It has been a long time since our daughter was involved in the myriad of activities that embraces a young person’s life: school plays, church programs, music recitals, sports, sleepovers, camping trips, piano lessons, band concerts, and church events. These pursuits engulfed our own schedules and much of our lives were planned around them.
As an empty-nester, one of my favorite jokes is about three guys having an argument about when life begins. One insists that it begins at conception while another declares that life begins at birth. The two go round and round while the third man sat quietly listening to his friends debate the great question. When finally asked his opinion, he smiled and said, “Life begins when the kids move out of the house and the dog dies.”
I suppose, once the hectic years of child rearing are past, we tend to forget the challenges of parenthood and focus on things which we didn’t have time for before. It’s now easier to regard church as a place to socialize and meditate on the word of God. Empty-nesters no longer need to worry about getting kids ready for Sunday school, Christmas programs or keeping them quiet during the pastor’s sermon.
Sadly, there are fewer and fewer children in our churches today and older members wonder why parents don’t bring their kids anymore. What is wrong with this generation who prefer to take our grandchildren to soccer practice or karate lessons instead of Sunday school and Christian youth groups.
Our empathy for today’s parents can be renewed by simply remembering how busy we were with our children and how nice it was, as a family, to go on a weekend getaway, shopping, camping, or simply stay home on a Sunday morning. For that matter how many grandparents miss our church service because they are visiting the grandchildren?
It is the wish of all parents to raise healthy, responsible, educated and well-behaved children who can face the future with confidence. With both parents working and trying to maintain a decent home, pay bills, have good clothes and reliable cars, church activities can seem an infringement on their scarce resources. Those of us with fewer years ahead of us than behind us should appreciate the challenges young parents have in raising children in the 21st century Anno Domini.
Intrinsically, caring parents believe a faith foundation is important toward raising well-adjusted kids. However, so are piano lessons, school activities or spending more time with their kids. Is the traditional church demonstrating that it can be a partner in raising children with strong moral and ethical values? Or are we simply adding another layer of activities to their hectic lives?
It’s not just the hectic schedules that push church worship out of their lives. Younger adults may seriously wonder if religion of any faith is relevant in the modern world. The moral and ethical challenges faced by parents and kids can make them question the values of their parent’s church. Are issues such as bullying, sexuality, drug use, school safety being addressed by the faith community? How does the church tackle the complex issues faced by today’s families? Secular institutions seem to address their needs better than the Sunday school lessons taught in their youth.
Perhaps what most young parents want is a refuge where they can experience a break from the frantic schedule of their lives. Maybe church needs to be that quiet place where there are no demands or expectations. A place where there is simply the peace that comes from family worship. Which do they want, a peaceful haven or a community that supports them as parents? Maybe both.
Perhaps the best way to find out is to ask them. A failure of many churches is not reaching out and simply enquiring what younger adults need from their church. An invitation to the table lets parents know that the church values them and seeks to nurture their family in Christian love. They know better than the older generation what is needed to guide their children in today’s conflicted world.
Even the elders of the church, and especially the pastor, can get caught up in worship planning and administrative chores. Then we lose focus on the mission of the church, spending more time on maintaining rather than nurturing. That’s why it is important to invite the next generation to the table. To give them a place where they can begin building the church which fulfills their spiritual needs and nurtures their children as well. Psalms 78:6-7 declares;
“That the generation to come might know them,
The children who would be born,
That they may arise and declare them to their children,
That they may set their hope in God,
And not forget the works of God,
But keep His commandments;
We should take to heart the words of Jesus, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them;” Let this be an invitation to parents with school-aged children to join us at the table. Those of us who have run our course should also heed the words of John F. Kennedy, “…that the torch has been passed to a new generation…” Let us pray that this younger generation of parents will see in the church of their parents a place of worship which cherishes their children, and nurture them in faith, hope and love. Our church must let this new generation understand that the words expressed in 3 John lies at the heart of our faith.
“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”
3 John 4(NKJV)