In baptizing baby Magnolia last week, I asked her parents, “Relying on God’s grace, do you promise to live the Christian faith and to teach that faith to your child?”
They responded, “We do.” Then I asked the congregation, “Will you, the people of this congregation, nurture and love her, and assist her to be a faithful disciple? They answered, “We will.”
And they may… or they may not. This congregation has lost the vision, energy and will to do so. I share with you the sermon I shared with them on how families can become a priority to the Church, based on the book Growing Young.
Scripture reading 1: Mark 10 :13-16 (NIV) 13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
Scripture reading 2: 1 John 2: 8-14 (NIV) 8 I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in Jesus and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. 9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. 12 I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. 14 I write to you, dear children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
Kara Powell writes,
We follow Jesus’ lead when we prioritize the young. When Jesus took a child in his arms, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me, and whomever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:17) The Disciples struggled with this—Could Jesus really have meant that welcoming children is a way to welcome Jesus– and the Father? 
Yep. He did.
“WHAT? Jesus is alive? Why didn’t anyone tell me that before? He is risen from the dead? That’s totally cool!” — Alexandra, grade 3
Look again at the gospel story from Mark 10. Powell explains,
This day wasn’t turning out quite like the Disciples hoped. Jesus’s Disciples were accustomed to crowds, long days of teaching and healing and demands from the most unlikely people seeking out Jesus. But children? Jesus eagerly welcomed young people to gather in close to him, at the expense of the adults who thought they should get Jesus’ full attention. We don’t know if the Disciples just didn’t understand Jesus or didn’t believe him, but on this day they acted in a way that crossed the line. Mark 10 says “People were bring little children to Jesus and the Disciples said ,“NO! No more children!” They thought Jesus needed space, not to touch the children and bless them. The Disciples thought Jesus need to attend to more important matters, more important people so the Disciples “rebuked the parents-“- The NRSV reads “Spoke sternly to them.” That got Jesus’ attention, didn’t it? He said, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Then Jesus not only says to welcome children, but to become like children! This command sounds like an invitation to Grow Young,
This is a goal we’re exploring together at this church. In our Winter Warmth Series, we’ve been looking at the Growing Young book and research done by Fuller Youth Institute about churches that actively engage young adults, ages 18-29. The Study is called CEYP –Churches Engaging Young People—and is a study of what churches are doing RIGHT to engage young adults actively in congregations.
We’ve explored five Growing Young findings: showing empathy, taking Jesus’ message seriously, fueling a warm community, and being the best neighbors. Today we wrap up by looking at prioritizing families and youth everywhere, both in our families and in our church. And how wonderful that today we have the privilege of baptizing Magnolia during our service as well. She’s an example to us all. As Powell continues:,
Jesus says to welcome children, but also to become like children! Jesus wasn’t suggesting we revert to immaturity. He was making it clear that not only are children eligible to receive the kingdom of God, but they are great examples of what it means to do so.
My favorite role at any church has been storyteller for VBS. I was telling my favorite story of the empty tomb and Mary’s excitement over meeting the risen Christ. She runs to tell everyone she meets the good news….3rd grader Alexandra, family new to church— Alexandra heard this, and shouted out “What, Jesus is alive? Why didn’t anyone tell me before? He is risen from the dead? That’s totally cool!” Then she asked for a Bible to read Jesus’ stories for herself.
Our church is missing out, isn’t it? We know it, but don’t know what to do about it. Change and growth begins in the mind and the will, and overflow into good leadership and tangible action. What are we willing to do at this point? What are we willing to give? What are we willing to learn from our youth & young adults who have new ideas to lead us forward? Any good future for a church that grows young needs to engage children.
I think it is children’s sincerity, willingness to trust, and dependence that make them examples to us. Theologian Karl Rahner writes, children model to the entire community an “infinite openness” to the infinite.( GY 219-220) So theologically, we stand on solid ground when we prioritize young people everywhere in our congregations. Jesus led the way for us in his shocking attention to children and his reorienting the community around them.
What are some ideas of what it might look like when a family and a Growing Young church take Jesus’ same approach to children teens and young adults?
First, no more kids table—you know, at a family gathering where only the kids and a weird uncle or two sit.Instead, let’s welcome everyone to the BIG table—where we share in ideas and conversation, listening and talking together across generations.
In a family or at school, this approach is called “scaffolding,” when we deliberately support a child to help them learn a skill or task through adult encouragement & coaching. When we engage with him or her to listen and learn what matters most— what gives him or her the spark of life and joy. To tell stories to each other. To teach how to do chores and life tasks and how to serve others. To worship and pray together. These are powerful intergenerational actions.
Secondly, at a church level, when we think up a new outreach ministry or events, Growing Young churches ask as simple question—how can young people be a part of this? (GY 222) How can generations work and serve alongside each other?
