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Attending church helps get children off to a good start

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Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there. (Matthew 19:13-15)

Earlier this month, someone came into my office and asked me why we involve children in the ministries of our church. Now this person was not rebuking me for such an act, they simply said that in the denomination they grew up in, a child’s place was in the pew “being quiet.” This was the mentality of the church I grew up in and I have to say that I was never really good at it.  My mom tells stories of Brother Marksbury having to stop service at Milton United Methodist Church to ask if I was OK.  Most times this occurred after I had run out into the aisle and tripped, or flipped out of my pew into the laps of the people behind me.  I have never really been the “sit down and be quiet” type.  Back to the story though, the “involvement” that the person was referring to is my answer to the charge of Jesus found in the gospels; let the children come. 

On any given Sunday at our church, you can see children serving as acolytes and greeters, children praying for one another and the adults, and children generally being involved in worship. We have even built mission projects around our children and youth. Needless to say, we are not the only church who does this. The wonderful thing about Carrollton is that so many churches have embraced the responsibility of nurturing the spiritual formation of the children of our congregations. 

So the question of “why” still stands.  Why involve children in worship? Why allow them to participate? To me, this is a justice issue. The common excuse for exclusion of youth is that “they are a distraction.” I was told on one occasion that when the kids stayed in worship service instead of going to children’s church they distracted the adults. But, if a person came to a worship service at any church and, due to some disability, made noise during service, that person would never be excluded from worship. Yet, every week children are excluded from worship services for the same reasons. We need to wake up and get out of the assumption that we know exactly what worship is.  What happens when we dare assume that children have the same importance in worship as adults? If they are never included in corporate worship, how are children ever going to learn to value it? 

The challenge then is for Christians to step up to the plate and go to bat for the spiritual needs of the children of our community. Get involved in their lives.  In many denominations, as a person joins a congregation, that person vows to take up the responsibility of the congregation to which they are joining. One of those responsibilities includes creating a positive environment for the spiritual formation of every person seeking Jesus Christ. This is a vow to lead by example.  I remember saying these words and there wasn’t any fine print that excluded children. 

Honestly, if you asked me what the best model for spiritual formation in a child’s life is, I would say it starts at home and continues at church.  Family (including church family) is the first place where children learn. We need to create a “file” in the children’s minds of what it looks like to follow Jesus. Lead by example. This ideal of formation leads by illustration. Parents can teach their children how to be a servant by caring for others who don’t have as much as they do.

Churches can teach children how to be accepting and loving by making sure they are involved in those things. It is our responsibility as adults to care for the generations who come after us. And I say, “Let the children come.”

 

The Rev. Drew Oakley is pastor of the United Methodist Church of Carrollton, Carrollton, Ky.