This is a guest post from Shereen Marcus - a proud member of St. Timothy & St. Athanasius church and a long time volunteer with elementary-aged children who has guest posted before. In today's post, Shereen eloquently expresses a belief that I hold near and dear to my heart and one that I pray all that churches and church goers would accept as well. And if you too are interested in guest posting on my blog, please visit my Guest Post guidelines for more info.
In volunteering with the kids at my local church, I’ve been reading a lot of books on various approaches to Youth Ministry. In one book I read, a man shares his experience growing up in Sunday School and why he will never set foot into another Church. [SeeFour Views of Youth Ministry and the Church].
“Foster kids don’t come to family reunions,” he writes. In his excerpt, I found myself getting teary-eyed as I read an all-too-familiar truth.
Growing up in Church, as a boy, he was always told to be quiet during the Liturgy, he was always rushed to a Sunday School classroom to be “pawned off” on a set of volunteers, and overall how he was treated as a nuisance. Growing up, he no longer felt any desire to return to the “Church family” because, let’s face it, he never was a fully embraced member…more like a foster child. And… “foster kids don’t come to family reunions.”
The Orthodox Church model, in contrast, is from the Apostolic roots of “togetherness” and “a common life.” (see Acts 2:44). We believe that the Church is indeed the Body of Christ, with Jesus Christ as the Head. Every member is as important as the next, especially the children.
If you're a parent of young children, then you know all too well the season of standing in the back of the church, running after your little ones, and retreating to the “crying room” after you received enough dirty looks from other praying congregants.
I don't mean to call anyone out or in any way suggest that parents have no responsibility in trying to assist their children to participate in the Liturgy in a meaningful way without causing a distraction to others. At the same time however, it has been on my heart for awhile that maybe…just maybe… it’s not solely the parents’ responsibility to care for the children of the Church. And maybe…just maybe…it’s not a set of volunteers’ sole responsibility either.
If we are all truly part of the Body of Christ, then that includes children too. Children should never feel that they are less important or more of a nuisance to pawn off on volunteers and/or parents. They should be embraced as full members of the Body of Christ and drawn into participation as the integral parts that they are.
Volunteering with kids for the last few years, I can tell you first hand that these little guys teach you more than anything you can teach them. Whether it be seeing first hand how words can really hurt, the awe and amazement on their face in learning the power of the Holy Spirit, or perhaps how selfish humans can really be without the Love of the Lord in their life. These little guys remind me of the truths we learned so long ago, yet forgot along the way to adulthood. They truly are invaluable parts of the Body of Christ.
Jesus said, “Unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
It begs the question then – how can we be “converted” like children if we are continually pushing the kids off to someone else – away from the “adult” services? Meditating on this verse really got me thinking...perhaps instead of dreaming up new modes of youth ministry, the Congregation as a whole should be more focused on finding a place for the children within the Church. [See Nal, Malan, “The Inclusive Congregational Approach,” Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church].
“Foster kids don’t come to family reunions” – these words have been haunting me – especially since I have two young boys of my own. The overall goal of any youth ministry effort should not be babysitting or even teaching, but that these kids grow up and stay in the Faith – in the Church body.
For discussion: How do you think the Congregation as a whole can embrace children as full-fledged members of the Body of Christ rather than foster kids?