Raising faith 4
1 Samuel 3:1-11, Luke 2:41-52
The final part of our Raising Faith series is taking a look at US. All of us. How we can all be a part of ensuring the children who worship with us today, will be worshipping next year, the year after, with their children and their Grandchildren.
RECAP: It’s been hard to hear the statistics – Hugh brought them to us in week 1 and I would recommend you go back to listen to them so you know how vital your role as church is for our young people. We’ve heard from Faye how families in the bible brought up their children in faith – with many mistakes along the way, and last week, we saw how we, as parents, grandparents, godparents, Aunts and Uncles are probably the most important people in our children’s life in enabling them to see how life is with God right at the centre.
Today we need to know how vital it is that our whole church community is also part of the picture;how can we all work together with the children in our church regardless of age. Just as we reach out to those who are ‘like’ us, so we should be looking to reach those people who aren’t so similar and that needs to apply across the generations.
If I look back at my early life, I see how blessed I was to know and love people from other generations, and that they supported and cared for me and my faith.
Being part of church was crucial. So was the children’s leader who inspired me as he talked about Peter being set free from prison by an angel and led me to my first encounter with the Holy Spirit, my Sunday School teacher who took the effort of going to the library to photocopy lots of information about Paul’s Shipwreck for me (before the days of computers and Wikipedia) because I was so interested in the bible stories, the people who encouraged me to lead worship, the person from Youth for Christ who sent me onto the streets of High Wycombe to talk to Muslims as he could see I was an evangelist, The couple from Youth Group who led me to Christ and actually ran our engagement encounter weekend before Dan and I were married.
And it goes the other way too I visited a lady from church who was lonely every Saturday afternoon – mainly for the sweets, but I enjoyed it; I helped in the holiday clubs at our church as a young leader and then led bible studies at college because I’d been given the confidence to use my gifts at an early age.
And I would guess that many of us who came to faith when we were younger could tell a similar story – of adults, other than our parents – who took an interest in us and encouraged us.
So how can we make sure that the wonderful generation of young people that are part of our church community are given the same kind of opportunities, the same kinds of friendship, the same encouragement and prayer?
It’s easy to think that ‘children’s work’ as it’s sometimes called is for the people who run the Sunday groups for the kids and teenagers. But when we’re baptized, we are baptized into a family, which means every other Christian becomes our sister or brother. We aren’t baptized into this group or that group, into one part of church or another – we are baptized into one body, one church. We belong to each other; old and young – and we all have a responsibility for each other. The children and young people who belong to this church community belong to us all.
Sticky Faith is a research initiative in the United States. After a 3-year research project into factors that help young people to develop mature faith, one of the top 3 conclusions was this:
·More than any program or event, what made children more likely to feel a significant part of their local church was when adults, other than their parents, made the effort to get to know them.
You are important to the spiritual formation of the children and young people in our church community.
We learn from each other and the bible readings both show this.
Fist we see Jesus in the temple. After the Passover, Jesus’ Parents leave Jerusalem and don’t realise they’ve left Jesus behind – they travel for a few days before realizing – apparently, families were so large and they would have assumed he was with an aunt or uncle, or with the other children in the party, but really!!! So they finally find Jesus – where? In the temple with the teachers of the law.
Luke makes a point to mention that Jesus is listening to them and asking them questions. This young lad is a 12-year-old boy, intentionally learning from people who are older than him.
The teachers of the law were ‘amazed’ by his understanding and his answers. They were learning from Jesus, a 12-year-old boy. These teachers were putting themselves in a position to learn from somebody younger than them. Jesus is learning from older people and they’re clearly learning from Him.
Our second story about Samuel and Eli highlights this two-way learning beautifully. Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. During this period of time, God speaking to His people was pretty rare.
