I witnessed something audacious in church last Sunday.
It took some time for it to sink in but as the service progressed a realization began to dawn on me.
The pastor had forgotten to dismiss the children!
At least that’s what I assumed had happened. The senior pastor (who, in his defense, had been off work that week) introduced the morning’s speaker and completely forgot to dismiss the kids. No one spoke up, no one caught it, and the service marched on.
And all the while an ebullient energy, barely containable, simmered below the surface. And then the most incredible thing happened: Nothing.
Nothing went wrong, nothing exploded, no one walked out in offense, no one disrupted the sermon, nothing fell apart. The parents cared for their children, their neighbors showed grace and patience, and the preacher shared his message unabated.
Rather than dismissing the kids, they had a prepared a place for the kids within the worship service. The children were engaged members of the congregation and the intentionality of the whole thing was refreshing. Why did it work so well?
The church staff, the speaker, and the whole congregation had taken steps to ensure that the kids weren’t just distracted but engaged.
The morning’s worship list included some songs geared toward the very young and (let’s be honest) they were fun for the adults too. They included ways for a person’s whole body to participate in worship, an easy and effective way to diffuse some of the wiggles in young and old alike.
The speaker’s message was on the missionary journeys of Paul and it opened with a retelling of these journeys in a big way.
Rather than simply reading a manuscript, a couple of young people dressed in cartoonish robes and long beards to act out the speaker’s retelling. Their performance, which included some goofy gags and play-on words, provided an entertaining visual that aided his story and our comprehension of his material.
The speaker then went on to share reflections about Paul supported by several long readings from his epistles. But rather than read these passages himself, the minister paused to allow another young person, dressed in the similar costume, to read the passages as he scribbled with a long quill from his writing desk, situated to the left of the platform throughout the sermon. The break in the minister’s sermon, punctuated by this young man’s recitation, added diversity to the message and a convenient change of voice for our listening ears.
During the sermon, three young people drew pictures inspired by his message. These pictures were periodically projected onto a large screen behind the pastor, accenting his points with visual design. The effect of combining visual aids with spoken word helped to keep our attention while the presence of young people sharing their gifts and helping to tell the stories of our faith inspired us all.
If it was the intention of the church’s staff to engage the whole congregation with a creative and informative exposition of Scripture, then the service was a tremendous success.
As I look back now I suppose it was actually a very small thing, not dismissing the children during the service. But it communicated some very big ideas. I’d like to share just three:
Children are valuable members of the community of faith
First, it stated that our kids make important contributions to our church’s life and community. They are not distractions that need to be managed. They are people who want to be with their parents and fellow members of our community. Not only that, they have the capacity to listen, to learn, and to participate in worship if given the chance. But it will take intentionality on our part to develop services that include them well.
Young people can lead
Second, over the course of 60 minutes, the young people within the congregation were affirmed and empowered as active members and ministers within the Body of Christ. We learned that they, too, have gifts that creatively and effectively add value to our understanding of God and his Word.
Ministry is a team effort
Finally, it was refreshing to watch an entire community take on the mantle of teaching, encouraging, and ministering to one another. Rather than elevating one person to the role of “Minister,” the community rose up to care for the people of God. Yes, this very gifted pastor deserves credit for organizing and preparing the service. But his leadership also communicated a very important truth: the gifts and graces of Christianity are best experienced together
As I look ahead to this coming Sunday I’m curious how we might carry these insights into our own times of corporate worship. How might these ideas be expressed in churches across our nation? There are no easy answers but they are answers that are worth seeking out because, together, we are the body of Christ.
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About this Blog
Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed
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