Avalon Enterprises, a consultancy practice specializing in funds development, corporate chaplaincy, strategic planning, and project management for NGOs in religion, education, healthcare, film and video. Clients have included The George Lucas Educational Foundation, Alvin H. Perlmutter Productions (NY), KERA-TV (Dallas PBS Affiliate), Google, The California Film Institute, the County of Marin (CA), Kaiser Permanente, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Gerald P. Murphy Cancer Foundation.  Creating and implementing innovative business models for entrepreneurial non-profits has been the hallmark of Ms. Wright’s career.

THE REV. DR. JEFFREY K. KREHBIEL is pastor of Church of the Pilgrims Presbyterian Church in the District of Columbia. He is a native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a graduate of Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. Rev. Krehbiel also completed a Doctor of Ministry degree in “Gospel and Culture” at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, in May 2004. A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) pastor with over twenty-five years’ experience in urban ministry, he previously served pastorates on the West Side of Manhattan in New York City, and in an inner-city neighborhood in Wilmington, Delaware, before becoming pastor in August 2000 of Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, D.C. Located near Dupont Circle, Church of the Pilgrims is the former “national church” of the Southern Presbyterians. Today it reflects the diversity of its thriving urban neighborhood, with Embassies, hotels, and high rises on one side, town houses, apartments, bars and restaurants on the other. During his tenure the congregation has experienced revival in its worship life, renewed engagement with the city through participation in a city-wide church-based community organizing effort, and invigorated outreach to young adults through innovative programs such as “Theology on Tap,” a weekly Bible study held in the tavern across the street from the church.

Faithful Millennials, Children, and the Steps In Between

Beginning today, we’re changing up the NEXT Church blog a bit. We’ll continue to post good content, but each month will have a different theme or lens for what’s NEXT. We’ve asked leaders across the PC(USA) to curate a month of blog content based on their own passion in ministry. This does two things:

  1. Allows us to delve more deeply into specific topics, and
  2. Increases the number and variety of voices from whom we’re hearing as we practice ministry in the church that is becoming.

Thanks to Steve Lindsley and Lynn Turnage for curating this first month as we talk about what’s now and what’s next in faith formation of children.


It’s time to talk children!

Over the next weeks, you will hear from various folks who are pastors, theologians, advocates, educators, parents, elders – or some combination of these – all who are passionate about children in church, children in worship, and children’s faith formation.

Who are the primary shapers of children’s faith? The church, the pastors, the officers, the teachers, and we know parents are the primary educators.

This series of blog posts brings together all of these voices as we think about forming the faith of children in the church, and most importantly in worship.

We know we are blessed to have children in our churches (what church doesn’t want more of them?!), and still we encounter people who could care less or “don’t know what to do with them” or are weary (or scared?) of children’s energy.

So now’s the time to think about the issues, attitudes and perspectives we juggle, what parents are thinking, what children have to say, and WHY we care. Enjoy these gifts of God!

Faithful Millennials, Children, and the Steps In Between

By Adam J. Copeland

parent child smallWatchers of religion online in recent months will likely have seen Rachel Held Evan’s CNN Belief Blog piece flying around the internet, “Why Millennials are Leaving the Church.” (Most classify millennials as those born between 1980 and 2000.) After Rachel’s post was shared thousands of times via social media, other bloggers penned responses to Rachel’s piece.

Brian McCracken wrote in the Washington Post that the way to keep millennials in the church is to keep church “uncool.”

A Lutheran bishop, James Hazelwood asked, “Is Rachel Held Evans Right?” and Rachel linked to the post on her blog. Christopher Smith called for a “Slow Church” way forward, emphasizing dialogue with one and all.

Though the hubbub about millennials has died down for now, I’ve continued to ponder faith development and children.

I teach at a church-related college and am working on a book in which 20-somethings share essays about wrestling with faith and college. As I read through dozens of submissions for the book, a theme surfaced.

Too many millennials have reflected on their faith saying, in part….“I just went through the church motions until college. I mean, my parents took me to church growing up, but it didn’t mean anything. My parents didn’t seem to care. Not until college did I being to wonder, ‘What is this faith stuff anyway?’”

The millennial writers share deep, meaningful, diverse, beautiful stories. Certainly there is much more to the essays than this thread. And yes, certainly, there are some developmental issues at play here.

But, with all the millennial-related blog posts swirling around the Internet, what might parents to do to prepare their children for the transition to college or a workplace? How, today, do we raise a child in the faith?

If the essays that have come across my desk are any indication, a good start is a simple one: talk about faith.

Faith communities are essential, of course, but for many of us a solid faith foundation is first built at home. So parents, do your best to connect all of living to faith. Talking about God’s blessing—and God’s call— at home, in the car, over meals, even online.

One simple way to support the faith of our children is to teach prayer practices. And, as is true with much of the faith, sometimes it’s best to learn by doing. Praying at meals and before bedtime can begin a lifelong practice of prayer. Silence or sabbath, too, can be prayerful if approached in a meditative, thoughtful way focused on God. (See MaryAnn McKibben-Dana’s new book, “Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family’s Experiment with Holy Time.”)

In my family growing up, discussing the sermon after worship was a sort of Olympic sport. Most young children won’t be up for debating the finer points of the sermon each Sunday, but they will gain a lot if parents model engaged, thoughtful reflection on worship and Christian education. Inviting children into a conversation about the Bible stories encountered on Sunday shows that faith matters beyond Sunday at noon.

One of the recurring themes of the essays I’m working through is millennials’ faith struggles when met with pain, suffering, or loss. After all, what does God have to do with disease or natural disaster?

When parents are honest about their faith lives—the joys, sorrows, and struggles—they can model for their children a resilient, thoughtful faith that embraces the ups and downs of live.

Faith is a head thing, after all, but it’s also a direction of the heart.

At the risk of being flippant, if parents believe it’s worth the trouble to take their children to church in the first place then it behooves them not to stop there. Veggie Tales, though fun, don’t substitute for a committed life of discipleship.

Christianity, after all, is a holistic faith. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ matters not just for an hour on Sunday, but for the whole of life, for the whole of the world.

Why are millennials leaving the church? Who knows and, let’s be real, many of the reasons are probably beyond our immediate control. What we can control, though, is our commitment to living out the faith we teach our children, the faith in which we baptize.

Adam Copeland CCAdam J. Copeland is Faculty Director for Faith and Leadership at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota where he teaches in the department of religion. He blogs at A Wee Blether ( and tweets @ajc123.

Image Credits: steeple: Anita Patterson Peppers/shutterstock; parent and child: kuma/shutterstock