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I Believe the Children are Our Future

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Rev. Ken D. Fuquay is curating a series featuring an eclectic group of voices responding to the question, “Does church matter? And if it matters, how, and if it does not, why?” Some of the voices speak from the center of the PC(USA); others stand on the periphery. One or two of the voices come from other denominations while some speak to us from the wilderness and barren places. “To every age, Christ dies anew and is resurrected within the imagination of humans.” These voices are stirring up that imagination in their own way. May your imagination be stirred as you consider their insight. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

Editor’s note: This post was updated to include the entirety of the author’s post. We apologize for the error! 

by Kim Lee

I had a newborn. But I figured: never too early to learn. Subsequently, there I was, attending a class for parents on teaching children to drive.

First question: “At what age does a child learn to drive?”

One called out, “Sixteen.”

Another, “no, no, no. Fifteen, that’s when they start taking driver’s education courses.”

Silence.

Photo from Selywn Ave Presbyterian Church Facebook page

After what seemed a rather dramatic pause, our presenter said, “I’d like to suggest that your children are learning to drive from the moment you buckle them into their car seat.”

“Do you slow down for yellow or speed up?” “Do you lock your doors?” “Do you wear your seatbelt?”

As a Christian educator, I think about those wise words and ponder: When does a child learn he or she is a child of God?

I’d like to suggest from the moment we welcome them into the family.

Are we keeping God’s words in our hearts? Do we recite them to our children? Do we talk about them when we’re at home? When we are away? When we lie down? When we rise?

I was a preschool teacher for fourteen years. Over those years, I came to realize that if I really wanted to impact the life of a child, and what teacher worth his or her salt doesn’t?, I had to reach the parents. Let’s be honest, as a teacher I had access to the hearts, minds, souls and bodies of my little learners twelve hours a week, if they were in school every day.

As the Director of Children and Family Ministry, I have access to the hearts, minds, souls, and bodies of my little disciples-in-training, at best, two hours a week, eight hours a month, and fifteen hours over the summer, if a family is EXTREMELY active. That means the church, assigned with the task of “guiding and nurturing by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging the body of Christ to know and follow Christ and to be faithful members of the church of Jesus Christ,” has a grand whopping one hundred and eleven hours a year to fulfill its baptismal promise.

On the other hand, parents have access to the hearts, minds, souls, and bodies of their children twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for a minimum of eighteen years! I think that is why the writer of Deuteronomy addresses Israel:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates…When your children ask you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the decrees and the statues and the ordinances that the LORD our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your children…
–Deuteronomy 6:4-9

What? What shall we say?

As parents and teachers and pastors, we are not asked to make up answers on the fly. Rather, we are charged to hear God’s Word; to love God with all of our heart, an undivided faithfulness; and with all of our soul, a commitment unto death; and with all of our might, everything we have and are — the totality of the human creature. Throughout the Bible, there is a recognition that it will take the whole of Israel — parents, teachers, preachers, and neighbors — to instruct children into the household of God.

An exasperated mom tells me that every day she fights the same fight: She gathers her eight-year old daughter’s cleats, socks, and shin guards, fixes a water bottle, makes a snack and places everything by the front door so that all her daughter has to do when she gets in from school is pick up her bag, grab her snack and get in the car. And yet, each weekday afternoon her daughter finds some reason or is flustered by some event that prevents her from doing just that, making them late to soccer practice every. single. day. And I wonder: Why do we expend so much time, energy, and money for our children to partake in soccer, basketball, baseball, swimming, tennis and on and on and spend either no time or very little time worshipping God, praying, and studying the Bible with our children?

Where on earth did we get the idea that children are little bodies devoid of souls? We may not sacrifice our children to fire gods anymore, but I fear we are sacrificing them to soccer fields, basketball courts, baseball fields, swimming pools, tennis courts, and the like.

Children are born unto us as curious, searching, longing, spiritual beings. They ask the deepest questions of life: Who am I? Why isn’t life fair? Where am I going? How am I going to get there? Why? Why? Why?

Then we shall say to our children…

What?

What will we say?


Kim Lee serves as part-time Director of Children’s and Family Ministries at Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. Kim is a graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary in Charlotte. Before arriving at Selwyn, she served as the Director of Spiritual Formation at South Mecklenburg Presbyterian from 2007 to early 2015. Prior to that Kim served as a lead teacher in their Weekday School for fourteen years. Kim is a native Charlottean, having grown up at Covenant Presbyterian Church. She and her husband, Rick, have an adult son. Kim loves stories any way she can get them — books, movies, songs or spoken. She also enjoys frequent walks along the greenway with her golden retrievers, Norton & Tilly.