One night While he was sleeping Samuel was woken by a voice calling his name. Eli was old, overweight and almost blind – he relied on Samuel to help him with things – so Samuel naturally thought Eli was calling him
But when he goes to Eli the old priest says, ‘My son, I did not call you. Go back and lie down.’ This pattern is repeated three times and by the third time Eli realises Samuel is hearing the word of the Lord, so Eli offers Samuel some spiritual direction – he tells the boy what to say if he hears the voice again Say, ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening’
Eli doesn’t get frustrated with Samuel for waking him in the middle of the night and he has the presence of mind and the spiritual sensitivity to realise God is calling the boy. Most people wouldn’t have expected God to speak at all, let alone to a servant boy. A child prophet? That was unheard of. Nevertheless, Eli realises that God is talking to Samuel
Eli reminds those of us who are older to see the potential in those who are young and not discount their usefulness to God
But it works both ways – Samuel learned from Eli. He does what Eli says. He respects Eli’s wisdom and responds to the Lord’s call as Eli suggests. Eli gave Samuel the spiritual direction he needed.
God really threw Samuel in at the deep end with a message for Eli that basically said his sons could not be forgiven and that Eli was just as guilty for not restraining his sons from their wickedness. Here, we see Eli making it safe for Samuel to exercise his new ministry and be honest about God’s message. He demonstrates grace in allowing this from a young boy. And for us, we need to know that God uses both the inexperience of youth and the wisdom of the elderly to work out his purposes.
Maybe we underestimate what children can cope with.Maybe we keep children at a distance because we don’t think they’d understand. When my children were little, Dan’s Dad, a faithful Christian, was ill with cancer. We are always open and didn’t hide this from the children and we’re really thankful for that as the children took it upon themselves to ensure we prayed morning and evening for his complete healing. There was a real sense of power in those prayers. We sincerely believe that Rodney was given an extra seven years of life as a result.
So, what does all of this mean for you and me now?
Think back to when you were younger. Who were the people who helped you in your journey to your own relationship with Christ? People in your church, family friends….. your Sunday School teacher?? Who was your Eli?
It would be great if I could see more of you joining our Sunday Group team but there are other ways we can all get involved and invest in the life of the children here. What would it look like, if every person here intentionally related to one of our young people by getting to know them and their family, simply sending a birthday card, a note in the post, encouraging and supporting that child, whether it’s at coffee on a Sunday or watching one of their football matches.
Mentoring is a great means of doing this, and while the word itself is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, it is certainly a concept that was well used: Jesus with his disciples, Paul with Timothy and others, Jethro and Moses, David and Solomon and many other examples!
You may be someone who doesn’t feel you have anything to offer, or you have not been encouraged to offer what you can. Sometimes we may lack the confidence or the direction to really get involved. Everyone has a part to play and we can all have a positive input in someone else’s life.
It takes a whole church to raise a child. They need older people to care about them and pray for them and spot their gifts and encourage their faith. They need younger children in order to learn how to be a role model and how to pass on faith. The most effective youth ministry doesn’t only take place in a church building on a Sunday morning, the most effective youth ministry is a whole church thing.
Children’s ministry is less about providing children with absolute answers and more about helping them live faithfully with questions and doubts that arise on the journey of discipleship. It’s where children feel God’s love when they are surrounded by a close-knit faith community who loves and value them It is where children are both learners and teachers – where it is understood that they have as much to teach adults about life in God’s Kingdom as we adults have to teach them.
Whether we are 5 or 75, we are all rooted in the same identity. We all have something to offer and something to receive. We are all in this together - One Lord, one faith, one family.
Here are a couple of things you can do practically:
1.ask God to show you which child/children/family you might get to know
2.Fix a play date with another family from church to start building relationships.
3.Speak to me and ask for the name of someone who needs mentoring/support
4.Perhaps you can’t commit to regular time with a child, but you could pray for them every week - if so, talk to me.
5.If you are a parent, identify people you know and trust who you would be happy for your child to talk to. Maybe invite them for a family meal to get to know you and your children.
6.Ask your teenager whether they feel they belong within the church and what would help them to feel even more involved, particularly if they have a skill or interest in a particular area.
7.Join Sunday group team…..