The church block party was a planned event to kick off the school year and encourage outreach to our neighboring community. But at 9 a.m. on the scheduled Sunday, it was raining, as if the heavens had opened up and rainwater was pouring out of a fire hose.
The church staff made the unwanted but necessary decision to move everything inside. There was no other choice. The intended hospitable invitation of a block party in front of our building was now lost on anyone driving by, and the event became more of an inside party for the church family.
On a normal Sunday morning, our church narthex has a few greeters, a table of refreshments and brochures, and a check-in area for children. But this was not a normal Sunday. Walking into church on this particular day, you couldn’t help but smile, even laugh, as you navigated around two large inflatable bouncy castles right in the center of the church narthex.
Not only did we make space for all the adult activities planned for this picnic, the church made sure that the children’s activities were a priority as well. Before the sermon, as our pastor dismissed the young children to their age-appropriate activities, he wondered if the children would make it to their intended destinations as they’d have to pass all the bouncy castles on the way. My wondering was: What great message did we just send to the children about church and the people of God?
Jen Wilkin, in her recent article for the Gospel Coalition, proposes that your child is your neighbor. A neighbor is someone who lives near you. And who lives nearer to you than your own children? As Christians, we are commanded to love our neighbors, to offer them hospitality, and to serve and show kindness to them.
In an effort to show God’s love to others, our church picnic was planned to build relationships and share the love of God with those who live close to our church. But I wonder if God had other plans. With the rain, we were given the opportunity to create an event that communicated this hospitable type of love to our church’s children.
Like a neighbor, children live close to us and watch us as we live our lives. They are asking the same questions the neighbors in our community are asking of us as Christians. Do we demonstrate the love of God both at home and when we are out? Do we extend grace and compassion to those who are hurting? Is faith in Jesus Christ something that actually shapes our lives, or is it just something we talk about that has no impact on our actual behavior?
There is a Chinese proverb that states “A good neighbor: a found treasure.” As Wilkin admonishes in her article, children are people that we are to treasure. Now, I will admit, treasuring people doesn’t always mean bouncy castles. Treasuring people rises from relationships. And while it is true that within a covenantal perspective we should view our children as family, recognizing children as neighbors is also critical for the church, as it helps us engage children from a place of hospitality and grace.
Just like with neighbors, we can make room for children both in our worship and in any activities the church family plans. We engage our neighbors in conversations. So too, we can ask children for their insights and understandings. If we must correct any misconceptions, our words can be saturated with love and grace. Like our neighbors, relationships with our children should be valued. Children should feel love from us and our community. They are precious gifts to us to be treasured.
How does your church community demonstrate to children that they are valued, loved, and treasured among the people of God?
Mimi Larson is Faith Formation Ministries’ Children's Ministry Catalyzer. If you have questions or challenges about faith formation in children, welcoming children in worship, choosing curriculum, equipping volunteers, and more, contact Mimi at [email protected].