Pastorpreneur: The Business of Serving God’s People

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Layton Williams is curating a series we’re calling “Ministry Out of the Box,” which features stories of ministers serving God in unexpected, diverse ways. What can ordained ministry look like outside of the parish? How might we understand God calling us outside of the traditional ministry ‘box?’ We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Adam Walker Cleaveland

“Hi, my name is Adam, and I’m an entrepreneur.”

What?

When I was in seminary ten years ago, if you had told me I would graduate, serve three churches, and then start a business creating resources for children’s ministry… I would never have believed you.

First, I really didn’t care for children’s ministry (shhh, don’t tell anyone).

Second, I had read a lot of business and leadership books while in ministry and during my time in seminary, but it always felt like I should have been reading them with those old brown paper bag book covers like you used to make in elementary school for your textbooks. Sure, you could glean some interesting analogies and ideas from those books for ministry, but they were business books, and ministry and business needed to be kept far away from each other. I was, after all, pursuing the higher calling – being a pastor.

Oh, the naiveté of a first-year seminarian.

Photo from Illustrated Children’s Ministry

And yet, here I am. Ten years out of seminary and I’m a businessman (although, when I was just starting out and living the life of a ‘solopreneur,’ I could understand why Jay-Z might have felt like he himself was the business, man, and not just a businessman).

My journey here was not a quick or easy one. It was filled with successes, joys, and a lot of fulfillment serving churches in parish ministry. It was also filled with loss, depression, conflict, and moments of utter frustration with my calls. Parish ministry can be life-giving, but it can also suck the life out of you. It can make you question your call and your faith, and one can grow increasingly cynical about ministry.

Through a series of events over a two-year period, I eventually found myself imagining what it would look like to start a business offering illustrated faith resources to churches and families. The fact that there was an adult coloring craze occurring at the same time that I launched Illustrated Children’s Ministry (ICM) was also quite helpful.

Once the business began to take off and I started writing and talking more about the work we were doing, I found myself oddly avoiding some words related to the business. I became aware that I used certain words instead of more business-y-sounding words. I wouldn’t talk about our “products” but I would share extensively about our “resources.” We didn’t have “customers” – we had a “community.” ICM was a ministry – not a business.

For someone who spent a lot of time reminding parishioners that they could live out their callings as doctors, teachers, and businesspeople, I sure was having a hard time acknowledging that it wasn’t a bad thing that I was now an entrepreneur running a successful business. Why did I feel the need to avoid words like “products” when that is exactly what we sell at ICM? It’s like all those conversations in seminary about the church not being a business made me think that there was something wrong with being a business, or a businessperson.

And clearly, there isn’t anything wrong with it.

In fact, now that I am an entrepreneur and running my own small business, I feel like I’m doing more ministry and having a greater impact in the world by using my gifts in this way. One of the products that ICM sells is large coloring posters. For this past Advent, we had over one thousand churches from all over the world using our posters and creating opportunities for their communities to gather intergenerationally. We are currently selling stations of the cross coloring posters, and we’ve surpassed our numbers from Advent. I’m guessing that we’ll have close to 1,500 churches, schools, campus ministries, and retirement communities around the world coloring our posters.

Whether by choice or by necessity, I imagine that more and more pastors are going to start thinking about alternative ways that they can support themselves and their families, and starting a business is a great option. Fizzle is an online community for independent entrepreneurs who are working hard to earn a living doing something they love. I found this community when I started ICM and it’s been an incredible place of information and support. The crew at Fizzle says that the most successful businesses come together when you find a problem that people have in the world, you get to know those people, and care about them enough to be able to offer them a solution to that problem.

Gosh, I feel like I’ve heard something like that before.

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
-Frederick Buechner


Adam Walker Cleaveland is the founder of Illustrated Children’s Ministry, LLC, a business that creates illustrated faith resources for the church and the home. He lives in Chicago with his wife (a pastor), their 5-yr old son and 6-week old daughter. Find out more about Illustrated Children’s Ministry at their website: illustratedchildrensministry.com.

Greatest Hit: Why We Welcome Little Children to Worship

This fall, in addition to sharing reflections on “what is saving your ministry right now?”, we are also bringing back some of our most popular posts over the last couple of years. We hope these “greatest hits” will allow you new insight in this busy time of year. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

This post on children worship participation is one of our most popular posts in the history of the NEXT Church blog. We’ve updated it slightly below in hopes it becomes a fresh resource for you.

At Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, MN, 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 their 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)  

Looking for more? Here are more resources from NEXT:

Greatest Hit: A Child Speaks About Church

This fall, in addition to sharing reflections on “what is saving your ministry right now?”, we are also bringing back some of our most popular posts over the last couple of years. We hope these “greatest hits” will allow you new insight in this busy time of year. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

This post on children in church is one of our most popular posts in the history of the NEXT Church blog. We’ve updated it slightly below in hopes it becomes a fresh resource as you look towards December.

