I have come to call February my month of ‘extra-curricular angst’. I spend hours trying to somehow mesh five kids’ schedules so they can all have a go doing the things they want to do (mostly obnoxiously loud instruments) and the things I think they ought to do (swim without drowning, correct major speech impediments). I have a friend who prepares an actual spreadsheet to organise her four children getting to their four different Saturday sports. A recent English study found 88% of the surveyed children did 4 or 5 organised activities a week. Anecdotally, I’d say that’s also pretty representative of my friends. In Christian families we are also adding church, youth groups, kids’ clubs and Bible studies into this mix. Do you, like me, worry that your kids might start to see church as just another extra-curricular activity? And how do we go about combatting a consumer mentality to church in our kids? I think an important first step is how we understand the place of children in the church, and then how we communicate that to them.
Our children are not just the church of tomorrow, they are an important part of the church today. From the beginning of the Old Testament we see God included children as part of his covenant community. Abraham is given a covenant that is for him and his offspring, and the youngest partakers were to be circumcised at just 8 days old (Gen 17:10-12). In Deuteronomy we read how the Israelites were to bring their children up soaked in the words of God (Deut 11:18-20). When we move to the New Testament, we see Jesus validate the importance of children and indicate that the kingdom of heaven is theirs as well (Matt 19:14). In Acts we see whole households come to faith (Acts 19). When Paul writes to the Ephesian church giving instructions for Christian households, he specifically addresses some of his teaching to children, considering them as members of the church (Eph 6:1-3). Our kids are, like us, a vital and precious part of the body. That is, needed and needing others (1 Cor 12).
While we can believe what the Bible teaches us about children being a part of the household of God, we can, in practice, not treat them this way. We might be quick to discern a consumer mentality in ourselves or in other adults, but unknowingly encourage that attitude in our kids just by our silence. Without us explicitly treating it otherwise, our kids can assume church is just another choice on the buffet of extra-curricular options. Yet our children being part of the body means they also have a role to play in building up the whole, and they need to know it. Part of raising them up in the Lord ought to involve us teaching them to serve, and not just to be served, at church. It shouldn’t then surprise us if kids that are raised to see church as something put on to just entertain them, without ever fully engaging them as needed members, will grow up and leave.
With that in view, here are five suggestions for ways to involve your kids in ministry at your church (Covid restrictions pending!)
1) Make church a non-negotiable priority
We try to teach our kids that they are at church on Sunday not just for themselves, but for others. Our decision to attend blesses and encourages others, so we choose to put this in our calendar first. We need it, we need others, and they need us. I have at different times found it difficult to say no to Sunday morning birthday parties. When we moved overseas to England, the first four parties our eldest child was invited to all fell on a Sunday morning. She was struggling with loneliness at school and it was hard for her to lose those opportunities at connection. And we are under grace, we aren’t legalistic about church, we know it’s not going to church that saves us. I suggested to my husband at that first invite that perhaps we should just let her go. But he gently reminded me what it taught our daughter if we accepted…that church is only something we do unless something more fun turns up. And if we’d said yes to the first, how could we then say no to the next three? And suddenly it would have been no church for a month. We found having a blanket rule was easier for our kids and for us in declining. In time, close friends have chosen not to have Sunday morning parties so that our kids can attend. In this world of fickleness and lack of commitment, in a do-what-feels-best-to-me culture, it says something that we put the church family first. Both to our kids and to the world around us.
2) Get your kids praying for church
I’ve found that too often when it comes to praying with my kids we’ll end up in a Thankyou-Sorry-Please prayer that revolves all around them. Involving them in praying for your church, praying for its leaders, its ministries and the people there who are in need is a wonderful way to express their part in the body. And ask them to pray for you and the ministries you are involved in. Some of my most encouraging moments with my kids have been as they have prayed for me and then followed up to find out how things have gone and thanked God for me. And never has a rebuke been so effective as that of my 8-year-old son, while listening to me verbally worry over the events of a day he had prayed about the night before. He said “Mum, you don’t need to worry. We already prayed about that last night”.
3) Get kids serving
There are so many little ways we can get kids involved that mean so much to them. Distributing handouts, serving morning tea, a youth band, Bible reading, leading Sunday school, picking up rubbish. From many years of observing parent-run activities like netball and soccer, I’ve noticed there are two tendencies of parents. There are the ones who just turn up and complain about how it’s being run, and there are those who get involved, actually run it and mostly enjoy it. You are as invested as your level of volunteering in any organisation; how much more at church?
4) Prepare for Sundays
Spend some time before your church meeting in preparing your family for it. Perhaps read the Bible passage, pray for the service, pray for those who might be new or feeling lonely or hurting. Discuss how you might use morning tea time to look out for new people, or people who have no one to talk to. Encourage your kids that they can help serve the body by being on the lookout for those that need loving.
5) Talk to kids at your church
We adults need the younger members of the body as they need us. So let’s make the effort to get to know them! Engage with other people’s kids. And encourage your kids to interact with adults. A friend at my church has her kids each prepare a question in advance to ask an adult guest when they come for lunch. It is so lovely to be asked with genuine interest what my favourite colour is! When we have guests from church that aren’t the same age as our kids, we still ask our kids to hang about and be involved. Being part of the body means we’d like them to relate to all of it, from the babies to the elderly.
Please don’t feel this is a prescriptive to-do list, but I do hope it encourages you to think about how we can communicate to our kids that they are members of the church family, and that every member of our church is called to serve.