Whenever we baptize children in the Anglican Church, I’m often struck by the way the liturgy reminds us that we are baptizing them into a complex reality that is both individual and communal. Something is going on between them and God, but sometime is also going on between us and them. They are baptized into the death and life of Christ, but they are also baptized into the communal life of the Church, becoming part of us And while the Christian life is fundamentally a personal life of faith, repentance, obedience and worship, God calls us all to live that life out in a community who believes, repents, obeys and worships. Baptism is a personal reality, but it is not a wholly individual reality. We are all baptized into community.
Where Christians live together in community there are mutual responsibilities, like loving another, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. And baptism into community involves responsibility as well. Our baptismal liturgy reminds the parents of those baptized that they are responsible to raise their children in faith, to teach them the “basics” and to guide them into the mature life of a committed disciple of Jesus. The parents serve as a core sphere of discipleship, but they are embedded within a broader community who also share responsibility for their lives in Christ. The children are responsible to come to faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and commit their lives to him in faithful obedience. But the congregation doesn’t get off the hook in our baptismal service! The parents are not the only active players in their children’s spiritual development. Instead, we all are asked as a community whether we will do all in our power to support those baptized in their life in Christ, and we often loudly and eagerly affirm “WE WILL”. How do we flesh out the promises we’ve just made? I’d like to suggest four major ways that we can support the children of All Saints and their parents in their journey of discipleship.
Pray for them
Prayer is single handedly the most significant thing you can do for the children of All Saints. In every era it has been a challenge to raise children in the faith, but we live in a uniquely difficult season of developing young disciples. We live in an age of distractibility unparalleled in history. Our world is more and more hostile, or at best ambivalent about the Christian faith. Our society is moving into a post-Christian reality where discipleship needs to occur more deeply and more quickly in a child’s life because of societal forces and pressures. Parents are having to navigate complex technological realities earlier and earlier in their children’s lives. And as always, the Enemy desires to destroy our children and turn them away from the faith. The deepest answer to these challenges is committed prayer to the Lord for our children and their parents. Take some time in your usual prayer life to focus in on the children of All Saints. Pray for them to come to faith, pray for them to grow in hunger for the Scriptures, pray for them to encounter God in our worship, pray for them to hear the gospel and receive it. Pray against the forces of the world that would try to turn them away from the light of Christ. Pray that they might grow to be powerful people of prayer and mission in this world. Pray for their parents, that they might have wisdom and insight into discipling their children. Pray for their marriages, pray for their own spiritual lives. Pray for any of these things, pray for all of them.
Some of you might have noticed recently that we’re filling up with kids and young families. It’s such a beautiful sight and another reminder that God is at work at All Saints! But with more young families, our children’s ministry programs have grown considerably. Our staff and volunteers face new challenges, new opportunities and growing pains. Pray for their work, encourage them and let them know that they play a vital role in our church. Offer to take one of the volunteers out for coffee and let them vent about the triumphs and failures of ministry with young children. Or maybe there is some way you can get involved. As our children’s ministry expands, there are more and more ways to help out, from teaching or assisting in a Sunday school, helping with the nursery, childcare for discipleship groups and assisting with special events. Our volunteer opportunities are never solo missions, so rest assured you’ll be part of a ministry team and given guidance and encouragement. Maybe there’s something you can bring to children’s ministry that we haven’t even thought of yet, or only dreamed about.
When little children were brought to Jesus to be prayed for, the disciples saw it as a hindrance of the real ministry of Jesus. They tried to turn the children away, but Jesus said “let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:14) Jesus has time for children! He wants to invite them into life with him. There’s nothing more important and more pressing that will take him away from blessing the children. If we will follow Jesus’ lead, a key way we can support our children in their spiritual lives is to welcome them, to receive them as valued members of our community. Too often, church communities can begin to feel like children are an imposition from the real work of church life, instead of welcoming them into the community with open, loving arms. Welcoming our children can take many forms, from getting to know the children by name, asking them about Sunday school, thanking them for their service in the church, getting down on their level and just letting them chat, to my personal favorite, the high five (kids are suckers for high fives). When we have potlucks, engage with our children and their parents, when they’re noisy in church, be patient and encouraging with their parents. Do what you can to let young families know they are a welcome and treasured part of our community, because Jesus loves the kiddos.
Model life for them
It has been said that Christian faith is more “caught” than “taught”, that children’s faith is often influenced the most by the unspoken elements of a church community. How we pray, how we treat the Scriptures, how our lives evidence Christian maturity and commitment. Kids pick up on these things. I still remember vividly the image of my mother in the early morning with a cup of coffee reading her Bible, and I know that spoke powerful to me about the importance of the Bible in the Christian life. Mom’s constantly reading it, so it must be important! Our life as a community has a powerful influence on how our children understand God and the Christian life. Where people are passionate and committed to the Lord, there is a sense of energy and passion that is deeply attractive and engaging.
Yet, we often slip into thinking that the quality of our individual discipleship is simply an individual issue. But what if our discipleship was more important than that? What if being people of prayer says something about the importance of prayer to our children? What if our joy in the Lord shows our children something deeply attractive about the Christian life? What if our peace in the midst of difficulty teaches our children that knowing God brings security? What if your and my personal life as Christian form a tapestry that children can sense, a community culture which will either draw them closer to Jesus or turn them off?
Here’s the secret nobody tells you about children’s ministry. You’re already in children’s ministry if you are a part of a Christian community! And if you’re part of All Saints, whenever a child is baptized, we commit to doing all we can to support them as they grow in their life in Christ. I’d encourage you to reflect on what part you might play in the spiritual life and development of our children.