There is a phenomenon is the modern church where people are separated according to their age. There are many churches which have multiple services running at the same time. You have your kids church, the youth church, the adult church and the only interaction between them is the car ride home afterwards. Some churches dedicate a midweek service for young adults. At times I wonder if all of this separation is actually a good thing. I can see the benefits of doing this. Different ages learn things at different speeds and depths, and tailoring things accordingly is positive. But I also wonder about the cost we are paying.
Being a child was one of the biggest metaphors that Jesus used throughout his ministry. Most obviously, he taught his followers to understand God as Father. The emphasis here isn’t about age but relationship. When Jesus spoke on this he used the language of infancy. The word he used, Abba, is the earliest phrase a baby would learn for father. It is akin to ‘Dada’. It is an expression of intimate trust and dependency. Children don’t cease to be someone’s child when they grow up but the image Jesus chooses isn’t of an independent adult child relating to a father.
Jesus interacted with children. Matthew 19 tells the story of people bringing their children to Jesus. While his followers tried to shoo the children away, Jesus took time to pray with them claiming that the Kingdom of Heaven was with them. This shouldn’t really be a surprise for the readers of Matthew. Not long before this Jesus declares that being part of his Kingdom requires becoming like a child. At other times Jesus did healing and miracles which related to children. To sum it up, in a society where children were on the outer, Jesus made them front-and-centre.
Darrell Bock points out the importance of ministering to children (Luke, NIV Application Commentary). He notes how this wasn’t emphasised during his theological training but also how the faculty consisted of many who came to Jesus as children. What an irony. He gets it. He writes how children are among those most open to God. Those who follow God from childhood are less likely to be negatively impacted by our culture. Surely, given the value Jesus gives children, and their openness to God, dedicated children’s programs are a good thing? I agree but not if it means that a church is totally segmented.
I think that the modern church would benefit from times of integration. I believe there is value in seeing the church united in terms of generations. Segmentation sends the subtle message that adults are there to teach children but not the other way. I don’t really believe this is the message Jesus sends. He places value on children and uses them as object lessons. He instructs us to become like children. But how are we to become like children when we send them to another part of the church building? We are missing their demonstration of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Children have something to teach us about following Jesus. I wonder what it would be like if a child led the singing time at church. I wonder what we could learn if we heard children pray during our services. I wonder what it would be like if they sometimes did the Bible readings or greeted people. I wonder what they could teach us about following Jesus. I’m not saying it has to always be like this. Children’s programs are enormously beneficial for reaching kids where they are at but couldn’t we sometimes let them minister to us? Our church tries to make sure kids are active and visible during parts of our get togethers. For me this is a deep reminder that when we come before God we do so as a child to their Daddy.
Ty Soupidis, a pastor at Church on the Hill, expresses it this way:
‘we are steering people away from the roster fill in which feels like a toilet cleaning roster (everyone has to have a turn but no one really likes it). We want to point our community to the shared responsibility of loving kids and giving in to their lives. It is a privilege, and a village privilege to all give in to this area. Whilst not everyone will give in the same way, we are choosing to all invest in relationship across the ages.’
In essence Ty is leading people to make a shift from duty to privilege. He is creating an environment where there is a toing-and-froing across age groups, where children are both ministered to, and minister to the wider church community.