Faithlife
Faithlife

The Discipline of Being with Children

Faithful Presence  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  47:20
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Series Overview

The flagship passage for this series has been from the book of Acts, after 3000 people come to Christ. It’s based on the response of these 3000+ people and the community they formed which we now call “the church”
Acts 2:42–47 CSB
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Over these summer months we have been looking at the seven key disciplines that the church has practiced since it’s inception. Seven key disciplines that shape the church for mission, these disciplines shape the church so it can be the presence of Jesus in our broken world.
For the sake of those who have missed a sermon here are the seven disciplines that we have been exploring:
The discipline of:
Being with the “least of these”
The Lord’s table
Reconciliation
Proclaiming the Gospel
The Kingdom Prayer
The Fivefold Gifting
Being with Children
Today we are going to learn about the final discipline of the seven. This discipline I believe to be one of the most important for our churches community, both present and future. If a church doesn’t have kids, the church is in trouble.
How we parent our children, and how the church works with kids has changed over the years. Some of the changes are for the better, but some of the changes I don’t understand.
As I have grown older I have caught myself saying these words “kids today lack respect for their parents”.
Parents have changed over the years, as each generation becomes parents there seems to be a shift in approach that happens. But some of the shift has more to do with our society and the perspective on parenting.

We Protect Our Children

In David Fitch’s book titled “Faithful Presence” the author shares a story from the Washington Post that resounded with me. A story that I feel will help us understand where our society functions in regards to the topic caring for Children, Fitch writes:
“In spring 2015, parents in a Washington, DC, suburb viewed children wandering alone in the local parks. These adults were not happy. Where were the children’s parents? they asked. Didn’t they know these children were in danger? They reported these children to the police. On another day, some of these onlookers captured the young children on video walking home from school hand in hand, but again left unattended by adults. The onlookers reported them to the police. How dare their parents disregard the dangers of children walking home from school alone? A few days later, the Today Show did a story on police picking up children unattended in the neighbourhood and giving them over to Child Protective Services until the parents could prove they were indeed responsible.
The show called this phenomenon “free-range parenting.” The parents protested the accusation. They had carefully thought through the dangers and decided to give their children some independence in going to the park and returning home from school. They narrated how a practice that was common everyday life in the United States fifty years ago was now viewed as irresponsible parenting.
Nonetheless, in order to give their children back, these parents had to prove to the authorities they knew the world was dangerous for their children. They had to show they were capable parents in a dangerous world.”

Our World is a Dangerous Place

The world has become a dangerous place, many parents tell me, so we need to obsess as parents about everything that could go wrong with our children.
It’s true, our society is obsessed with keeping our children safe, and giving them the best options in life.
We obsess over their education and their ability to compete in the world marketplace for a job. So we push them in school to get good grades.
We obsess about protecting our children from any possible challenge. If it’s to hard for them, we can do it for them.
We spend more per capita educationally in the United States and Canada than anyplace in the world.
We fund more sports, art, music, and tutoring programs for children than any other society in the world.
And yet actual parental time spent with our children is at an all-time low.
To Pay for the best sports programs, schools, household comforts etc, the average family must have two incomes. There are now more two-income households in Canada and the United States than at any time in history.
As a result of all of this our children are shuffled from one thing to the next at breakneck speed. Families struggle to eat dinner together. Sixty years ago the average dinner time was ninety minutes; today it is less than twelve minutes.
The high divorce rates exacerbate this reality.
The harder we work, the less space there seems for parent and child to be present with each other.

Children Yearn For Presence

My son Tate has taught me how important it is for parents to actually be present with their children, not just in the room, looking at a computer, or cell phone, but actually present, paying attention to what they would like to talk about.
Several times a week, Tate and I go to the gym together. Tate loves to go to the gym, his sisters come on occasion as well, but often it’s just me and Tate. This time together is important to Tate, I can tell, it’s my opportunity to be present with Tate.
I don’t find the gym fun, I don’t like going, but I go so I can have this time with him. I make a sacrifice and do something that I don’t really want to do. But really should do, so I can be present with Tate.
Yet, this time together doesn’t just benefit Tate, I really get a lot our of it as well.
Nothing affects a child more then when a parent is actually interested it what they have to say, and let me tell you it’s amazing how God’s presence works through this parent child presence.
This presence that Tate like so much isn’t just me being a good parent, who does what my child likes. Being present for your kids is actually biblical.

Historically the Church Practiced the Discipline of Being with Children

Historically, the practice of guiding children has always been a central fact of life in the church.
Most churches have some sort of children ministry.
The church, ever since it’s inception has practiced some sort of baby dedication, or baptism that represented the parents presenting their child with the promise to raise them with the knowledge of Christ.
At this early stage it’s the parents who are dedicating themselves along with the support of their church family. The church has traditionally viewed their young people as precious and important. This is why we dedicate them and raise them with the knowledge of Christ, giving them every opportunity to learn about Christ in their lives.
When our children grow in the church through Sunday school, churches have some sort of tradition that initiates children into adulthood. Some teach confirmation classes or catechism.
Other church traditions allow the space for children to form their own views of Christ and at an age that they are ready to make a decision they are baptized. Some give a profession of faith, in order to take their first communion.
No matter what denomination we all have some sort of “system” to raise kids up in Christ within the church.
The challenge we have run into today, is that the church has turned these traditions into programs.

