Reviewing “Children in Church”

It has been a while since I plugged our book, Children in Church: Nurturing Hearts of Worship. This week I will allow a well-known Christian leader and educator do the honors.

CIC coverI recently asked a well-respected evangelical leader about the statistics of the number of young adults walking away from the church. He said, ” I don’t think they’ve ever been in church…” He’s right. If we want to reclaim the rapid growth and enthusiasm of the early church we must figure out how to make church more like a family reunion and less like an adults-only club. Curt and Sandra show how it can be done – with purpose and relaxed joy – in a way that restores the hearts of the older to the younger and the hearts of both to a God who delights in children.

Jeff Myers, Ph.D. President, Summit Ministries

The book is available at ChildreninChurch.com.

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The Sermon – It’s for Kids, Too

We have heard many questions – and a few objections – to our view that Christian families ought to have as a goal worshiping together. Many of the questions/objections have to do with children and sermons. Can they understand the sermon? Can the parents CIC coverhear/understand the sermon when dealing with their children? Should the rest of the congregation be subjected to your child-rearing practices during the sermon?

Yes, I do believe that there is a tremendous upside to ­­­­­­­­­exposing our children to the [reaching/teaching aspect of the worship service. I do understand, however, that family participation in corporate worship is not a “one-size-fits-all” experience. Families will differ as to how they approach the issue, how they teach their children about sermons, and how they relate to other worshipers. Even those who do not yet understand the content of the sermons to which they are exposed will gain a feeling for the reverence of the worship service as God’s Word is preached.

Families also differ in number of children, age spans, and abilities. When we automatically dismiss the notion, however, that children can have a meaningful worship experience, even during the sermon, we are shortchanging those children. They will understand more than we realize. They will gain from the opportunity no matter how much or how little they get from the content of the sermon. They will likely remember the experience of worshiping with you more than they would being with relative strangers in a program for children.

With these things in mind I offer a brief, three-point, strategy for incorporating the sermon as a part of your children’s worship experience.

Prepare. Preparation is often the key to success – in any venture. This is no less true in our approach to introducing our children to sermons.

  • Look ahead. Many churches publish the scripture passages and/or themes for the sermons in advance. If your congregation does not, why not ask for the preaching schedule. There are probably others who would like the opportunity to prepare in advance for next Sunday’s sermon. Once you know what the passage or topic will be for next week’s sermon, you can read the passage with your children. Depending on the ages and abilities of the children you can then have discussions on what is likely to be preached on Sunday. Be careful, however, not to pre-judge the preacher’s sermon. This reading/discussion could be part of your regular devotional time with your children.
  • Pack well. Make sure you have what will be needed for full participation. Do you have paper, pencils or crayons? Chapter 6 of Children in Church discusses the ever-important “church bag.”
  • Talk with your children about what behavior and participation is appropriate during the sermon. Explain the nature of sermons. What are they? Why is there a sermon? How does the pastor know what to say? Can I talk during the sermon? Reinforce this discussion often. If you don’t have answers to some of these questions yourself, ask the pastor. That’s also a good example for your children.

Participate. There are many ways to teach and model how to listen to a sermon. Many of them are examined in chapter seven of Children in Church.

  • Draw. One needn’t be a professional artist to make a simple stick-figure sketch of what is being taught in a sermon. Illustrate the main point. Is Jesus preaching? Is He in a boat? Whisper to your child as you create a word picture. As they get older children can begin to take over the artistic duties.
  • Note-taking. As they get older, children can begin to take notes on the message. If your pastor provides an outline, you can use that to jot down key words. This is a good opportunity to teach the skill of note-taking. Teach the concept of capturing important concepts. Again, as they get older, the children can begin to create the notes themselves.
  • Keywords/Concepts. As a pastor, I used to publish a “Keyword” in the church bulletin for the children to listen for and count during the sermon. How many times did the pastor say “Grace” or “Jesus” during the sermon. Children would excitedly give me their numbers after the worship service. Truthfully, I usually didn’t know that actual count, because my sermons were not scripted, but I could be enthusiastic about each child’s answer. You don’t need the pastor to post a keyword. You can look at the passage or topic in question and choose your own.
  • Don’t forget to pay attention during the sermon. It may be difficult at times, but take your own notes, or make your own drawing. Let the children know that this is not just an academic exercise for their educational advancement.

