When my little sister was 6 years old, she made church history for a very formal Presbyterian congregation.
The children’s Sunday school class was given the opportunity to participate in a Christmas play that would be performed at a special evening service. My sister was tapped to be the angel of the Lord.
I’m not sure what everyone was expecting during the performance when she walked out on the little balcony over the choir loft. Probably something reverent, because she was dressed in white with a silver tinsel halo and did look truly angelic. The sanctuary was dark to represent that night on the hills of Bethlehem when the shepherds were keeping watch. An older child read a narration in hushed tones.
When the spotlight swung into place on my sister, she paused for a moment. Then she burst into song and began a clearly unscripted dance that involved waving arms and stomping feet, as if she was skipping in the balcony . . . or flying. It definitely felt like she was bringing joyous news.
Her part of the show probably only lasted a minute, but the congregation clapped and cheered and laughed. Lots of people came up to my parents afterward to say how much they enjoyed my little sister’s performance. One elderly person told me with laughter and a hint of tears that it might be the highlight of that Christmas season for him.
More than a decade later, when my sister was in college, a woman approached my mom and me at a restaurant to tell us she still remembered my sister as the angel of the Lord, and it still made her laugh every time she thought about it. My mom insists she runs into people even now, almost 30 years later, who remember it.
Children are an incredibly important part of the life of the church. My sister was able to bring joy and blessing to the people around her in a unique way, even though she was very young. The church is also incredibly important for children. It’s a place to learn, but it’s also a beautiful picture of God’s love. The church is where the supernatural meets the natural, it’s a garden for the fruits of the Spirit.
TGC editor Megan Hill has written a new picture book called Meg Is Not Alone that tells a story about how one little girl experiences and participates in the joy and care of a local church. I had a chance to talk with Hill about loving the church with our kids.
Is Meg Is Not Alone based on a true story? I noticed the main character has the same name as you.
Yes. When I was a child, my parents once mistakenly left me at church. Dad thought I was with Mom; Mom thought I was with Dad—just like in Meg. When I realized I’d been left, the church members gathered around me and took care of me, contacted my parents, and made sure I got home safely. Until that day, I’d basically assumed the church mostly cared about my parents. But when I was alone, having church members notice and assist me was my first inkling that my church family loved me and was ready to help me.
How can we as adult members of the church affirm the kingdom value of the children around us?
I think one of the easiest ways is just to learn kids’ names. I love 3 John 15: “Greet the friends, each by name.” The great apostle John was telling the church to view one another as friends, to learn one another’s names, and to treat one another as valuable individuals. At least in my church, the little kids can seem like a swarm, but each one is a unique person and it communicates a lot when adults take notice and simply say hi.
Meg Is Not Alone shows a sweet example of Meg serving a smaller child in the church by making him smile. What are some other practical ways you’ve found for children to participate in church by showing love to others?
Kids love to help. Even young kids can collect trash from the worship space after a service; they can show a family where the nursery or bathroom is; they can hand out bulletins; they can move chairs into place. Beyond Sunday, they can make crafts or cookies for shut-in congregation members—I’ve never seen a nursing facility resident who didn’t love a visit from a child.
Little kids can seem like a swarm, but each one is a unique person and it communicates a lot when adults take notice and simply say hi.
When we first came to our church, one of the elders signed our family up for the weekly church cleaning rotation. On our first day of duty, he met us at the church and spent a few minutes talking to my children about how important it was that they were serving the church by cleaning the building. He told them it was something people wouldn’t necessarily notice, but that they’d still be blessed by it, and, most importantly, God would notice. This lesson had a big influence on me as an adult, and I can see it continuing to bear fruit in my children as they look for ways to serve the church.
What role can picture books like Meg Is Not Alone and others play in discipling children?
Picture books invite kids to imagine something that maybe hasn’t happened to them but could happen. Exploring the story of someone else’s adventure or struggle allows kids to consider how the truths in that person’s story might relate to their own life. In this book, in particular, I hope kids start to think about the people in their own church and how those people are ready to help them too, just like Meg’s church helped her.
What are some of your favorite picture books?
I love books with a sense of adventure in a kid-friendly context. Nana in the City is a recent favorite to read with my 5-year-old daughter—the little boy learns to see the once-scary city in a new way with the help of his grandma and a hand-knit cape. In my childhood, I loved a book called We Were Tired of Living in a House, about a group of siblings who move out together to escape the constraints of life indoors—and who discover that maybe the inside isn’t so bad after all.
Do you have suggestions for other books to teach children (or adults!) about loving their local church?
My colleague Jared Kennedy has a kids’ book called God Made Me for Worship that explains the significance of what we do in corporate worship. This can help children who are curious about the elements of worship on Sunday morning. A few years ago, I wrote A Place to Belong: Learning to Love the Local Church, which is, in some ways, Meg for grown-ups. A Place to Belong looks at the words the New Testament uses for the church—words like “flock” and “saints” and “beloved”—and shows how seeing the local church the way God sees the local church can help us value it more.
A couple of my kids are deeply introverted. One of them frequently complains about headaches and the noise at church. How can I help my introverted kids see through the crowds to the beauty of church and God’s goodness there?
First, I’d like tell your child, “I’m so sorry. Me too.” Nearly every Sunday I get a migraine headache after the service. I love church, but it also causes me stress. I think one of the best things we can do is acknowledge to our kids that church is hard for lots of people—people who are sick, people who are lonely, people who are sad, people who are afraid. And yet, we can also teach our kids that the Bible says God designed the church for our good, and we can show them some of the ways God is caring for people in the church even when it’s sometimes uncomfortable for them to show up.
What are some ways parents and caretakers can disciple children at home to help them recognize and appreciate the goodness of church?
Overall, I think parents’ attitudes about church are what’s most likely to shape kids’ views of the church. When parents are genuinely happy to go to church, when parents make it a nonnegotiable priority on the family calendar, when they speak well of church members and look for opportunities to serve the church, this will form their children’s appreciation for the church. The single best thing you can do to help your kid love the church is to love the church yourself.
The single best thing you can do to help your kid love the church is to love the church yourself.
Beyond that, help your kids get to know the members of the church. If you have a church directory (especially one with pictures), use it in your times of family prayer to pray for different people in your church. This allows your kids to serve people and will connect their hearts to the people they’ve loved by prayer.
Also, as you talk in your home about individual church members, you can remind your kids of who each person is and express thanks for that person. As they get to know people, they’ll feel increasingly at home in the church.
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