Christian Education has changed a lot over the years. You come to a conference like Next and I hope it leaves you wondering, “What will Christian Education look like in the years to come?” When the mainline churches began to experience decline several decades ago, Christian Education seemed to be the life vest of the sinking boat. The church thought, “If we could beef up these educational programs, it would attract a lot of new families to our churches.” Today the attractional model runs rampant in our churches and in our denomination. Children’s Ministries rely on the latest Vacation Bible School curriculum filled with action-packed activities, catchy songs, and palatable themes. We spend hours of time, heaps of money, and endless energy of volunteers because we claim the thin assumption this is real outreach to the community. Youth Ministries hire young, cool leaders hoping they will attract teenagers like the star football player attracts a crowd at his lunch table. We think free pizza, fun games, and mission trips to cool places are the building blocks for deep disciple making. Adult Education insists on experts to teach their classes and the latest curriculum based on the most current events in order to draw new people. But in reality the only ones at the table have been there for years and diverse ideas and people aren’t really welcome. It seems the attractional church’s only success is poaching members from smaller churches whose modest budgets can’t support big church programming. But the missional church, the next church, is a return to the original calling of the church – to go into the world to share the Good News of Christ, love our neighbors, and seek the welfare for our community. The missional church turns its focus from internal to external. It seeks relationships with others not to increase attendance, but instead because as God’s people, we are only complete when we are in community with God and all of God’s creation. It recognizes that the local church is only as healthy as the community surrounding it. One size educational programming does not fit all neighborhoods, communities or cities. The kind of ministry in which the church engages must be responsive to the community it serves. Churches must be open to recognize what once was a vital and beloved Christian Education ministry might no longer fit. Consider Christian Education in the missional church to be like a greenhouse. It’s a place for new beginnings where plants are intentionally fed and nourished to become strong enough for transplanting. Plants will never thrive in the greenhouse the same way they will thrive in their natural environment. Plants that never leave the greenhouse have their growth stunted by their limited context. The natural environment for disciples is being in the world. A plant in its environment depends on its environment for life, but also gives back to that same environment. It’s a symbiotic relationship. The missional shift in Christian Education means our Children’s Ministry Committee will spend more time volunteering at a local elementary school than it will planning Vacation Bible School. It means you are more likely to find members of a Youth Ministry Team at the high school football game, or school play, or chaperoning a dance than in the state of the art youth lounge. It means adults will take a break from their study on Matthew to actually cloth the naked, feed the hungry, and visit the prisons. It means bringing bagels and coffee to the families at the Sunday morning soccer game, and instead of rushing back for worship, staying to cheer for a child’s first goal. The missional shift in Christian Education does not do away with learning the stories of our ancestors or the teachings of Jesus. But it does change our definition of success. It is less concerned with filled pews and more concerned with what happens when we leave those pews. It is less concerned with a popular youth lock-in and more concerned with youth who don’t have a permanent place to sleep each night. It is less concerned with honoring youth on graduation Sunday and more concerned with advocating for educational changes for students who are racing to nowhere. It is less concerned with providing a theme dinner at the mid-week children’s ministry and more concerned with children who go hungry at night and on weekends. This shift is about making our communities whole for community’s sake because the love of Christ compels us to do so. Because Christian nurture and spiritual formation are bigger than what a publishing company sells us and bigger than a full education building on a Sunday morning. The missional shift in Christian Education means we will stop building up church programming to make ourselves look and feel good. But instead, it shifts to become servants of the community and recognizes that spiritual formation and wholeness happens in the midst of seeking that wholeness for others. Thanks be to God.
As we heard from pastor Kara Root in Minneapolis, at Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church children participate fully in worship. This includes teaching the congregation at the “children’s message” time, writing and leading the offering prayer each week, serving as our usher team once a month, leading our monthly food shelf collection, leading opening liturgy for Advent, sharing in serving communion, and as other ways as we can find to have them lead us and share their gifts from month to month. Here is why… (the below is taken from our pew insert).
WHY WE WELCOME LITTLE CHILDREN TO WORSHIP… At the time of baptism, parents, godparents and the whole congregation promise to bring children to worship. Not to do so would be like sitting down to the family evening meal but excluding the kids. Sure their manners might be far from elegant, but we welcome them because they are part of the family. Being with family is how we learn to be family. Worship is no different. Young people giggle, they poke, they ask questions and they swing their legs because they are young children. Children learn about worship and how to participate by experience, by how they are welcomed into the community, by what they see big people doing.
WHAT IS WORSHIP? Worship is how we respond to God. When we gather in worship we all come together to encounter Christ, and we watch together for God’s presence in Scripture, our own lives, and the world around us. When we worship God, we are reminded that we belong to God’s love, and we are empowered by the Spirit to participate with God in loving and healing the world.
HOW DO YOUNG CHILDREN LEARN TO WORSHIP?
- By being taught they have a place in the community of the church.
- By seeing, hearing, feeling, even smelling, the sanctuary as a place of welcome and worship.
- By being around other children in the worship space.
- By watching how their significant adults sing, and make prayers and offerings.
- By sharing prayers, communion, and worship leadership alongside adults.
- By being given ways to watch for God’s presence in their own lives, and encouraged to share where they notice God and how they participate in God’s love.
ADULTS LEARN TO WORSHIP by “becoming like a child” (Mt. 18:3). Children notice, absorb and feel deeply. They respond freely. Children perceive God. Children learn to worship from adults and adults learn to worship from children. Bringing a child to church can be frustrating. Their behavior can make it hard for parents and others to worship. Then again, many facets of parenting can be challenging. It’s the rewards that make it all worthwhile. While we do not want our children to be disruptive or hamper the worship of others, all of us together need to be reminded that children are not the church of the future. They are the church of the present and are to be treasured as such. Children and adults alike are able to watch for God, and participate in God’s love and healing.
