In the modern American church kids are often told to "show up, sit down and shut up".
That's harsh and outrageous! Or is it?
Well, of course those words would never be said out loud or posted on a sign in the student ministry area. But let's face it, that attitude is projected by the way churches form their sermons, sing songs, do announcements, and create budgets. Much of what happens in church screams to kids "this isn't for you!"
I know most churches really do want kids to show up, but why? Is it out of a true concern for the next generation?
If I've heard it once I've heard it a thousand times, "if we can get the kids, we can get their parents.” It's true that many families choose a church based on how they feel about the children and youth ministries. And don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with reaching and deepening people of all ages, but should getting the parents to church be the motive for ministering to the next generation?
There has to be an alternative perspective.
In his ministry Jesus set the tone of compassion and hospitality towards kids. In a culture that oozed a "shut up and sit down" ethos he spoke shocking words and displayed affection for children very different from the status quo. In Matthew, he sets the example for those around him:
“Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.” (Matthew 19:13-15 ESV)
Jesus had an unusual soft spot in his heart for kids. He received them, prayed for them, used them as an example and hugged them. For Jesus’ ministry to children and youth was simply about loving children and youth.
My hope and prayer is that churches across our country would learn what it means to be more hospitable to all who walk through the doors, especially kids. There is no doubt there is a greater number of the next generation leaving the church but maybe that's not the entire story. My friend Steve says that the problem isn't kids leaving the church, it's the church leaving kids. Something has to change.
Last spring I was shown this clip of how it might look for a church to truly embrace the next generation. It's a powerful example of what the church could and should be to reflect the heart of Jesus.
What words would you use to describe this clip? Messy? Chaotic? Raw? Yes, but also hospitable, safe, loving and compassionate.
So church, let's think about what it means to become more hospitable towards the next generation. Kids need to experience a church that's for them, AND the church is in desperate need to learn from the faith and enthusiasm of kids. If we do this, Jesus will be honored and the church will be strengthened.