Connecting Children to the Church

A few weeks ago, we set aside some time in our worship services to honor and affirm our children. One Sunday, we listened to the 2nd grade Sunday School class recite the books of the Bible. On the next Sunday, we recognized the 6th grade Catechism Class and their achievement of memorizing more than 100 questions and answers about the theology and practice of the church. On that same Sunday, we received five 6th grade young people into Student Membership. In response to these events, a number of people have expressed their appreciation for our church’s continuing support and affirmation of children and youth to the life of our church.

The presentations and the responses led me to ponder how many churches view children. It is evident that the church has a varied history of its treatment of children.

On one hand, there are people like philanthropist Robert Raikes, whose heart was moved with compassion because of the harsh treatment of children in 18th century London. His response to illiteracy and vice was to initiate schools for children that met on Sunday. The original Sunday School was the precursor to the current English school system. Children without opportunities were given opportunities by the church to learn. Not everyone, however, was thrilled with Raikes’ idea of filling the respectable places of worship with ragamuffin children who didn’t know the proper way to act in such a place. Unfortunately, something of this mindset still persists in some churches.

In some churches, despite what people say, children are viewed as an intrusion, a disruption rather than a gift of life and a blessing from God. Sometimes we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we forget our calling to nurture and teach and bless young people who have been entrusted to us. This perspective concerns me because it is rooted in self-centeredness—a mindset that is always detrimental to the kingdom of God.

I realize that children sometimes do things that disrupt our ability to concentrate and learn and engage God. But quite frankly, so do adults. Sometimes the worship team or the choir or the organist or even the pastor (it’s hard to believe, I know) don’t quite get it right and it disrupts our worship. We would rather it didn’t happen, but this is what happens in community…and community includes children.

In the long run, which is better: that we experience a quiet worship atmosphere but lose our children to the faith because we communicate that they aren’t all that important to us, or that we miss some of what is intended in worship but our children grow up with a positive view of the church because they know that they are vitally important to us?

Actually, let me turn this question in a different direction. Instead of seeing children as potential causes of missing something, could it be that genuine worship is so connected to the way we treat children that paying attention to them is just as significant to worship as anything else going on around us. This means that we’re not actually missing anything, or even if we are, we are simply trading one part of worship for another part of worship. When Jesus warns that anyone who causes one of these little ones to stumble would be better off being thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck, isn’t he confronting, among other things, our view of children as inconvenience? Isn’t his warning a call for the church is to communicate to our children, through as many avenues as possible, that they are not an appendage to the church but that they are as much the church as any of us?

Our goal is for our children and youth to know that they are important to the church because they are important to God. Being important to us means that we sacrifice for them. We make room for them. We treat them with special honor. We understand that while we have much to teach them and we are committed to that; we also understand that they have much to teach us and we are just as committed to that. We recognize that our children and youth are not just the church of the future; they are the church now, as well.

So, here’s my challenge to you and me: 1) Let’s be honest about our attitude toward children and youth in the church. We will never see them the way God does until we acknowledge that we might have a warped view. 2) Come to worship asking God to help you think and act positively about the children and youth who are there—smile at them, pray for them, speak to them, embrace them. 3) Pray with an open spirit about something practical you can do to help nurture children and youth in the faith—volunteer to teach or assist with Sunday School, get involved in Wednesday night children’s ministry or Sunday night youth ministry, add your name to nursery, children’s church or junior church ministry, be a leader for Wesleyan Kids for Missions. If you don’t know what to do, talk with Emily Hoffman (children) or Jon Cole (youth): I guarantee that they have plenty of ideas for you.

I am thoroughly convinced that how we treat children (those scripture refers to as “little ones”) is a direct reflection of how we view God. After all, we can’t afford to ignore or forget the joyous yet sobering words of Jesus (Mark 10:13-15): Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.