Today we had a larger than usual number of kids at church. Today we also celebrated All Saint’s Day. Today we also shared in communion as a church body.
Today… the kids had a lot of questions.
For some kids, it was the first time they’d seen All Saint’s Day celebrated. In our church, names of those who had passed away this year were read, a bell was rung, and a flower placed by a child in a vase. For others taking communion and participating in the liturgy with the adults was a new experience. And so, they asked questions.
“Why do we say their names?”
“Why does a child put the flowers in the vase?”
“How come we said the yellow words with everyone else?”
“How old is that bread?” (One little guy was concerned that the bread had been around since Jesus had eaten it and told us to do the same)
Questions are how kids learn.
A study recently showed that kids ask a LOT of questions; 8 year old girls ranked highest with an average of 390 questions a day and on the other end of the spectrum 9 year old boys at a mere 144 questions (that’s one every 5 minutes and 12 seconds).
You guys, a minimum of 144 questions!! No wonder parents are tired. That’s a lot of answering to do. But seriously, they ask because they want to know and they want to know because they are learning what life is all about.
Today at church, the reason the kids had so many questions wasn’t because asking questions is a new thing. However for some of the kids the experiences they had were new things…so they did what they do… they asked questions to figure out what was going on. They learned. They went to church…and they learned…because they were able to ask questions.
This whole learning by asking questions thing is not new to God. On the contrary, on more than one occasion God prepared the Israelite parents with answers for when, not if, their kids asked questions.
Exodus 12:26, 27 “And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’”
Joshua 4:6, 7 “Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?‘ then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD”
Exodus 13:7, 8 “Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and nothing leavened shall be seen among you, nor shall any leaven be seen among you in all your borders. You shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.'”
Exodus 13:14 “And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery“
The expectation was that children would inquire. The other expectation is that they would be in a place where they could observe what was happening. They’d be in the midst of the assembly. They’d be participating in the celebrations and acts of worship. They would be active members of the congregation. And they would ask questions.
More than that it was expected that the parents would know the answer because they would have learned it from their parents because they would have worshiped and celebrated and participated with them. And so on for generations to come.
Our kids have somewhere between 390 and 144 questions to ask every. single. day.
They are learning so very much each and every moment of their lives. And in that lifetime, they will spend only .6% of their childhood in church. That’s 1 hour out of 168 hours/week. And that’s assuming that they will spend one hour each week in church. Studies indicate that many children are more likely to spend only 2 hours a month in church.
That’s not a lot of time…or a lot of questions.
And if during those hours they never get to participate, celebrate, and worship with and around the larger congregation, to see their parents praising God, to listen to their pastor teaching His Word, to hear their church reading together or singing together or sharing communion or remembering the saints who have gone before us…then how will they ask the questions? How will they learn?
Maybe we need to start asking some questions.
Maybe we need to start being curious about whether our kids are…being curious.
Are we giving them the opportunities to ask the questions? Are we providing them the faith experiences to be curious about? And, when they ask “What does that mean to you?” do we know what it means to us…or is it just, what we do?
The opportunity for our children to truly be a part of the experience of corporate worship, congregational liturgy, and communal celebration is so, so fleeting. Even if we don’t look at numbers and percentages and hours, as my mom has often told me, “the days are long, but the years are short.” In no time at all, our children will be grown and making decisions and moral judgments based on all those experiences and questions they asked.
Let’s join the author of Psalms 78 and declare…
“I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
He decreed statutes for Jacob
and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach their children,
so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.
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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.