Prolong. Keep it going. Don’t quit just because the sermon has ended and you got through it without a meltdown (though that’s certainly a good thing!). There is much to be gained in the follow-up.

  • In the car. While it’s fresh in their minds, ask your children age-appropriate questions about the sermon. What was the topic today? What part did you like the most? What was the pastor’s outline? Get a discussion going. Encourage everybody to take part at their own level.
  • At home. Look at the drawings, the notes, the keyword count. Be enthused about their understanding. Gently discuss what they may have missed. This is a good discussion to have around the dinner table.
  • On Monday. Before moving on to look at next week’s sermon topic, why not review just a bit on Monday? You can also take this opportunity to fine-tune note taking and other skills.

In Acts, chapter 17 we read of the Bereans, a noble people. They compared the sermons of Paul with Scripture, not in hope of catching him in error, but anticipating greater understanding. God has chosen and anointed some to preach the Word. We will gain most from the labors of these servants of God if we listen carefully. Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” He was referring to understanding the Word, not just receiving it in our ears. We can help even the youngest of our children to understand God’s Word by teaching them to hear.

A Sense of the Sacred

What do you call the venue at which your congregation meets for worship? To some it’s an auditorium. Others refer to this place as “the theater,” or the “assembly hall,” or even “the gym.” To me, it’s the sanctuary.

A sanctuary need not be a marvel in Christian architecture. It can be a humble space rented from a school or community building. It can be in a storefront or a social club’s meeting room. It may also be a large, beautiful cathedral. The point of the term “sanctuary” is not the surroundings, but its use.

The word can be defined thusly,

th-2Sanctuary is a word derived from the Latin sanctuarium, which is like most words ending in -arium, a container for keeping something in – in this case holy things or perhaps holy people, sancta or sancti. The meaning was extended to places of holiness or safety. (Wikipedia).

A sanctuary is a container, it holds something. Ideally, what it enfolds is Christian believers filled with awe.

Words have meaning. If we call the place in which we meet for worship a gym, it will be treated like a gym. If we think of that space as a theater, then theatrics probably happen there. But, what happens when we enter the sanctuary?

In Psalm 73, Asaph is bemoaning his fate. He sees himself as the pure and righteous, yet those all around who cheat and lie and mock God are getting fat (in a good way). Then this, in verse 17: “…until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” It was in the sanctuary that Asaph encountered the living God. It was there that he discerned the truth about His relationship with God. He wrote:

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
    you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
But for me it is good to be near God;
    I have made the Lord God my refuge,
    that I may tell of all your works.

These are the things we should hear and have reinforced in the sanctuary, that place of refuge and safety and reverence.

As we enter the house of worship, we should have a sense of the sacred. And we must pass this awe on to the next generation. In Psalm 78, this same Asaph writes,

We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,  and the wonders that he has done.

Hide what? The glories of God! No, we want to expose them.

Certainly these lessons are to be taught at home, by believing parents. Let us not neglect, however, to teach the children the awe, the majesty of God in the setting of corporate worship.

I recently came across a blog post (actually, my wife sent it to me) that explains rather nicely what we should be conveying to the next generation regarding the sanctuary – and what we should avoid. Here’s a quote from that essay.

We have spent so much time and effort trying to make Church appealing to children by making it feel like home or school, creating spaces for them where they can sit apart and do their “kid” thing. Spaces where they feel welcomed in their childishness and “at home”. But we have been mistaken.

Because, first, we do not need to make children welcome in Church. By the very nature of the fact that is a Church founded by Jesus, who called the children to Himself, they are welcomed. We call a Church “the 

Second, we are not meant to feel at home at Church, at least not in the sense that we feel comfortable behaving the way we do at home while at Church. Stepping into Church should make us exhale with wonder. We should be aware that our surroundings have changed when we entered those doors. It should bring us to quiet attention. It should bring us to our knees. And our children should feel the same way. They may not respond to it in the way that we do as adults, but a child should have the sense of quiet hush that is adoration when he enters a Church. (Let’s Give Our Kids a Sense of the Sacred)

These are some of the points Sandra and I make in the book Children in Church: Nurturing Hearts of Worship. Allow me to boldly suggest that this be your first book purchase of this new year. Teach your children well. Teach them the glorious deeds of the LORD and His might, and the wonders He has done.

