This Sunday, August 1, is Promotion Sunday. Here's a special message from our pastor about how we can think and respond to many young children who will be attending "big church" this Sunday for the first time! This also means all preschoolers, children and youth will be moving up to their next class/grade for Sunday School this Sunday!
Dear Church Family,
Sunday is a big day for many of our families at Western Avenue Baptist Church. Not because it is someone’s birthday or anniversary but because it is the first day one of their little ones gets to sit with mommy and daddy in “big church.” For the rest of us, this means Sunday will include a little more noise, a little more movement, a few more distractions – and I couldn’t be happier!
At Western Avenue, we want children to sit with their parents in “big church.” Other churches do it differently and that is fine. We certainly do not claim the way we do things is the only way to do them. However, just like others, we do the things we do for specific, intentional, theological reasons.
First, we want to be more like Jesus. Jesus was a kind, child-loving man. It is easy to picture children swarming around his feet as he entered new towns and villages. I am afraid too many of us are more like the disciples, who “rebuked” the parents for bringing the little wiggle-worms to Jesus’ teaching time (Mark 10:13). The Bible says when Jesus saw his disciples do this, he became a little angry and a lot frustrated and commanded them to allow the children to come to him and stop getting in their way. This encounter occurs in three of the four gospels – it must be important! One preacher wrote, “Our sanctuaries are not sanctuaries from children. They are sanctuaries for children.”
Second, we believe God designed families to be together. Worship is the most significant thing you can do together. I love to see families with young children sitting together. I love to see dads holding their little first-grade sons as the boy looks intently into the face of his singing father, one generation calling to the next to worship our King. I love to come by the pew to get handshakes from the grown-ups, along with sometimes timid and sometimes painful high-fives from children. I love to see and sometimes hear little voices singing along, joining in with the family of God, learning that worship – their worship – is important and matters to God. It’s good to be together – especially in that place at that time. Mom and Dad, the greatest gift you can give your child is to let them see you worshiping the Lord with reverent abandon. Your child will have about 650 opportunities to see this happen between the ages of 5 and 18. The cumulative impact of seeing their parents – out of delight, not duty - pray and sing and hear from God’s Word cannot be discounted and will not be forgotten. The struggles are temporary; the blessings can be eternal.
Third, we believe our children learn best about being a Christian worshiper by watching worship occur around them and joining in as they are able. Coming to “big church” at this age allows children to get used to the new rhythms of church life. They will hear pastors pray, perhaps adding their “amen” a beat too late. They will see the offering plate being passed from person to person and look forward to adding their quarter to the collection. They will see the people around them opening their Bibles to follow along with the sermon and ask for a Bible of their own. They will see new believers enter into the waters of baptisms and listen to the thrilling testimonies of God’s amazing grace, leading them to ask when they can be “bab-ti-tized.” They will pass the plate during the Lord’s Supper, asking why they can’t “have a snack” like everyone else (giving parents a wonderful opportunity to talk about the death and resurrection of Jesus). You may argue that the sermon is over your first-grader’s head. Of course it is! But I know they get a lot more than you think. I have several beautiful drawings from our youngest worshipers to prove it.
Parents of little ones, I know you are tired before you sit down. I know you wince inside when your first-grader makes the smallest sound, terrified to think every single person in the room is giving you the “evil eye” for being such a “bad parent.” I know you ask, “Why bother? Is it worth it?” I know it can be a struggle each week – Satan will do everything in his power to ruin your Sunday and get your mind off your Savior. As a parent of four who was not always on the platform every Sunday like I am now, I know how difficult it is and can be. But it matters. And it is worth it. When you are here, sitting with your son or daughter, the Body of Christ is more fully present. The room is filled with a more joyful noise. The purpose of our gathering is more fully met. I hope you are encouraged. We want you to be here and we want your children to be with you.
Non-parents of small children, please remember all the times you have stood during infant dedications to indicate you would do your part to help these children learn about Jesus. One of the easiest ways to do this is to overlook certain distractions and just smile at young parents and their children who will certainly do what children always do. Welcome them. Encourage them. Help them. Love them. Most likely, remember you were most likely in their shoes several years ago and would love to have your little one squirming beside you this Sunday. The way we welcome children in church affects the way they will respond to Jesus and his church later. The presence of children is a gift to any church and we thank God for his many gifts and blessings to Western Avenue.
• Start at home. You can begin to train your child to “be quiet” for a moment as you say the blessing at the table or read the Bible at bedtime. Almost every child can learn to be reverent if mom and dad are willing to make them do so. However, this is not the be-all, end-all of sitting in worship. Perfection here is not the key; it is a process (and, if we're honest, some adults are still learning!).
• Read the sermon text the night before. Talk about it with your children. Explain what is going to happen and why we do what we do. Talk about the service and the sermon on the way home afterward (which requires you to listen as well).
• Pick up one of the “Sunday Notes” pages for little worshipers. We have plenty in the foyer and you can get one each week or grab a few to keep in your Bible in case your morning is a little busier than usual. Pick up one or a few of the booklets we have to help moms and dads answer questions about baptism, communion, and worship. Future pamphlets will soon be available to talk about giving, missions, and other important topics regarding life in the church.
• Read "Parenting in Pews," a wonderful book on “guiding your children in the joy of worship.” Sunday morning is not a success if all you’ve accomplished is keeping your child quiet. The author of this book wants to show you how to help your child participate in the worship service. You may also want to read “Let the Children Worship” by Jason Helopoulos.
We are so glad you will be worshiping with us this Sunday with your little one. I look forward to seeing you then. May God bless you as we gather to do the very thing we were created to do – bring glory to our God and Savior.