Inviting Children into the Life of Your Church
By Amanda Standiford
When I talk with a child about making the decision to be baptized, I tell her that with her baptism she is choosing two things: First, she is choosing to follow Jesus with her heart, soul, mind and strength for her whole life. Second, she is deciding for herself to join with a whole body of other people who are following Jesus alongside her.
Here, we talk about both the universal Church, which spans time and continents, and the local church, with which she is already familiar.
There is a lot to learn from the universal Church. Our theology, our liturgical calendar, our sacraments and our understanding of Christ’s love are all vetted by the generations who have come before us and by those living out their faith in contexts both like and unlike our own. But for most of us, and particularly for a child, it’s within the life of the local church that these ideas find hands and feet. That’s why it’s so important for our churches to invite our children, both those who have claimed their membership through baptism and those who are still growing toward it, to be fully and meaningfully a part of all that happens in the life of the church.
I don’t have a prescription for how to do this. Every church is different, and each congregation has its own way of worshiping and living life together. I can, however, offer two principles that can guide how we think about including children in church life, along with some ideas about how we might live out those principles.
First, I believe it’s vitally important for the all of the members of a congregation to recognize that they are not “making room” or “finding space” for children. A child has as much a right to participate in the life of the church — and as much to contribute — as any adult, and they have a lot to teach us.
When a child runs down the hallway and disrupts the last few minutes of your Sunday School class, invite him in to say hello and to share what he has learned that morning rather than scolding him and shutting the door. When the child in your row stands up so she can see better as the pastor prays over the elements before the Lord’s Supper, take a few minutes after worship to ask her what she observed. When a child tosses canned goods into a box with a thud in the middle of the Wednesday night prayer meeting, praise his eagerness to be generous and ask him to share with the group why he is so enthusiastic.
Second, I would argue that children should be invited to be participants in the life of the church, not performers. Children and their work should not be put on display merely because it is cute and makes the rest of the congregation feel good, but rather because their contributions are meaningful.
When the children carry in palm branches and shout “Hosanna,” as they will in many worship services this Palm Sunday, they help us all locate ourselves in the story of Easter. When the children build a representation of a Bible story with blocks and put it on display for the congregation to see, they invite us all to hear God’s word from a new perspective. When the church’s children make posters to advertise a community event or serve alongside adults putting together boxed meals to share with the homeless, they join in the work of being the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
The church is a body made up of many diverse parts, and it functions best when all of the parts are cared for and used well. Invite the children in your congregation to be part of the body of Christ as your care for one another and for the world around you.
Amanda Standiford serves as Minister to Children and Young Families at Lexington Avenue Baptist Church in Danville, Kentucky. She and her husband, Adam, are both graduates of the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky.
To Dance with God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration by Gertrud Mueller Nelson (Paulist Press: 1986)
Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home, edited by Jessica Snell (Doulos Resources: 2014)
The Way of the Child: Helping Children Experience God by Wynn McGregor (Upper Room: 2006)
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