Part of my story is that as a young man, a teenager, I made the conscious decision that the church had failed me, and that I did not need the church to be a faithful Christian. I was wrong, and unfortunately it took years for me to realize that. But the point of telling this story on myself, is that prior to my decision, the church I attended, a small Baptist church in Wilmington, NC, had the responsibility of teaching me and leading me in the elements of the faith. While the pastor may had failed me, the church did not in its responsibility as God’s means of grace and truth. And that was huge.
It was only this week as I was preparing for Sunday’s message that it was pointed out to me that my own story fitted within in the biblical story of the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-29) Laurence Stookey in his book Baptism: Christ’s Act in the Church pointed out to me that in this story the young man was brought to his senses by this deplorable condition, and in his right mind saw that there was the hope that he could return to his father’s home, seek forgiveness, and be hired as a laborer in his father’s fields. Stookey asks the question why didn’t the young man go to a stranger and beg for mercy. And the answer is because he had lived in his father’s house, and knew from a personal relationship with his father that he could go back, though not on his own terms. This is huge, I think.
I read this and I saw my own story. Because I grew up in the faith, that is I had others to teach and lead me to faith, I could believe that I could come back to the church, not on my own terms, but come back and find forgiveness, and be lavishly welcomed at my return. This for me is another example why it is so important to know the Biblical stories, for they reveal to us many times what God is doing in our own lives.
To know the stories we have to have someone teach us, and at a young age. Faith is not something that we do on our own. Faith, which is about trust in God and knowing who God is, comes from God. And the church is the instrument by which God imparts both a place to come to trust in God and to learn who God is. The biblical story reveals God, so it must be foundational to our teaching. And how it is told is very important.
We can not do this by making our children a spectacle, or using them as entertainment. We can do it by giving them a suitable structure of teaching and activity that leads them to trust in God and to learn who God is through biblical story telling. This is the principle behind creating a stronger Children’s Church, where they first hear and learn the stories of the Bible, then through teachings and activities they grow in the faith of understanding in what God they give their trust. An important part of this to is that as they grow in their faith, they also participate in the worship of the community using their developing skills not to entertain us, but to give them voice in the worship of our God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
This is huge and an important purpose given by God to the church. To accomplish it takes resources. It takes time given over to study, preparation, and teaching. It takes funds to provide the needed materials for teaching. It takes the support of parents and grandparents to bring their children every Sunday. It also takes prayer. Much prayer. In other words it takes sacrifices on our part in order to fulfill God’s desires for our children. So we ask that you sacrifice yourself to this purpose of God in giving faith to our young ones. It will be huge in their lives.