SUGGESTIONS FOR ADULTS WITH CHILDREN
- When possible, arrive in time to find a good place to sit. Let them sit next to the aisle, near a work station or in the front pews. Even let them stand on the pew next to you so that they can see.
- Tell them before they come in what will happen in worship. Show them the parts of the service where they have an active role, and the parts where we all listen or watch others quietly.
- Take advantage of the worship supplies and materials available at the door when you arrive, and bring them to your seat. Return bags and supplies to their place when you leave.
- Worship with your child, guiding her or him through the service so they can feel what it is like to worship together.
- Worship at home through saying Table Grace together, or Bedtime Prayers, or even, “God bless you.” Ask your kids questions about how they noticed God’s love in their day, and how they shared in it.
- Remember that sometimes children just plain need to run around and play. That’s why we provide a bright and safe Nursery space for your young child at any time during worship. Gather them back with you for Communion so they can experience God’s blessing.
SUGGESTIONS FOR ADULTS WITHOUT CHILDREN
- Be helpful to parents of small children by not making them feel awkward or unwanted.
- Acknowledge children by smiling, or nodding in their direction, to show your appreciation of them.
- In fact, make a child’s presence a part of your worship by inviting their family to sit next to you, praying for them, taking an interest in them.
- Make a special point of sharing the Peace of Christ with them when everyone else is greeting.
- Find a young child before or after the service, make eye contact, introduce yourself, tell them you are glad to see them and will be looking for them next week. You might just be the reason that family returns.
(adapted with permission and gratitude from pew insert by Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, St. Paul, MN)
One of the highlights of the 2014 National Gathering was the biblical storytelling that took place in worship.
Jeremiah 29 was told in a variety of ways–
in 22 voices:
and by Jeff Krehbiel:
Then we learned to tell it:
There were additional stories told in worship, too:
Casey FitzGerald tells Matthew 10:
…and Luke 2
Jeff Krehbiel and Casey FitzGerald tell John 16
MaryAnn McKibben Dana tells part of Jeremiah at the start of her sermon
Thanks to Casey FitzGerald, Jeff Krehbiel, MaryAnn McKibben Dana for sharing their gifts this way. If you want to learn more about biblical storytelling, check out Casey’s blog Faith and Wonder.
Andrew Foster Connors suggests that good stewardship requires more than better preaching and shares how their congregation has used discipline of organizing to create a relational stewardship campaign.
Jessica Tate explores how the organizing universal of Organize, Dis-organize, Re-organize, Repeat helped to give new life to the deacons’ ministry.
Patrick Daymond shares the power of relational ministry in this video from the 2013 NEXT National Gathering.
And if you haven’t yet looked at the community organizing bibliography Jeff Krehbiel compiled last year, here it is.
Alika Galloway preaches at the 2014 National Gathering Opening Worship and invites us into “contested spaces.” https://vimeo.com/94459473
Pastoral Prayer from the 2014 National Gathering Closing Worship
Gracious God, as we prepare to go out from this place:
Help us to remember. That is our prayer as our attention and our calendars start to turn back toward home. Help us to remember because in remembering, O God, we find your faithfulness to us, and so we find hope. And we are hungry for hope. Help us to remember the energy, intelligence, imagination, and love that kindled in this place, the energy, intelligence, imagination, and love that we found in each other and rediscovered in ourselves. Help us, O God, to remember the stories of the church that persists not because we have all the answers, but because you simply will not let us go. Your steadfast love endures forever. Help us to remember and trust that “the church lives by a thousand resurrections,” and resurrection does some of its best work in the dark. Help us to remember the calling you have placed upon us all: to shine light into the darkness, to offer an anchor in the storm, to bind up the broken and proclaim release to the captives, to seek the welfare of our cities. Help us to remember our people, our places, where the needs are great and the ache is strong: where chemo treatments continued in our absence, where hungers persisted, where families fell apart, where guns were used, where grief was renewed. As we head home, help us enter into those places but God almighty, you come, too, for surely they need you more than they need us. Help us all to remember that. Help us to remember your story, O God, your story of creating and longing, your story of building and planting and prompting, your story of prophets who raged and disciples who didn’t get it, your story of angels stuck on repeat saying, “Do not be afraid,” your story of a brutal cross and a broken son, your story of a stone rolled back and a brand new day… ￼which is, of course, your story of reconciliation and redemption and grace and good, good news. It is the story that is saving our lives. So help us to remember, O God. Write it on our hearts because the church that is next is about the story that always has been and the love that always will be. Help us to remember today and every day that follows. Amen.
~ written by Jenny McDevitt, Pastor of Pastoral Care, Village Presbyterian Church Prairie Village, Kansas. (Jenny writes: “My theology professor Dawn DeVries assures me that “the church lives by a thousand resurrections” comes from John Calvin.)
Watch the wonderful sermons from the 2014 National Gathering in Minneapolis, MN.
J. Herbert Nelson
And last but not least, MaryAnn McKibben Dana, preaching “an end worth remembering…”
MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Erin Dunigan, evangelist of Los Ranchos Presbytery to Baja California talks about Not Church at the 2014 National Gathering.
Kara Root, pastor of Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church, talks about the pattern of life at LNPC which includes sabbath-keeping, worship at the local home for children and inviting children into worship at the 2014 NEXT Church National Gathering.
Thanks to Doug Brown and Carla Pratt Keyes for this liturgy for the first Sunday of Christmas.