By Steve Lindsley and Lynn Turnage

Hey.child reading bible small

HEY!

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 the Senior Pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC.  Lynn Turnage is Director of Children and Family Ministries at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC.

Looking for more? Check out the resources below from NEXT:

Image: Andi Berger/shutterstock.com

Children, Music and Glory to God

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter! Read more

In Life and in Death We Belong to God: Are there Babysitters in Heaven?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This December, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a month of reflections on pastoral care in the 21st century. Join the conversation here or on Facebook. Today’s post originally appeared at Ecclesio.com and is republished here with the author’s permission 

By Meg Peery McLaughlin

I got a phone call from a young mom a couple of weeks ago asking me how to talk to her elementary-aged daughter about death. It wasn’t because her child was acutely grieving the loss of a loved one, but rather a curiosity about what happens when someone dies. Honestly and humbly, this mother had patiently answered her daughter’s questions. They talked about how everybody dies. Sometimes it is older people whose bodies stop working. They talked about people who die suddenly from accidents or illnesses. They talked about how, yes, even babies sometimes die. Upon this realization, the little girl wondered aloud if there were babysitters in heaven. For if a baby can die and their mommy or daddy aren’t in heaven yet, then who will take care of them? It was at this point that the mom called me.

As a Pastor of Pastoral Care at a larger congregation, I’ve averaged a funeral every other week for the past six years. I’ve watched children climb around hospitals beds pointing out catheters and IV drips, as parents have explained how bodies weren’t working anymore. I’ve seen young siblings bring balloons to the memorial garden and tell me that their baby brother is with Jesus. I’ve released ashes over the side of the mountain and heard a grandchild ask, almost immediately, “can I go have some hot chocolate now.” This congregation has taught me some important lessons about death.

Talk straight. It’s best to be open with kids when the topic comes up and their questions arise. Be honest and as clear/concrete as possible. Kids don’t need to be shielded from the truth. If they are, their imaginations will fill in details where there are gaps. Avoid clichés: “God takes people” makes it seem like God is like the descending metal claw in a toy machine. “Grandma went to sleep and is now in heaven” makes me never want to put my own head on a pillow. “We go to a better place” makes me wonder what’s so bad about the world I’m living in – the one that everyone said God made. “I promise everything will be okay” sounds reassuring, but I’d rather hear that you promise to love me no matter what happens.

Magical thinking is an intergenerational activity. Joan Didion, after the death of her husband, wrote a great book called The Year of Magical Thinking. Her portrait of grief describes the way that she felt like she could control things with wishful thinking. Didion confessed she really did wonder if her husband would come back if she didn’t give away his shoes (he might come back and need them, afterall). Kids, especially kids six years old and younger, live in that kind of world, too. Young kids can think death is reversible. Kids can think that their thoughts/actions/words were the cause of death, or could bring their loved ones back.

State the obvious. . . again and again and again. Why do you think we come to worship week after week after week to hear gospel words, watch the waters of baptism slosh in the font, experience the table in the middle of room? We all need reminders of what is right and what is real. Kids do too. Tell them: Death is not their fault. It’s not the deceased person’s fault. Love doesn’t go away. You’re glad the person doesn’t hurt anymore. It’s not fair. God’s heart is sad too. When they ask again, answer.

Let kids see your love. Afterall, that’s the same thing as letting them see your grief. Love and grief are intertwined and never do we get rid of/get over/ have closure with either. It’s okay to bring kids with you when you visit the sick. It’s okay to bring kids with you to the funeral. It’s okay to let them bring balloons to the cemetery. It’s okay to let them see you cry. It’s okay to talk about those who are no longer in our reach. There is great danger in turning to your kids to have them be your therapist, but there is great wisdom in letting your kids see your process. Where else will they learn to grieve? To love? To honor father and mother? To be neighbor? To trust that in life and in death we belong to God? A worth while read about engendering faith to our kids can be found at: http://www.breadnotstones.com/2012/05/ten-things-i-want-to-tell-parents.html.

