The other day, a friend of mine messaged me with something she had written that, frankly, blew me away. Her story of a conversation with a couple of teens in her neighborhood and what it spoke to her heart was so profound, I immediately asked her if I could re-share it here with all of you.
As we consider reaching out to the children, youth and families in our own neighborhoods, perhaps her words can help us to prayerfully consider how our churches are welcoming children of all ages into worship. Thank you, Mary Trent, for sharing your heart with all of us!
So I am walking around in my new neighborhood and I happen upon a couple of teenagers. I approach them and compliment their skateboarding abilities, they politely smile in return. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, I tell them that I am new to the area and that I am a pastor here in our community. Wanting to practice what I preach in almost all of my sermons, I invite these kids to church.
Their response shocked me.
Now before I tell you what they said, let me just say that in ministry I have been told “no” in a number of ways. Sometimes “no” is a literal door being slammed shut; other times it is a polite “Thank you but…” (Insert reason here). So as a believer and minister, I have come to terms with being turned down often.
I think it’s helpful to look to scripture and learn how Jesus responded when he encountered “no” in ministry. Isn’t interesting that in the Gospels the ones who most often opposed the ministry of Jesus were the chief religious leaders of the day? They are some of the primary antagonists in the Gospel story.
But, dear readers, for a few moments I am inviting you to lay off on the Pharisees, and take a look at Matthew 19:13-15:
Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.
Interesting. It was Jesus’ own disciples who were saying “no.”
Do you ever wonder what prompted them to oppose the notion of children approaching Jesus? Given the context of this passage, perhaps one possibility is that the disciples felt like the children were interfering with the “more important” work of Christ.
Could it be that they failed to comprehend the value of the souls behind those tiny faces who were coming toward Jesus?
Flash forward to the present. I have just invited these two teens to church and I prepare myself for “no” but instead I heard this:
“Why should we come to church?”
Before I could answer, the other teen says, “When I was a kid I went to church and they took us to Sunday school and children’s church. Things really stopped when I went to middle school. I mean there was a youth group and we did car washes and went on trips, but I never understood why I needed to be in church for any of that. I could join a club at school and do pretty much the same thing. So I did.”
Brothers and sisters, this response left me speechless.
I have heard from countless church leaders and members that say the young adults and their families have “disappeared” from the church because of things like sports, apathy, or disinterest in worship. I would not argue that these things are not a factor but let’s think for a moment.
What does soccer on Sunday offer a kid besides physical activity or the chance to win a game? I’ll tell you what it offers: a defined and purposeful space to belong to something bigger.
So what does this have to do with Jesus’ disciples saying, “no” to the kids?
Take a moment to consider your church. Think about its ministries, its vision, and its programs. Be honest with yourself and consider whether kids of all ages are welcome or are they being tolerated?
Are they incorporated into the fold of ministry and learning how to be better disciples of Jesus or are they getting the same thing they could get at daycare, the Y, or a club?
Beloved, I believe we in the Church have repackaged “no” and have been distributing it to our kids in the form of segregated and isolated worship. Think about it for a moment–ageism has become an acceptable and optimal pattern for many congregations particularly as it applies to corporate worship. We have been told that kids need to be constantly entertained. Not only have we listened to this but we have removed all doubt that “adult worship” is no place for them to participate or learn. In short, we have told them “no.”
But here is the good news!
Instead of investing our energy and finances on finding a “Wow” factor to draw young families and their children into our churches, let us EMBRACE our “Why” factor. Let’s consider their questions.
Why does anyone need to come to church? Why is worship important?
Let us pray together and ponder the ways we can say “yes.”
And let us give good reasons as to why all children matter in the life of the Church
For more information about
- Kids in Worship
- Determining which Type of Family Ministry model works best for your church
- Discipleship in Intergenerational community
- Encouraging the continued conversation through Practical Discipleship at Home
- Seminars, Workshops, Coaching
About the author – This blog post was written by guest blogger, Mary Trent.
Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, 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 D6 Family, Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com