Re-inventing the Blog and the Life Work

Sandra and I have been working on how to continue in our ministry after leaving the field in Prague. We have pondered and prayed. We have sought expert help in tech areas and in the personal realm. We have even created a short survey to help us find out what YOU might think about this. It’s not too late to respond, by the way. Simply click here or the survey.

As we go along in this process, there are many questions to be answered in order to move to whatever the next step is. We have recognized that we both need to be doing more writing and speaking. Sandra is already pretty far along in her writing, being published regwheelularly in a number of places. I’m still searching, though, for my niche.

At the top of this blog I promise “Digital Dialogue, News, and General Banter.” While there has been some news, which I enjoy analyzing from my own perspective, there has been little dialogue or banter (Banter: noun, an exchange of light, playful, teasing remarks; good-natured raillery). Mostly it’s been monologue. That’s when someone speaks and others may or may not listen (or in this case, read). Is that what you want, readers?

Part of the problem is that there simply aren’t that many readers. Some of those that are on board may simply be here by inertia. Life is busy, so a lot of folks skim blogs but don’t get involved. But, I wonder. Is it that I’m not writing and sharing things that are of interest to the readers we do have? My view, to this point is that my strengths are in the areas of Biblical exposition that impacts our daily lives, and analysis of news from both Biblical and historical perspectives. Occasionally, of course, I throw in a shameless plug for our book, Children in Church: Nurturing Hearts of Worship (available in both kindle and paperback formats here . Oops, there I go again.

Seriously folks, I do believe that God is calling me to share my thinking. I no longer preach every week, so blogging and writing books and articles would seem to be the way to carry on. (BTW, there is one serious book project in the works for me at the moment. No details yet).

So, here is the interactive part. There are several things I am asking you to do for me.

  • If you like this blog, please tell other people. Tell your neighbors, your relatives, your friends (even your enemies!). Share posts with them; get them involved.
  • Get involved yourself. Let’s get rid of the monologue and start dialoguing.
  • Tell me what you would like to see here. What kind of articles would you like to see? What topics are of most interest to you? Would you like to see more guest posts? If so, from whom? (How about YOU?).
  • PRAY for me, for Sandra, and for the work of our ministry, Lifework Forum.
  • Respond here (not at facebook or by email). This may encourage others to join the discussion. There’s a lot going on in the world and in the US. What does it mean for us? For you? Don’t be afraid to get political. Obviously, we can talk about religion. Just remember to be civil.
  • Fill in the survey mentioned above.
  • Did I mention PRAY for us?
  • Did I forget to ask you to get involved? Become part of this enterprise, friends.
  • BTW, I’ve been told that blog posts should always have bulleted or numbered items.

There we have it. It’s a new era, new way of doing things for me. I’d like to involve you. Why not join in and help shape the discussion.

 

Book Excerpt

Children in Church: Nurturing Hearts of Worship is not a “how-to” book. While it does, indeed, have some practical tips to encourage those who are in the process of bringing their children to corporate worship with them, it includes much more. The book begins with a Scriptural survey regarding families in worship and includes many personal anecdotes and observations. Here’s an excerpt:

ImageWorship in the corporate setting provides the opportunity to blend and multiply our love and devotion to God with brothers and sisters of every economic or ethnic group, physical aspect or ability, intellectual capacity or academic standing, emotional development or spiritual maturity, and a host of other variations. We would suggest that this divinely‑ordained diversity also includes a wide range of ages. The diversity of those who gather to worship wonderfully reflects the humanity God created and the very Godhead itself.

The book is available in both paperback and kindle format at http://childreninchurch.com.

Readjusting to the New World

When I lived in Europe, my favorite coffee was one I picked up whenever we were in (or passed through) cafe_caribeAmsterdam. It is a store brand – nothing fancy – but it was excellent stuff. Yes, I am a bit of a coffee snob.

I no longer live in Europe. I don’t have that available to me, so I have had to adjust to American coffee availability. I have been buying one that I have grown to enjoy. It also happens to be the cheapest on the shelf and does not carry a famous brand name.

My new coffee states on the package (in two languages) that it is “…a dark roasted, espresso coffee specifically blended for the Latin taste.”

My response to that is Amo, Amas, Amat.

 

DON’T FORGET: Children in Church: Nurturing Hearts of Worship is available in paperback and Kindle formats. Just click here to order.