Our Children Don’t Need Programs They Need Presence

Church becomes another thing to bring the kids to, another dance lesson or hockey practice, instead of a place where children and adults are present with one another which opens up space for God to be present.
Jesus rebukes his disciples for trying to keep the children at bay, instead Jesus tells them to let the children come, the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
Kids don’t need more programs, they need more adults pouring into their lives.

The Kingdom Value of Welcoming Children

Matthew 18 opens with the disciples jockeying for position again.
Matthew 18:1–5 CSB
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “So who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child and had him stand among them. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one child like this in my name welcomes me.
The disciples who are always worried about their status, get a real surprise from Jesus.
He takes a child and uses the child to teach them something. While standing with a child Jesus tells the disciples they need to become like children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.
He tells them that they must learn to be humble like children, and welcome children like the one who is standing with him, just as one would welcome Christ.
Unless you change and become like a child, who has no status, you will never have status in the kingdom.
Children have an early innocence about them that later becomes corrupt with the need for importance. Jesus says we should stay like children who don’t seek status.
Often there is a piece of this teaching that many miss. it’s important to notice that Jesus ends this teaching with welcoming children just as one would welcome Christ.
The word Welcome (dechomai)
This word helps give context to this passage. It is used elsewhere in scripture to describe a posture of receiving generosity and love. It connotes patience, embrace, openness, and genuineness.
It communicates the posture of receiving someone into your very presence.
When Jesus says we are to welcome children, He is saying that when you show a posture of openness, patience, and genuineness. When you receive a child into your presence, you also receive the presence of Jesus.
A space is opened up where God in Christ not only transforms children’s lives but also the adults in the space as well.

The Presence of Christ with Children

The apostle Paul gives us some teaching in this area as well, in his discourse to the churches in Ephesus. Paul is giving instruction to how Christian households should function
Ephesians 6:1–4 CSB
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, because this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land. Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Paul tells children that it is right to honor your father and mother, to obey them. Because this comes with a promise, the promise of a life that goes well.
Then, immediately following this instruction Paul give instruction to the fathers. He tells them to not stir up, or provoke their children to anger, but serve them, bringing them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Scholars have shown how revolutionary these words were in their first-century context.
In the day and age that Paul teaches this, children were viewed as inferior and patriarchs ruled with an iron fist.
Paul, contrary to the prevailing culture, calls parent and child into a space of mutuality in the Lord.
The parent is not singularly over the child. The child is considered too.
This is completely different to how many see this passage. Many see it as I am the parent, you are the child, you must do as I say because the bible says you must obey me.
But scripture calls the parent to not push their kids to anger, but to love them as Jesus does, to show them the love of Christ by teaching them in the Lord.
This make a relationship between Child and parents different, it means Christ is at the centre of the relationship.
Paul is describing a revolutionary relationship of presence between adult and child under the Lord’s reign.
Children are asked to obey their parents in the Lord, and parents are asked to serve their children in the Lord.

Parents Play Their Role Yet Release Control

Jesus is the one who works in the relationship.
Jesus is present when we spend time with children, we are having an encounter with the living Christ.
We don’t aim to control our Children, we aim to welcome them as one would welcome Christ, and we give up control to God who is the centre of the relationship.

Closing

It is not surprising that the historical church viewed the process of initiating children as sacramental.
But we can now see based on Matthew 18:1-5, that being with children is more than the physical act of baptism, or confirmation, or first communion.
Being with children is the entire process whereby we become present to children and together present Christ as part of everyday life.
The sacrament of being with children is a social sacrament that brings together community.
This is why we have put such an importance on our children’s ministries, and starting a daycare as part of our vision of restoring wholeness through Jesus Christ.
Families are a key part of the kingdom of God, but we must learn to “be with” children not be the boss of children.
Sometimes the best parenting move you can make is to let you children explore and make mistakes. Teaching them along the way.
Big Idea: We are called to be with children, to be truly present with them. We give up control to Christ and allow the Lord to be present in the space that being with children provides.
We need to as a church give up the need to control our children, and start to be present with our children.
This means we have to place our trust in Jesus, and believe that if we bring our children up with the knowledge of the Lord, that Jesus will be at the centre of their lives.
If we try to control this, we stop being present with our kids, and we fail to be the example they need.
We experience the presence of Christ through our children, when we let go of control and allow God the space to work through the relationship.
We are called to be present with our kids, as a church community this places kids as a top priority. We need to shape our church around this presence.
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