Get comfortable in deep water. Most of what I’m asked about by parents are deep water questions. Will there be babysitters in heaven? Will I recognize my loved one? Who will be married up there—grandmom and granddad or grandmom and stepgranddad? How does all this work? I find immeasurable comfort in the way the Apostle Paul treads water here. In 1 Corinthians 15, in his efforts to talk about the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, he says; “Listen, let me tell you a mystery!” I love that. “Listen Up! I’m about to talk to you about what NONE OF US really actually knows!” Here’s some permission giving here: tell your kids you don’t know the answer, tell your kids about mystery. But also dream about what’s beneath your toes. Imagine together about what heaven would be like—knowing what you do know about love, about God’s desire to bind us into community, about Easter morning and Christmas Eve, about your own experience of faith. Realizing that you’re in the midst of mystery doesn’t need to mean that you fall silent, but rather that you can stand in awe with your kid and practice the holy art of imagination.

bunnyParents ask me about good books to read with their kids about death. There are some good ones. Union Presbyterian Seminary has a blog that reviews Children’s Literature. (http://storypath.wordpress.com — search “death” within the site). But if you want to get to the core about my own theology of death, a go-to for me is Margaret Wise Brown’s A Runaway Bunny. Whether with young kids who can appreciate it immediately, or older kids who may remember it from their early childhood, that book speaks of an inescapable love—an inescapable love that is akin to the inescapable love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. If you read that book alongside Psalm 139: 1-12, you might think Brown was plagiarizing; plagiarizing in the most holy way possible. What better what to say that no matter where we go—in life or in death—we belong to God, like a bunny belongs to his mother? Who needs a babysitter then?
Meg Peery McLaughlin is co-pastor of Burke Presbyterian Church in Northern Virginia, along with her husband, Jarrett. At the time this article was written she was associate pastor for pastoral care at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, KS. Meg and Jarrett have three young girls.

Welcoming Children in Worship

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)  

Missional Shift in Christian Education–An Ignite Presentation from NEXT 2014

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Here is just one of the many excellent Ignite presentations at NEXT… video of all ten presentations will be online soon, but here is the text of Jen James’s presentation. Originally published at her blog.

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.

~

Image by Shawna Bowman, conference artist for 2014 NEXT National Gathering, who granted permission for use of this image as part of Jen’s presentation.

Mister Rogers, Children, and the Small Church

Each month we ask a different person from the NEXT Church community to assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, Andrew Taylor-Troutman is curating a conversation around small congregations. Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here.

by Mary Harris Todd

In his television program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred Rogers approached children in such a gentle manner.  Except for the trolley bell, there were no bells and whistles on the show.   The tone was quiet and conversational.  At an unhurried pace, Mr. Rogers talked with adults and children on the show.  Often he was seeking to learn from them, as when he asked a young neighbor to show him some dance moves.  Mr. Rogers addressed his television neighbors about topics of interest or concern.  The Neighborhood of Make Believe was definitely low-tech, leaving lots of room for children’s imaginations.  Simple hand puppet characters interacted with people.  Some of the characters were children, and some were adults.  It was intergenerational.  Children loved Mr. Rogers, and I did, too, even though I only watched the show as an adult.  I am too old to have been one of his neighbors as a small child.

groupOur small congregation loves children.  We have no bells and whistles to offer, except that we love it when there are children present to ring the church steeple bell.  We can’t offer busy programs and sports leagues with crowds of excited children.  But we can be neighbors like Mr. Rogers, himself a Presbyterian minister who saw the children as his congregation.  We approach children with his gentleness and loving simplicity.   Like Mr. Rogers, we share Jesus’ love conversationally.  A child who comes to Morton will find many “grandfriends”–my daughter’s term–who will take genuine, ongoing interest in them.  We tell the gospel story.  We share our talents and encourage the children to share theirs.

Here are some pictures from our recent summer program for children.  God has given our church many talents in music, so we decided to share that with the children, both as an expression of love and an encouragement for them to give musical instruments a try.  We also invited them to express their creativity through art.  Adults and children alike were enthralled by Jesus’ story, and mixed together in a lovely way.  We are so grateful for this time God gave us with these children!  (Click here to see more photos.)

Now we’re working on developing more opportunities of this kind, with the dream and the hope of welcoming these and other children and their families fully into the family of God.   We long for them to join us on Sundays!  But even if they don’t, we are still going to do what we can to help them know that Jesus loves them, and encourage them to love him back  He is their nearest, dearest neighbor.  Living in God’s neighborhood means loving other neighbors as Christ loves us.

We are a Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood kind of church, looking for ways to ask people of all ages, “Won’t you be our neighbor?”


todd copyMary Harris Todd  has been a Presbyterian all her life.  She grew up in one small congregation, Kirk O’Cliff Presbyterian Church  near Mineral, Virginia, and since 1990 she has served as the pastor of another,  Morton Presbyterian Church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.  As Advent approaches, the Morton congregation is looking forward to a blessed season with the handful of beloved children that God has brought to us since the summer.  Visit with Mary and her flock online at The Mustard Seed Journal, where you can find lots of resources for small church ministry.

A Child Speaks About Church

By Steve Lindsley and Lynn Turnage

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HEY!

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/shutterstock.com