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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.

2018 National Gathering Ignite: Lisa Scott Jones

Lisa Scott Jones, Children & Young Family Minister at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, gives an Ignite presentation at the 2018 NEXT Church National Gathering about her ministry with toddlers and their families.

Rockin’ Toddlers is a fun-filled, easy-to-do church outreach program designed to serve and engage young families.

If You Build It They Will (Not) Come

NEXT Church regularly pulls on wisdom from community organizing as we think about being the church in the 21st century. For our purposes this month, we focus on the way in which congregation-based community organizing places emphasis on developing new leaders. Read Jeff Krehbiel’s post for another example.

 

By Jessica Tate

“If you build it, they will come.”

We held that maxim for several years in children’s ministry at the congregation I first served.

It is not true.

“We need better curriculum,” I thought. One that more fully embraces the Presbyterian theology we preach, is attentive to multiple intelligences, one that takes children and their spiritual questions seriously, and is easy for our teachers to use. That is what good curriculum should do, according to my Masters’ degree in Christian Education. So we researched and acquired a new curriculum.

The children did not come.

“Our teachers need better training so they will be more invested, more prepared, and developing spiritually themselves.” We did more training. Our teachers were ready!

The children did not come.

We need better snacks, more play time, less choir, more choir, more bible drills, parent education, family events… the list went on and on and we tried it all.

They did not come.

Anita Patterson Peppers/shutterstock

Anita Patterson Peppers/shutterstock

The children’s ministry team had been eager for their shiny new pastor to arrive with a pristine education degree and solutions. Starting this new call, I thought the stagnation of the children’s ministry was simply a matter of technical fixes and re-energizing volunteers. Two years in we realized we were wrong and we were frustrated. All of us believed in the value of forming our children in faith, but we couldn’t get more than a dozen families engaged. We didn’t know what else to try.

During those same years we were trouble-shooting the children’s ministry problem, the mission portion of my job had me deeply engaged in community organizing through VOICE (Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement), where I was learning about the power of relationships to make change in our community around issues we cared about. In Northern Virginia, these were issues of:

  • affordable housing (as we watched developers tear down apartment complexes to build luxury condominiums – “staring in the $700s!” – and knew firefighters and nurses who commuted an hour or more to work.)
  • the foreclosure crisis (that blighted neighborhoods in Prince William county and trapped homeowners in endless bureaucratic cycles of refinancing and foreclosure because banks weren’t devoting enough human resources to deal with the huge increase in the number of families needing these services in the burst of the housing bubble.)
  • affordable dental care for the uninsured (I had never before thought about the social and financial impact of dental care until I talked to some of my neighbors and realized the poor condition of your teeth makes you wary of opening your mouth to speak.)
  • increased identification requirements for drivers’ licenses that unfairly targeted immigrants and prevented them from getting legal identification.

Through these organizing efforts I was learning the marks of relational (v. bureaucratic) culture, how power works in a community to get things done (or prevent things from happening), the ways in which people’s own interests and passions get acted on (or not), and that all organizing is dis-organizing and re-organizing.

I was learning skills like relational meetings, power analysis, listening campaigns, and evaluation. I was participating in local trainings and actions in our area and being constantly support and challenged to grow by the organizers and other leaders with whom I was working. Three years into my first call I went to the Industrial Areas Foundation national training, which completely reframed the ways in which I understood how to do my job as a pastor, namely, by working primarily relationally within and outside of my congregation (as opposed to programmatically) and to strategically align my energy and time with the passions and interests of others with whom I was in relationship to develop ourselves into disciples and be the church for the world.

I was participating in a Community Organizing Cluster in my presbytery that encouraged pastors to use the principles of organizing inside their congregations when it became clear that the wisdom and skills I was learning in organizing to make change in our community might be relevant to the stagnation we were experiencing in children’s ministry.

What if the children’s ministry committee gave up our frantic “build it and they will come” mentality and returned to our values as a relational culture?

One of the organizers for VOICE helped me design a listening campaign for the summer. A team of five leaders who were invested in children’s ministry came together to get trained in relational meetings. We let all the families in the church know that we were embarking on a children’s ministry listening campaign and encouraged them to respond if called upon by one of these leaders. The leaders met individually with twenty families in the congregation and then came back together to share what they heard and notice themes. We held “listening sessions” with members of the congregation who have a stake in children’s ministry to talk what matters to them about the faith formation of our children. For what do they most hope? What obstacles prevent their participation? To what are they willing to commit?

We discovered the most valued component of children’s ministry was caring adults who know the children and act as guides in Christian life. (Not biblical knowledge, entertainment value, or snack, despite that these are the areas I heard most about in the usual grumblings.) Meaningful relationships.

We learned the schedule everyone took for granted was a hindrance to participation and we worked together to find a schedule that suited most.

We also watched as those present at the listening sessions took responsibility for their own opinions and took power back from the squeakiest wheels. When one person said, “A lot of people think X…” the others present respectfully disagreed and shared what they did think, which prevented us from following a programmatic rabbit trail based on one person’s experience.

After listening well to each other and responding as a community (not just a committee), we made significant changes to the emphases in children’s ministry and the schedule of Sunday activities. Children’s ministry doubled the next year. And increased again the next.

Then it was time to listen again because, as we learned,

  • relationships are essential to the community’s life together,
  • people will act on their interest when they are able to name what that interest is, and,
  • because our lives are constantly changing, our programs needed to be continually dis-organized and re-organized.

 

Jessica Tate1Jessica Tate is the Director of NEXT Church. She previously served as Associate Pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church.