Tag Archives: adult faith

Should Children be Forced to Attend Church with Adults?

Recently, my pastor decided to provide a “children’s sermon” each week, right before he preaches to the adults. The format will be familiar to many people. As soon as the pastor is ready to preach, he calls the children up to the front of the church. He sits with them on the steps. He usually has a an object or photo to introduce his topic, and he teaches in childrenspeak while the adults wait. This format and practice are believed by many to be a good way to engage children in worship.

I profoundly disagree.

Many try to say that the whole idea of children in the worship service is a big mistake. Children are noisy and fidgety. They don’t understand what is happening, and they get bored. The only way to hold their attention is to entertain them while they learn something without knowing it. People also complain because noisy children and crying babies interrupt and distract. It is better, they say, to eliminate noise sources so the grown-ups can worship in peace.

I profoundly disagree.

I was glad to read a concurring opinion last week. Speaking of the experience of young children in “big church,” the author wrote,

Of course, it is over their head. It is supposed to be over their head. They are beginners. The English language is over their head as soon as they come out of the womb. But we don’t say: Well, let’s put them with other children in their own situations and limitations so they can understand a word or two. No. We immerse them in the English language every day that they don’t understand 90% of in the hope and expectation that they grow up into joyful use of the English language.

http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/should-children-sit-through-big-church

Guess what. I remember going to church before I understood it, but those memories all come flooding back frequently in my adult life. Those memories are some of the earliest steps I took toward becoming the person I am today.

As a child, when we sang the Doxology, I thought the “heavenly hosts above” were sitting in the balcony. How I wanted to sit in that elevated company! But when I grew up, I came to understand something very different. Now my memories of worship as a child are even richer than before; the images are not changed, but my comprehension has changed.

I remember sermon content from childhood, too. Don’t doubt me. I learned about the beam in my eye and the splinter in someone else’s eye before I could understand it. I learned that people need to forgive each other over and over long before I could comprehend the math of “seventy times seven.” I heard about the Good Samaritan, and the selfish brothers James and John long before I was “old enough” to understand worship. I learned about the wide gate and the narrow gate, and I knew it was about choices, but I had to grow some before I understood how to make wise choices. Because I remember the settings where I first heard these stories, I know I was nine or younger at the time. When I heard or read the stories later, those new experiences built on the old ones.  I could sing a lot of hymns by heart when I was nine or ten, so I know I heard them frequently and was attentive enough to get the words at a very young age.

I remember hearing about Zaccheus, too. Not just the Sunday School lesson. I heard the sermon, and I absorbed the truth that meeting Jesus can change someone immediately! I can still see my pastor leaning forward and gesturing toward the congregation. That memory returned when I later heard my Sunbeam teacher tell about Zaccheus.

I vividly remember an Indian pastor telling all of us that the ministry of Jesus was “preaching, teaching, and healing.” His sermon shaped my image of missions and mission work profoundly. I was nine years old at the time.

I have these memories, because my parents took me to church with them. They did not give me coloring books to keep me quiet; they told me to be quiet, and I knew the consequences of disobedience. The other parents did the same, and I saw more than one child temporarily removed from the sanctuary for an education in the etiquette and meaning of worship. My parents told me to bow my head and pray when everyone else did. (I knew about praying, because we did it at home.) They told me to stand up when the other people did, and be respectful of God’s house. I was not to scoot right and left, fall in the floor and climb back up into the seat. I was not to wander in the aisle. Bathroom breaks were taken care of before church. During church, we remained in church, and we behaved appropriately. I did not understand why we needed to be respectful of God, but I did not understand why I needed to be respectful of my parents, either. I learned all those things over time, but my early experiences prepared me for the higher level truths.

I remember wondering as a child how the ushers actually delivered God’s money to him, but I had no doubt that He received it. I remember wondering, when I was very small, if God hid in one of the rooms behind the choir loft to hear our prayers and hymns. In the big picture, I doubt my childish misconceptions were a lot farther from the truth than my adult ones. After all, my efforts at visualizing God suffer from warping by my sinful human nature at any age. However, I believe my parents did the right thing by taking me to “big church,” (a term I never even heard as a child–nobody had imagined a separate church service for children then) and I believe my faith is stronger because of it. My appreciation of and my glad participation in worship as an adult has roots in years of worship experiences that poured over me and around me and through me long before I understood any of it.

