At a lecture in Atlanta recently, the Rev. Sam Portaro, author of Brightest and Best points out that
“Children are actually written into Scripture.”
They weren’t supposed to be seen. They were property. But Jesus spoke to them, healed them, accepted their donations, and told His disciples to be like them.
We never take that last one seriously. Don’t act your age: act like a child.
Jesus elevates children to full personhood and uses them as a foil for the disciples’ ineptitude.
So here are four ways we can better engage children in church.
1. Treat children as full members. Stop counting them separately, cutting them off from ministries in the church, or treating them as commodities. They essentially get voice and vote at baptism, even if they can’t talk or write yet.
2. Accept Jesus’s teaching that children have much to teach adults. In other words, adults must not talk at children–don’t only teach, but learn.
3. Recognize the needs of children in all areas of the church. Here are just a few of my ideas. There are certainly many more, but three groups of three should do it.
Children are short, so the typical worship space means they stare at someone’s back. Seriously not cool. We need to change how we gather.
Children have shorter attention spans, so less essential elements of worship keep them from actually engaging in the good stuff–and they will.
Children get excited and speak up. Perhaps we could have a more responsive experience of worship that don’t cherish silence above everything else, but instead encouraging spontaneity.
Children need to learn worship, not just Bible stories and morals. We need them in with all of us for the whole thing.
We must engage not just the “whats” but the “whys” like “why is this important” with “this” meaning church or perhaps even faith. To be able to answer this question, we ought to be prepared to answer it to anybody. I’m just sayin’…
We should admit that we don’t know everything and that Christian formation is a life-long process. This might mean that adults have to realize this, as well. The 6 that regularly show up to the adult forum seem to be the only ones that get this.
Let children have a say in what we do. Shock!
Make space in the parish’s identity for children. Church isn’t only about organ recitals, pot lucks, and annual Easter egg hunts.
And for God’s sake, allow yourself to learn from children. Jesus couldn’t be clearer on this one. It’s Paul that got it wrong.
4. Become different because of children. There’s no point in listening if you don’t allow yourself to become something new because of it. This isn’t just about kids, its about making you, and us, better.
Portero, in his lecture at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta two weeks ago, spoke extensively on his work in vocational discernment. He said that discernment should be done by every age group according to their development. He then broke it down by age group. I had already planned a series on engaging different age groups, so I have merged the concepts. There will be much more to come!
How else might we be better by being more like children?
What other ways might we allow children to change us?