So there are few things that this pastor momma loves more than a kid who loves to be at church. Tonight as we celebrated Lent with our weekly Wed Learning Series, I watched one momma struggle to get her four-year-old go home at night. Now it just so happens that this particular four-year-old is best buddies with my youngest… but together, they run the church.
As soon as they are given any freedom, they run up and down the aisles of the pews, laughing, playing super heroes. With Iron Man and Ultron in hand, they run through the basement with their toys like they are in their own basement, in their own home. And they are not alone. I love an itty bitty who feels free to walk around the pews during Sunday worship. I love kids who wave to me during the morning prelude. I love youth who jump at the chance to light the candles.
I love a kid who loves to be in church. Because, when a kid loves church I know we are doing something right. I know that there is hope for the future of the church.
Now there is plenty of research that says the church in America is on the decline or that young people are leaving the church in droves. And I have seen it. I have seen it in my friends, my family, my neighbors. I have seen it in church. And I get it, church can feel irrelevant. It can feel hypocritical or judgmental.
I mean, who wants to sit with someone else’s ridiculous uncle for an hour, who tells the same joke every Sunday? Or listen to the slightly racist comments from somebody else’s grandma? (Disclaimer Alert – I am not referring to anyone in particular in these comments. Please don’t think that I am speaking of anyone person in our current community.) Who wants to associate with an organization that doesn’t embrace equity but claims to promote justice?
But here’s the beauty of it all… it’s all beautiful. The children, the uncles, the grandmas… it’s all beautiful. Because in a church where the children love to be at church, there is a lesson in community.
My heart swoons watching a young person fall in love with Jesus. But in a church, kids fall in love with Jesus through community. They fall in love with Jesus over glasses of milk and pieces of cake with someone else’s uncle. They fall in love with Jesus running through the church basement as if they own it. They fall in love with Jesus when they are invited to come and sit and hear a lesson that is just for them. They fall in love with Jesus when they are lifted to the drinking fountain or told to slow down. They fall in love with Jesus when they are included in setting up tables, stacking hymnals, or are plopped into the arms of someone else’s grandma.
When children love to be at church, they are encountering Jesus the way Jesus encountered the word, through community. They are learning to love and be loved. They are learning that the church is a good place where they can come with dirty diapers, tearful tantrums, and still be loved. They are learning that church is more than a building, it is bigger than a tradition, it is alive. It is organic, like family, but bigger and better.
In fact, I believe a church is more complete with a crying baby or a nursing mom. It is more complete with crayons under the pews and candy wrappers on the floor. It is more complete with the occasional escapee making their way to the front. It is more complete with brothers arguing in the back row.
Jesus is well known for his grace towards children. He welcomed them, he pulled them up front and held them on his lap, even when he was supposed to be having ‘grown up’ conversations. When the children love to be in church, I think Jesus is just a little happier about church.
As a pastor and a momma, my kids don’t always appreciate being in church, but I desperately want them to love it. I want them to love it so much that once they are there, they don’t want to leave. And I want them to love it when they are two, when they are four, when they are eight, when they are thirteen, when they are sixteen. I want them to love it when they are twenty-five, forty-two and ninety-two. I want them to experience Jesus in community.
So mommas, papas, grandmas and grandpas, when you find yourself parenting in the pews, know that I love you for it. Because you are teaching your children to love the church.
And those of you who find yourself sitting next to a crying baby, a busy toddler or a distracted seven year old, you have an opportunity to encourage these young ones to love the church. Jesus certainly did.