27 June 2016
A Church for children that goes beyond Sunday school
As Whitney Houston once sung: "I believe the children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way." She was right – the children are the future, so Alexandra Davis took a look at how today's Church is equipping tomorrow's Church to love Jesus and serve his family.
The Sunday school in my church is one of my absolute favourite things about being part of God's family. I love the way the noise level goes right up as soon as they come crashing back in to the main sanctuary from their groups, covered in glitter or holding up posters, wearing paper crowns and home-made technicoloured dream coats.
But how do we move our children from recipients of teaching and creators of playdough lion's dens into active servants of God's Church? What are we doing to make sure that as they learn about God's word, they are also learning how to serve His Church?
Asking children what they've been doing, what they think about what the church has been learning, and letting them share with the wider church family is a simple but important way to show children that they are valuable members of God's family. When they know they are seen and valued, they will often be quicker to serve. Paul Adlington, church leader at Alliance member church The Bear in south-east London says: "The best way for people of any age to feel at home in church is for them to have some responsibility, to feel they somehow own it. We already see many young people leave the Church because of cultural and faith issues, we don't need to add to their reasons to leave because they don't feel useful, trusted or valued."
There's nothing more powerful than the word of God, so teach your children what the Bible says about being an active participant in God's family. Look at how Jesus modelled serving and about what it means to be great in God's kingdom. Teach on the power of youth, look at the classic example of the work of Timothy and Paul, then follow that model and establish mentoring relationships between older members of your congregation and the children and young people.
Children follow the example of those around them – children who see their parents committed to serving God and His Church will often follow that example and learn to serve themselves from an early age, while those whose parents attend and promptly leave church on a Sunday morning will do the same. And while parents are usually the most significant examples to children, the community of adults that a church family provides is also an important example for children to follow.
Start working with children to identify their spiritual gifts early on and seek out training opportunities as they grow. When your children show skills in hospitality, send them on cookery courses or as they develop musical abilities, send them to worship leader workshops. Tessa Chapman is responsible for children and youth at The Bear. She says: "It is so valuable to bring children up with a sense of corporate responsibility, and to find them a place in which they can serve. For many, they have the opportunity to learn skills, to meet people, to give and to receive in church – opportunities which they wouldn't get otherwise."
Giving children the opportunity to serve in a regular church service is a great way to start training them up in the ways of active church engagement. Paul Adlington says: "Children and youth often lead worship at The Bear and we also ask them to lead services and speak/prepare short sermons, about twice a year. The children's groups are also asked to prepare presentations in their groups to share with the whole church – in practice this usually means a song, drama or video as part of a Christmas service." Invite children to share their own stories or to interview an older member of the church, take part in the worship group, join the tech team, or help out with the younger children.
Paul Adlington remembers an African proverb quoted during the London riots in 2011 and thinking how relevant it was for the Church too: "If you don't initiate your young people into the tribe, they will burn down the village just to feel it's warmth." Sometimes we just don't expect enough of our children, or we expect the worst from them. But children will often meet and then exceed our expectations of them – let's expect them to be active participants in the life of our churches so that as tomorrow's Church leaders they will be equipped to serve Christ and his family.