Our youngest daughter, Talitha, turned 21 on Valentine’s Day. In the midst of my pondering the mystery and miracle of our 3 children now being young adults, I attended Sunday worship in a church on the Grand Rapids District. As the children’s choir came forward to sing, I experienced a flashback to when our children were small, and their first question every Sunday morning was, “Are we going to Mommy’s church or Daddy’s church today? The images are seared in my mind: Sarah constantly escaping from the nursery, Garth prone to lying on the pew or the floor, Talitha reading a book or chatting with her friends, and Gary and I knowing that while we were leading worship, many of our parishioners were watching and loving our children.
During the children’s time in worship on February 11, the pastor asked the question, “Who is the most important person you know?” These were smart kids. They know you can never go wrong in church when you answer a question with the word, “Jesus.” Some kids said, “Jesus.” Others said, “God,” or “my parents”. But the pastor was after another word, “me.” He said, “To God, you are the most important person in the world.”
Certainly, there are no people more important in our world than our children. I heard a report on National Public Radio last week that UNICEF has done a study on the health and welfare of children in the 21 most industrialized nations on the world. To my surprise, Britain ranked 20th and the United States was last in promoting the safety and happiness of its children. The report cited our lack of support systems for children and the widespread behavioral risks to which our children and youth are susceptible.
About the same time, I read an article from the United Methodist News Service that three of our United Methodist bishops are asking President Bush and the U.S. Congress to place the needs of children and the poor at the heart of the budget debate. “The debate among elected leaders over the federal budget is at its core a debate over how the nation’s abundance is shared,” the bishops say in a Feb. 15 letter to the president and members of Congress. “We are alarmed by recent trends in the federal budget that have squeezed investments in education, child care, food nutrition programs and other anti-poverty measures to accommodate dramatic tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens in the United States and to fuel military conflicts abroad. These policies turn the teachings of Christ on their head.” The letter was signed by Bishops Janice Riggle Huie, president of the Council of Bishops, Gregory Vaughn Palmer, the Council’s president-designate, and Beverly Shamana, president of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.
I am proud that the Council of Bishops has made the well-being of children a priority for years. The letter also stated, “We will not remain silent as the most vulnerable populations in the United States and around the world are sacrificed at the altars of greed and war.”
One of the greatest gifts the church can offer to our nation and world is providing a safe place for children to become who God created them to be. How is your church caring for its children? And if you tell me that you don’t have any children in your church, I will ask, “Why not? There are hundreds of children all around you.”
- What plan do you have to invite children into the family of your church?
- Do you have a Sunday school for children? Are you telling them about Jesus and teaching them the stories of the Bible?
- How much money do you have in your budget for children’s ministries?
- Do you have a child protection policy to ensure the safety of your children and youth? Every church needs such guidelines, no matter how large or small. If you don’t have one, email me, and I would be glad to send you a sample policy.
- Do you have regular confirmation classes? Teaching youth is not one of my strengths, yet I have taught confirmation class throughout my entire ministry because I believe it is one of the most important roles of a pastor.
- Do you know the names of all the children and youth in your church and interact with them on a regular basis? Remember, you are pastor not only to the adults but to everyone.
- Do you include children and youth in worship? Do teenagers serve on committees? Do you have Bible studies for youth?
- Do you pray regularly for the children?
- When was the last time a youth from your church felt called into ministry?
- How are you reaching out to the children in your community? When was the last time you held vacation Bible School?
My children are now grown and are making their own decisions. However, I believe that the people in our churches who have loved and nurtured them have made a lasting influence in their lives, which will mold them for years to come. Deep in their hearts, my children know that they are beloved. They will not forget. Would that we could say the same thing about every other child in our communities. How is your church caring for the children?