So parents, here’s the truth about giving to the church…
Every fall stewardship season comes around like an apologetic version of an NPR fundraiser. Leaders impart to our other members why they need to: pay up. All the usual suspects appear; Responsibility and discipline (pledging is a part of being faithful), Truth couched in desperation (we need to fix the roof), awkward realities (the staff needs to get paid), inspiring yet unconvincing messages (give lots and receive even more), and my personal favorite… old fashion guilt (how much did that coffee, club, or iPhone cost?).
One summer during college, my buddy Dale Foster and I agreed to teach kindergarten Sunday school. We created globes with stars around them and discussed God’s creation. Five year olds are unpredictable and dangerous. So by 10:45, we were proud. Scissors had been involved. As we waited for parents to collect our crew, there were a few minutes to chat about what all this meant.
“You mean God made all the stars?”
“Yes, God did. Isn’t it beautiful when we look up at night.”
“And God made the ocean and the mountains?”
“Right. The green mountains around us, and the waves we jump in at the beach.”
Sam Stephens raised his hand. There is a Sam Stephens in every church across America.
“When Jesus slept naked under the stars, did he wear his sandals or take them off?”
‘Dale, you answer this one, I’m going to get animal crackers.’
How did we end up here? The story we want our kids to know can be tricky to tell, sometimes even dangerous.
When young couples join our church they often say, “We want our kids to grow up in a safe and vibrant community where they can learn about God’s love for them.”
How much is that worth? What is really at stake? Life is so unbearably stressful and overscheduled, why does church matter?
It is here, in church, that children develop a sense of belonging. A belonging so profound it can still an anxious soul or inspire an act so mighty it would otherwise seem impossible. At church our children are encourage to ask the questions of purpose, meaning, and life.
The questions we all ask.
As infants and toddlers, it is in church where children develop a sense of trust and a feeling of safety. Let’s be honest, parents don’t volunteer in the nursery because they just can’t get enough of their 2 year old. When Mom and Dad man-up our youngest members feel at home. Through their senses, they are encouraged to explore and express their spirituality as a natural part of who they are.
As psychiatrist and researcher Dr. Robert Coles said, ‘We are creatures of language and story, by our very nature.” Unencumbered by the nuances of fact and truth, children embody this reality. While their parents are sometimes uncomfortable with myth and mystery, children embrace story as the most efficient way to find meaning. They are natural explorers, unafraid of the questions that simmer in the core of their beings as God’s children. Church goers or not, it is the mystery itself that invites curiosity and questioning.
“Why did she have to die?”
“What is God like?”
“Why do we have to hurt and kill each other?”
“Why do people starve?”
“Did Jesus look up at the stars like I do?”
“Why are Mom and Dad so worried?”
Kids make sense of the world and themselves through story, and so do we. We just forget that it is through the sacred stories of our childhoods, families, and experiences, that the truth about our very BEING is preserved, from generation to generation.
Church is the place to find those stories. In church we find fellow humans who rely on those stories, and who are bold enough to tell them over and over again. It is the place to remember, to listen, and to hope. Church is the place where we are accepted and affirmed in our questioning as we heal, cope, grow, and trust. If it is not, then you are in the wrong church.
For better or worse, research indicates our children’s sense of faith is developed by the age of six. A child in her preschool years has a primal need for affirmation and belonging that creates deep grooves in her spiritual pathways. Our youngest members are encouraged and enticed to engage the core truths about our faith. Worship, community, and mission, are woven together with their learning through story, music, and creativity.
How much is it worth for your child to have a healthy and theologically sound understanding of WHO GOD IS, and thus WHO SHE IS, in light of God’s love and grace?
With a God of grace, acceptance, integrity, and love, there is very little room for that ‘other god’ who motivates out of manipulation, guilt, and fear. Most of the adults I know who grew up with a god like that, want nothing to do with Church. Honestly, I don't blame them.
Church is the place where our children will be accepted and affirmed. It is the place where they are expected to include and welcome others at all cost. Here there are voices of hope singing the hymn when her own voice fails her. In that case, I guess the roof is important.
Where else will she go? What other community roots us to God in a way that creates order and purpose for how we live? The things we do as families. How we eat. The way we engage others in our daily lives at work or at school. What we share with those in need.
Albeit a bummer, the church reminds us we are not the center of the universe. Even more, it reminds us our kids aren’t either. That must be a huge relief for them.
Can you imagine the pressure?
Church is the place where we have the courage to say it like it really is. The bible affirms this. If you want perfect kids, don’t bring them here.
We are into the messy stuff. Incarnational stuff. Jesus is in the barn, on the ground, in the ditches, hanging with the leapers and hookers. We are going to teach them stories about failure and deceit, suffering and loss. Our kids already know about brokenness anyway. They hear us argue. They worry about friendships. They know about Ebola and terrorists and hurricanes.
It doesn’t make sense to them either. When your child has the courage to ask about those things and you don’t know how to respond, the church will ask with you both. When your child can’t make sense of the suffering. We tell them the truth about redemption and hope.
Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Noah, Job, Rachel, Joseph, Mary, Jesus. Be clear, we won’t talk about Easter morning without the nails, the thorns, and the cross. But remember this, We the church, with all our bills and hopes and dreams, made a promise: In the covenant of your baby’s sweet baptism, we pledged to tell the story of life everlasting, hope beyond hopelessness, and joy in light of pain.
How much is that worth?
Worth the morning coffee? It’s not about the coffee. I love coffee.
Get your coffee, but realize that the gifts our children offer this world are rooted in the sacred essence of who they are. MORE than paying for soccer, y-guides, and horse back riding combined, is our choice to encourage, celebrate, and embrace the questions they have the courage to ask.
Their questions are our gifts… and they are priceless. Pay-up. Please.
 Coles, Robert. The Spiritual Life of Children. 1990. Houghton Mifflon. Boston.
 Coles, Robert. www.onbeing.org/program/inner-lives-children/transcript/1270