N.B. I've been thinking about this blog for a few weeks now. It just so happens that I have nothing else to do on this Saturday evening so the blog has been written! No apologies if this blog offends you in any way. I speak from my heart, and this was on it.
Children & Adults = Church.
What does that equation mean to you? Perhaps you have a vision of children and adults, worshipping together in collective song, giving, prayer, teaching and Bible reading. Perhaps there is a few under enthusiastic-ly sung kids songs, and perhaps a 'Something for Everyone' talk. But more and more I see this happening:
Adults - Children = Church.
I witness children being ignored, told to be quiet, shuffled into a corner, talked over, talked about, glared at if they are making noise, told to sit still during the prayers, and more often than not expected to want to sing songs that are 60+ years old with no real explanation of the complex theological words used within them; and sometimes for no other reason than they rhyme... sort of. What is this "church" we have created?
During a Baptist child dedication service, the church congregation says they will do all they can to assist the child in their faith as they grow. Is that what we are doing in our church services*? I used to be optimistic. Or maybe I just used to be slightly more ignorant. But more and more recently, I've recognised the general attitude towards children in churches... and it's shocking when you take stock of it. As adults we like to send our children to the best schools we can, with good teachers who encourage and take care of and inspire our children to achieve goals and dreams as they are able. We choose people to be around our children that we think will care for them, inspire them and teach them about the ways of the world and how to live right. Why then, are we not wanting the same for them in their faith?
When did the enthusiasm for holding children at the HEART of God's family wane so badly? Did we just forget? Did we get so tied up in Hymn 104 that we forgot that our principal duty as stewards of God's kingdom is to pass the joy and acceptance and belonging in Christ's family onto the next generation and the next generation? What are we teaching our children by waiting until they are out of room before we do anything of real spiritual significance? That they aren't good enough or old enough to be followers of Christ? No wonder the 11-30's are leaving the UK church in their drones. They feel pushed away. They feel cheated. They feel bored. They feel out of place.
The thing I love about the Soul Survivor summer camp is that nothing is hidden from the young people. During the services, worship, prayer, communion, ministry, healing, jokes, songs, fun times, bad times, are all shared. As one family of 8000 or more children AND youth workers, they don't hide from the teenagers the struggles, nor the times of connecting with God. They see and experience God at work. In that place. And they see and experience the adults around them worshipping with their heart. Did the kids think I was a bit crazy when I felt like dancing during worship? Sure they did! But did I hide my joy in Christ from them? No. Why do we feel then that we must hide these things from them in our own little congregations?
We MUSTN'T be afraid to invite these children to the heart of our collective meeting with Jesus. We must involve them in the prayer, the worship, the tears, the laughter and the relationship. We must not give the impression that we know all the answers. We must widen our tolerance. We must not allow negativity and choosiness to enter our churches as we seek to worship as collective individuals. Let ALL be welcome. Otherwise we're just a dying congregation, a clanging cymbal that has no love for the small or the vulnerable of this world. And we miss out on all the blessings God has poured on our young people and our children to share with us.
I leave you with this:
"After the christening of his baby brother in church, Jason sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, "That preacher said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, and I wanted to stay with you guys."
* I know that church services aren't the only thing that churches involve children in. You might have the most spectacular youth and children's clubs, or even Sunday school. But if we can't accommodate children in the oldest, most central way of meeting together as God's family, then what's the point?