There is a common idea that makes its way into our thinking about children and youth—that the future belongs to them, and that they are tomorrow’s influencers, shapers, and leaders. That is an exciting and at times fearful reality. The kids that are a part of your life will be the ones who take the reins and run with the baton for the next stretch of history. But when that idea is transferred over to the church, to the body of Christ, it falls short.
The Bible’s teaching about the universal church is that it is made up of all believers, of all generations, of all locations, of all nationalities, races, and ages. The body of Christ is an amazing design of God, made up of all those that claim the name of Jesus and are called to be his disciples. All those that are children of God are a part of his universal church, regardless of background, circumstances, location, or age.
That means that the child who has put his faith and trust in Jesus is a part of the church. Part of the body of Christ. The young person who is a follower of Jesus is not waiting to become part of Christ’s body, he already is. Or to put it another way, our youth and children are not the church of tomorrow. They are the church of today. That is a valuable truth. It is one that is counter-cultural to be sure, but is one that also has great benefits in the lives of the church and our people. Here are four reasons why:
1. It reflects God’s heart for generations.
The Bible places great worth on family and generational relationships. God has designed that the wisdom of age and the energy of youth feed and balance each other. There is much to learn from those of different ages and stages of life. Young men and women ought to be inspired, taught, and encouraged by those older than them. The more mature ought to be challenged, motivated, and energized by those younger than them. But culturally, we are quick to separate into age groups, and never really cross the lines or interact across generations. The church is one of the few places in American culture where we have an opportunity to interact with and move together with those of other ages. If there is never connection and relationship across ages, we lose something important that God values highly.
2. It gives kids a chance to share in mom and dad’s spiritual life.
Your kids are watching you, and the reality is that, more often than we realize, they will “do as we do, not as we say.” There is something powerful communicated to your child as they sit next to you and see you interact with God and his word in worship. As you take notes, delight in worship, and reflect and respond to God, they are watching and are being drawn and discipled by your actions, even if you may not realize it.
3. It promotes a healthy view of church.
One of the dangers of the church today is our trend towards consumerism. Too many view church with a mindset of “what’s in it for me?” Church is often seen as existing to meet my needs and cater to my desires. That can be inadvertently reinforced in our young people. If the church always caters to making me feel comfortable and ensure that I have a good time, I can miss that God’s desire for my church involvement is not about me, but about Him and others. Is it any wonder that many spend their entire church life in an environment that is designed to suit them, and then as adults struggle to see why church doesn’t suit them?
4. It fights the trend of low expectations.
Our world in many ways tells us not to expect much from our young people, and tells them not to expect much of themselves. It is often the unwritten assumption that we can’t hope for much more than selfishness, immaturity, and foolishness from our kids. Some day they might sit still and listen, look you in the eye, or put down their phone, but not now. We write them off or treat them as a nuisance. Than we become frustrated when they fulfill the low expectations that we project onto them. The truth is that our young people can teach us a great deal and are capable of so much more than we often think. We ought to invite them in and encourage them in that, instead of assuming that “they are just kids”.
Which brings us to our summer kids schedule. During the summer months, we take advantage of the unique rhythm of life and irregular schedules to bring our Elementary kids into service. In doing so, we declare our commitment to the body of Christ, our value of family and generations as God does, our desire to see our kids mature in their view of church, and our unwillingness to settle for low expectations in our kids. So as you see kids this summer, rejoice that they are there, make it a point to say hello, and remind yourself and them that they are not the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today.