It WAS different in the Old Testament... A great model of church can be found in the Old Testament where worship was family and community-oriented. God says to them, "The commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them upon your children, talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road..." If church is a place where the adults are learning and growing... then it will become a place where children are learning and growing too.
Church is a place where children should belong... We want children to be part of what goes on at church. Children can feel that they belong, can feel valued and important. They may not yet be believing children, but if they don't feel that they belong it is unlikely that they will come to faith. The Church has a responsibility to its children… Churches can overlook their work with children... "We don't have children so what's the point of trying?"... or... "We do have children but we don't have any ideas!"... or... "We don't have people to do the teaching."... and "Children are hard to teach." (Sometimes we insult the intelligence of children, aiming for the lowest common denominator in teaching or discipline.) But when we take it seriously the church should have three main roles in nurturing children...
1. an educative role...
- formal teaching of the Bible, passing on the faith, making it relevant to the children
- informally, providing role models.
2. an affirmative role...
- Children respond when they see adults who live the way they talk!
3. a developmental role...
- helping them to grow - belonging is very important for this - the child needs to be able to question; to say "This is boring," or "I'm not going to do that," and "That was great, can we do it again next week".
Churches can be overactive and forget their priorities about doing God's work in God's way. If we are faithful in doing it God's way then children will come to faith and God will bless the work. What can we do to make integration happen?
- Children need the sense that they are welcome, they are wanted and they are key to what goes on.
- You need a realistic budget for children's ministry.
- We must involve children in our churches - not just send them to the hall for an hour.
- We need to see the church as a wider family. Not just children and parents but singles, elderly, everyone!!
- Do you know the names of the children in your church? Do youspeak to them?
- If you are visiting, do you just visit parents or church members, or do you visit the whole family?
- Remember to pray for children... whether they come to church or not. Hold then up before God.
- Organise events that are for the whole family... the wider church family.
- Make TIME: children's work is costly in terms of time... but it is so valuable.
Things to do to get children involved
- Give children involving jobs - giving out hymn books, reading the Bible
- Think about baptisms and communion services. Do we explain what is going on?
- Offer parents the opportunity to find out what their children are doing and the chance to talk about faith developing.
- Organise social events and meals to get to know children.
- Go away for the weekend together...it's just as effective as 52 hour-long sessions on a Sunday morning!
- Go where the young people are. "In church" is not the only place where children can hear. Children go to school 5 days a week and can hear the gospel through SU groups in that environment.
When it comes down to it, the key to integration is young people and children seeing how we live through the good and the bad. If our children are witnessing real active, lived-out faith in us and in our churches, they will respond.
This article is based on a seminar given by Jackie Ringan and Jonathan de Groot at the Scottish Christian Resources Exhibition, October 2002 and was first published in @SU in December 2003.