When Moses gave his farewell address to the Israelites, he spent some time talking about the importance of educating children while they were still children. Inspired by God, the creator of all things, seen and unseen, Moses told the Israelites to talk with their children about what they had learned in the wilderness. He told them to be talking with those kids morning, noon, and night. They were not to have children’s church, but they were to have Everyday School, conversations between parents and their children about God. Moses said children needed to be part of every worship service.

Children need to be in church. There is no other way for them to absorb the meaning of worship. There is no other way for them to grow up in the faith. Children need to be in church, and they need to recognize that they will need to grow up in order to understand it. That is what it means to grow up. Too many adults today never did grow up in their faith, because nobody let them be exposed to the necessity of growing up. They do not know that growing up is necessary. They still think that God has failed them if they ask for self-serving gain and don’t get it.

If children need the instruction and language of “children’s church,” then they need to receive it in Sunday School. When they go to church, worship is what they should be doing. They will not do it “right” the first time. They may have trouble singing the songs and following the hymnal, but just like the discipline of courtesy to adults and obedience to authority, they will learn to worship. God spoke to Samuel when he was just a child, and even though Samuel did not likely understand what it was all about, he did what God told him to do, and he never forgot the experience. Your children should not be led to think of church as something to tolerate while the grownups do their secret thing with God.

 

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How Do We Build Up Our Faith?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.   Ephesians 1:3-14

03.365 (02.08.2009) Faith
03.365 (02.08.2009) Faith (Photo credit: hannahclark)

Even though we testify to our faith in Christ, it is sometimes hard to live that faith when it is challenged. For example, while many people turned immediately to God in prayer on September 11, 2001, many other people looked at the violence and destruction and thought God had failed them. Without judging one or the other behavior, it is important to realize that faith and faithful behaviors must mature over time in our lives the same way our bodies mature. A newborn baby cannot even sit up, let alone walk, but a year later, most babies can do both things. Christians can be just like newborn babies if they do not grow their faith and mature in the way they live their faith. This text, from Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, is about growing and maturing in faith. Just as a helpless baby who needs others to care for him must grow up and become an adult, Christians also need to mature in faith. A Christian never becomes self-sufficient, because as we mature in faith we learn to rely more, not less, on Christ, but the process of maturing in faith, like the process of maturing physically, takes time.

One way to grow our faith is to borrow the prayers Paul prayed and write them on our hearts by putting ourselves into those prayers. For example, in this passage, Paul says, “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance.” If I use my own name in the passage, I take possession of Paul’s prayer for myself. Watch how the text becomes more personal and important when I do that.

In Christ, Katherine has also obtained an inheritance.

Now Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians becomes my own testimony to the promise of God in my own life. I am an heir of God’s riches. I, Katherine Harms, am a child of God and an heir through Christ. This is personal. This verse speaks to me personally. It gets my attention in a different way that when I read it as a teaching for the ancient Ephesians.  

Read this text aloud. Everywhere Paul uses the word “you” or “we” or “our” – any personal pronoun – replace that word with your own name. If you have trouble doing this, you can click below to download a copy of the text with blank lines everywhere your name belongs. Read this text and pray this text until the message becomes personal for you. 

Click Here      07112012_Make Pauls Letter Personal

You can use this method to make any prayer or any other text personal for you. The prayers and promises of the Bible are all meant for you. When God speaks through the Bible, he is speaking for you and to you. One way to start writing those texts in your own heart is to use your own name in them. 

This is a good way to make the prayers and texts personal for someone else, too. If you are praying for a friend, you can read a Bible text and insert your friend’s name into the text. You can borrow the words of the Bible, powerful words that don’t come naturally from your own lips, for your prayers for other people.

The Bible is not a neutral book. It is a personal book. The Bible reveals to us what it is like to be a human being in relationship with God, and that relationship can become more alive and more real to us if we put our own names in the story. That, after all, is what Jesus did for us on the cross. Jesus was praying for you and for me when he prayed, “Father, forgive Katherine Harms, for she knows not what she is doing.” Jesus called my name, and he called your name, and he put us into his story that day. You can grow and mature in faith by doing that with the texts of the Bible.