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Children, Church, and God

2010 June 17

I’ve been writing reflections on VBS for my church’s website this week, here are a couple of my entries –

013At the Journey Warehouse we call our gathering space “the living room.” I love the image because the living room is where a family does life together. We make it cozy, we make it represent who we are, and we claim it as our own. Over this past year Journey’s living room has been transformed into a garden, a threshold archway, a waterfall, and even the wonderful world of Oz. These transformations represent where we as a community, a family, are going together.

This week the living room has become a bit of Treasure Island, complete with a Pirate’s Lair, Tiki Hut, and Jungle. The children have claimed the space for themselves as they sail across the seas as merchants and dance to rousing choruses of “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything.” As they explore what things God wants them to treasure, they have grown comfortable in the space and it has become their own. While at times this familiarity might be chaotic, there is something special about knowing the kids feel safe and at home in the living room.

I’ve worked in churches before that made rules about where — and more importantly where not — children could be in the church. Church councils would pass rules barring children from the sanctuary or the fellowship time. The kids were kept hidden in the basement – far, far away from the adults. And the kids knew that they were not wanted, that the church was not a place where they were truly welcomed or safe.

So I am so grateful for the community at Journey embracing its members of all ages. For saying to children, teens, and adults alike that “this is your home, come on in and relax, let this place represent you.”

—-

VBS_kidsOne of the joys of VBS is watching what the kids take away from the week. Having such an intense daily experience where the kids get to “do church” and learn about God outside of the ways they normally do truly does affect their lives. My kids, for instance, have been singing the songs from the week around the clock. I hear my daughter singing to herself as she lies in her bed at night, and even my barely verbal toddler has got the “na na na” chorus down. These songs, these ideas, these themes are part of their life now even if they don’t fully grasp their meaning.

As an adult who knows that she will never fully understand her own faith or the ways God works in the world, I get that the kids will only partially understand what they are singing or what they are learning. But they are internalizing these ideas in a loving and safe environment. That is how God is working in their lives in the moment.

Of course, that partial understanding can be amusing at times as well. As my daughter sang a VBS song about dancing and singing for her king, I asked her who her king was. She gave me a weird look and after thinking for a moment said her brother’s name. She explained that he was the person she liked to dance and sing with so he must be her King. We had a nice little chat about God being the king of kings, but I was moved that at the age of 5 she grasped the joy and exuberance of worship that song suggests far better than most of us.

God is working in these kids’ lives – often in ways we don’t plan or expect. Creating the space for them to experience God is, for me, at the heart of what it means to serve children. And often in helping create that space, the children in turn teach me something and draw me closer to God.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Mick Bradley permalink
    June 17, 2010

    I love love LOVE that you guys call your worship space “the living room”!

  2. June 18, 2010

    I was once involved in a VBS, and we didn’t have a living room, but a tent in the back garden, which became Abraham’s tent, the tabernacle in the wilderness and a few other things. But at the end of it I was convinced that the kids learn far more in VBS in a week than they learned in five years of Sunday School.

  3. June 20, 2010

    You may want to consider checking out carolyn arend’s post about church history and kids. 😉

    But as someone who’s worked with quite a few kids, i tell parents time and again the most important thing you can do to shape and encourage a childs faith is to spend time shaping and encouraging your own faith. The church can only do so much and there are lots of heated discussions on the role of kids in the church. But when the pews are stacked and the church is empty it’s what happens in the home of the believers that is going to ensure the future of the church, not its programs or VBS show.

    Having said that, i’m at a multi-ethnic church that’s heavy on the asian american side. I do yearn for the time when our christian publishers will be better at addressing their presence in the American Christian body and start addressing my kid’s needs too! :0)

  4. Emily permalink
    October 31, 2010

    What is the song that has the “na na na” chorus? I have to learn it to teach little ones next week but i don’t remember what it is called.

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