One of my weekly routines is to set out the chairs for The Well. I realize that I haven’t been called to be a seating engineer, but I do enjoy the solitude that comes with this set-up in an environment that I adore.
The last couple of set-ups in particular have made me smile. As I unstack the chairs I see that a great many of them are covered with cookie crumbs. This makes me smile because I’m reminded of the blessing that comes from having children as a part of the worship service (Although I do concede that some of the mess might also be the result of sloppy adults!). And I recognize that, in some congregations, cookie eating would be frowned upon, and leaving a crumby mess would be intolerable. But for me, crumby Sundays make me happy.
From a very early age my daughter Anya has always been told that church should be enjoyable. We used to tell her that Wednesday night catechism and sports was “Party at the church night.” Now I realize, of course, that the grand purpose of church is not to feed stomachs and to entertain fancies. The grand purpose of Sunday worship (and life) is to celebrate the supremacy of Jesus Christ. I’m just not convinced that celebrating Christ’s supremacy needs to come at the expense of enjoying oneself.
You might remember Jesus had to rebuke His disciples for attempting to keep the children at arm’s length,
Let the children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. (Matthew 19:14)
I know far too many congregations that do not have any programs for children. And my fear is that we have subtly “hindered” the children from coming to Jesus by encouraging environments that are unduly formal and serious.
As an interim moderator (someone who assists congregations that do not have a pastor), I have often noted a disconnect between a congregation’s desire and their actions. Every congregation I have ever been associated with will tell you that they eagerly desire children and youth to attend. But what eventually becomes apparent is that the adults want to welcome children and youth on their terms. They want the children and youth to fit into their structures. I don’t mean to sound unkind when I say that there is a lot of self-sabotage going on in when it comes to congregations and children’s ministries.
I assure you that children and youth will not frequent our services, programs, and events just because we say that we want them to. They will more likely attend, however, if we can meaningfully demonstrate that we genuinely want them here, and that the designs of these initiatives had them in mind.
I’m not suggesting that all you need to do is serve juice and cookies and everything will be fine. But I would challenge congregations to think about the environments from which they are presenting Jesus to children. Is there anything that your congregation is doing, or not doing, which might be “hindering” children from meeting Jesus?
How we serve our children is a big deal.
I delight in the presence of children Sunday by Sunday—even if it makes for a crumby Sunday, I’m happy.