If you’ve been on social media at all today, you’ve probably seen it. Within a few short hours of its release, millions watched the video documenting Germany’s welcome of Syrian refugees into their homeland. Hundreds gathered with signs and banners, singing “Say it loud, say it clear: Refugees are welcome here!” to a crowd of weary, worn people who for the last few months haven’t been welcome anywhere. As they stepped from the train, they were not met with blank stares or words of frustration, but with cheers and applause and a genuine welcome.
Tears couldn’t help but stream from my face, as I’m guessing they did for so many.
And I couldn’t help but think, “Now that…that is a welcome.”
I’ve written many times about including children in our corporate worship, creating space for youth to serve in our churches, and welcoming the younger generations into our community of faith. Of all the blogs I’ve written, these topics seem to strike the deepest chord with parents and ministers alike and more often than not, I get the question, “How?”
I’ve always heard this question as more of a “How to?” and have offered suggestions on ways that church can do that. But, this morning as I watched these German citizens welcome “the least of these” to their country, I heard the question in a new light…because, my friends, that. is. how.
Without frustration, but with cheers and applause.
Without hesitation, but with open arms.
Because for all the practical ideas that can be incorporated into a church, if the heart is not one of welcome, then there is no welcome. A bag of crayons and a paper to color carry little weight if not accompanied by a heart that says, “We want you here.” A bulletin insert or a children’s moment in the service have little meaning if it’s just a concession made or a tradition upheld. These things, which are good, do not signal welcome and do not create relationship or foster community.
They are just things.
But names beings spoken. Hugs being given. Words like, “I’m so glad you are here” and “We need you” and “We are excited that you are worshiping with us today” spoken in the midst of great need to a group of people that are often pushed aside, disregarded, and unwelcome…those are not things; those are open arms and cheers and applause and joy and welcome.
I’m not saying that every time a child or youth walks through our church doors we need to bust out signs and sing songs of welcome (although – wow – wouldn’t that be cool?) but I am saying that our hearts need to be doing that so our actions demonstrate it.
Because of all the places in this whole world that children and youth should feel like they belong, shouldn’t it be the church? Instead of walking away and saying, “I don’t belong there” as so many millennials have, shouldn’t they know that is where they belong most?
Our welcome should not be our last line of defense against them being a distraction but rather our first line of defense against a world that wants to capture their hearts.
Our place should be THE place they run to knowing our arms are open and our space is theirs.
It should be as if we are welcoming Christ, and indeed the Father, himself into our space.
Or as Jesus put it, “Whoever welcomes a child like this one, welcomes Me, and whoever welcomes Me, does not welcome Me only, but the One who sent Me.” (Mark 9:37)
Our hearts should leap within us when we see a child coming into a place of worship. Our arms should open wide to embrace them and incorporate them into who we are. Church, we should be singing, “Say it loud, Say it clear: Children and Youth are welcome here!”
Because that…that is welcome.
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About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com, Seedbed, and D6 Family.