It was my first day of "big church."
We arrived early, entering the school gym filled with folding chairs. People greeted each other softly as someone played the piano on the stage. As we filed into a row near the front, my dad smiled and nodded at the family across the aisle. My mom stopped to give someone a hug.
Our church was between buildings, and so it wasn't a majestic environment that produced my reverent attitude; it was a sense that this was an important gathering. God's people would be worshiping together and hearing His Word. And I would be among them.
We set a tone for our church that affects everyone—including our youngest members.
I don't remember what the pastor preached about that day or what songs we sang. I do remember that I had a new purse—a big one with lots of pockets. And Linda Cypher, one of my mom's friends, complimented it as we were filing out. I felt very grown up.
This flickering childhood memory reinforces my general impression of our church. People wanted to be there. There was spreading excitement about what God was doing among us—an excitement that I caught, even as a child. And I'm not the only one.
Passion That Catches
It's striking to me how many of my childhood church peers are now involved in some sort of ministry or church leadership. Several are pastors or pastors' wives. I count eight who serve as missionaries in foreign countries. Others work for parachurch organizations. Still others are lay leaders, serving on ministry boards and committees.
Somehow my friends and I caught a passion. It was ignited when we were kids, and it burns still. It didn't happen on one particular Sunday or as a result of one sermon or lesson. It was a slow, cumulative, process that leavened in our young hearts. It happened in church basements and hallways and in people's living rooms and backyards as we interacted with people who knew us—even as children—and cared deeply about our parents. During those formative years, we got a taste for what God could do through ordinary people. It was exciting! We wanted in on the action.
Will the junior members in our churches today say the same one day?
Influencing the Children in Our Churches
As you plan for your next church committee meeting, prepare your next Bible lesson, influence your church's next budget, or however you serve, I implore you to remember the junior members of your church. The truth you share or the goals you influence may have the greatest impact on the children and tweens who file in behind their parents each Sunday. Even your spontaneous contributions—in the hallways, near the coffee station, or in the foyer—are critical.
As women, we tend to be the relational connectors and fasteners of the church. I wonder if my childhood impression of "big church" would have been quite as grand had Linda Cypher not commented on my purse that day. We women can make big impressions on little kids just by noticing them and making them feel part of the church.
Our husbands often don't make relational connections the way we do. For instance, my husband sees a random boy reaching for another cookie in the church fellowship hall, but I see the boy whose daddy has cancer. My husband glances down the row in worship service and sees a random girl doodling on her bulletin, but I see the little girl who raised her hand in Sunday school and asked if God loves bullies, too. I tend to be more interested in relational ties than my husband is. He's not wrong to miss these details; he simply doesn't see them. But I do.
God designed women to be particularly relational. This natural love He gives us for relationships is such an asset to our churches. Weeks from now most of this Sunday's sermon will be forgotten. Years from now the new addition that required so much effort won't seem new anymore. But the relationships among the people of God often leave a lingering impression—especially on a child.
Our relational gifts, which can be used for such good in the church, also have potential for great harm—which also reverberates to our youngest members. Think about the impressions we women of the church make on the children, tweens, and teens when we:
- Become turf-oriented about our particular ministry.
- Are judgmental or exclusive toward church members who are not like us.
- Are stubborn and unwilling to try new ideas.
- Hold on to hurt rather than working to reconcile.
Ladies, our influence extends to the far corners of the church. From behind podiums and computer screens, in kitchens and nurseries, at committee meetings and in foyers, we set a tone for our church that affects everyone—including our youngest members.
Children have such pliable hearts and are so open to new ideas. What their parents experience and come to understand about God during five years of Sundays will affect who these children become. It will affect who we become as the Church.
So the next time you join God's people for a worship service or church event, take notice of the younger members of the group. Make the little boy reaching for a cookie feel welcome. Compliment a little girl on her new purse with lots of pockets. Engage the kid down the row in conversation.
Your influence might very well stretch further into the future than you imagine. Your ministry and your relationships will not only impact the church of today, but will also influence the church of tomorrow.
How can you encourage the children of your church? How can you keep them in mind as you serve in your local body? Is there one family or child you can choose to connect with this week?