In our families, sometimes we adults place our own goals, wishes, convenience or ease ahead of the benefit to a child, especially in the area of committing to regular church attendance—choosing relaxation or even playing sports on Sundays. Sometimes we don’t have the energy to fight the Sunday morning battle. How many have been there? As a family pastor I watched families drag in to the building late as if just came from a war zone. And I congratulated the parents and told them it was worth it because our children learn what matters most through our consistent actions and role-modeling. The most powerful way a child can learn faith is through “catching his or her parent in the act of praying and reading his or her Bible.” Research shows it’s especially powerful to see a father pray and act on his faith.Engaging in worship and serving alongside us are 2 ways our kids can “catch faith.”
That’s what the Scripture from 1 John talks about, when we act in ways that show:
- we as God’s children are “grateful that our sins our forgiven,”
- when fathers demonstrate that “you know him who is from the beginning.”
- When “young men & women support one another to overcome the evil one.”
- When we encourage one another in Christ to be ”strong, and let the word of God live in us.”
- Then we are being the body of Christ together across all generations, and we are supporting one another on our faith journeys.
- Then we agree to prioritize families and young people everywhere
Churches can encourage these actions by offering solid discipleship for all ages to build faith that lasts a lifetime. These are good ways to Grow Young.
Another way churches grow young is by addressing family pain and brokenness through support. It can be through small groups, mentors, Sunday School teachers, but Growing Young churches empathize with the realities of parenting by partnering with parents through the rough terrain of toddlerhood and teen years. And walking alongside children & teens’ growing to find their way in faith. Growing Young churches can show this by being flexible to care for kids of divorce and by flexing with today’s families’ busy schedules (GY 223).
Growing Young churches involve youth in leading worship or in leading SS every week in big and small ways. Here at FPDG youth lead us forward to embrace technology. I am thrilled to see how the tech crew includes, embraces, and trains young adults. It’s a significant role in the life of the church! What other areas can become intergenerational?
Lastly, we adults may need to sacrifice personal preferences to welcome & prioritize young people. We likely do this all the time for our own kids & grandkids. But what about the children of the church? In baptism, we covenant to nurture and teach a baby in the Christian faith.
When children in a family or in the church know with certainty that they are loved, it is more believable when we share with them that God loves them. That the God of the universe loves us each of us like crazy. We belong to God and to each other.
I’ve often said one of the most important jobs in a church is rocking the babies in the nursery. I think of Andy & Audrey Pelham at my first church who rocked the babies faithfully each Sunday. When healthy, caring adults give love to children, when children in a family or in the church know with certainty that they are loved, it is more believable when we share with them that God loves them. That the God of the universe created them good and the God of the universe loves them like crazy. That we each belong to God and to God’s family. That we matter to God and to each other.
I think it’s a good step that this church is holding confirmation for 5 students this year—special thanks go out to the leaders & parents. My last church paired each confirmation student with a mentor to get to know one another, to share faith stories together, and to help the students write their own faith statements. Ideas to consider.
I also think it’s a good step that we continue on with blended worship and include a praise band. I have a great view of y’all from up here—I love to see you give over your hearts and minds to God as we sing God’s praises and give God glory together. I’ve heard amazing stories of the priority of children teens & young adults, which used to be strong here at FPDG—in Sunday school, VBS and pioneer clubs.
The question is will we look beyond ourselves and our needs again to prioritize children, teens, and young adults? This can happen—though it will look different from before—it may occur in surprising ways: through agreeing to form a union with another healthy church so that we may become stronger together. Or by dreaming up new outreach to a new generation. A healthy church draws 10-20% of its attendees from children. Our two task forces are at work exploring these options, but they need solid support including funding for their future plans. They need our prayers and confidence that God can do a new thing.
Dale Hudson calls this “Godfidence.” As a result, churches that prioritize families, “care about unreached kids and families in their community…a lot. They keep their focus outward and are heavily involved in the community outside the four walls. Families in the church build relationships and bring people to church on a regular basis.” 
Having good intentions, sharing stories of past glory, and smiling at the youth we see on Sundays just aren’t enough. Growing Young churches vote to back up their good intentions with actions. We, too, have the opportunity vote each Sunday to Growing Young
After all, we live in Chicago, where people vote early and often—soooo we have the opportunity vote each Sunday to prioritize the next generation:
- To vote with our knees, to pray for kids and young adults by name,
- To vote with our wallets to give $ to support children, teens and young adults
- To vote with our feet by choosing to lead and serve and teach children, teens, and young adults.
When Growing Young churches vote together, they agree to be intentional to reach the net generation, to give priority to children, teens and young adults (GY 229-230). Just like Jesus does. Jesus welcomes the children and teaches us that when we welcome the children, we welcome Jesus and the one who sent him. Let’s follow Jesus by welcoming families– children, teens, & young adults — and in the process, we all may grow young by making families a priority.
Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, Brad Griffin, Growing Young, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016), p. 196ff.
 http://www.relevantchildrensministry.com/2013/09/10-keys-to-explosive-growth-in.html (accessed 2-9-18).