'Retired teacher with grandchild / Insegnante in pensione con nipotina' photo (c) 2013, Matteo Bagnoli - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/One of my missions is to challenge the assumption that small congregations have little or nothing to offer children.  Here are some more thoughts about how a healthy, loving small church can be a great blessing to families with children. There are good reasons for choosing a small church for your children’s sake. If you become involved with this kind of congregation,

•    Your children will have a nurturing extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who will truly be interested in them, encourage them, attend their sports events and performances, and celebrate their milestones. My daughter describes the senior generation at our church as her “grandfriends.”
•    Your children will learn how to follow Jesus from observing adult disciples of Jesus, knowing them well, and serving actively alongside them. For the rest of their lives, your children will remember these role models in faith.
•    Your children’s concerns will be taken very seriously. The pastor has time to spend with your children and can get to know each child personally.
•    Your children’s talents will be welcomed and appreciated. What better place, for example, for a young musician to make his or her debut than in the midst of the gracious circle of a small church?
•    Through ongoing relationships, your children and older adults will enrich one another’s lives and learn how to love and care faithfully for one another over the long haul of life.

I sometimes hear people say that they want their children to go to church with a large group of children. While it may be more exciting and more fun to be around a lot of children their own age, school, scouting, sports teams, and other programs meet that social need well. What is rare in today’s society is the opportunity for different generations to mix and become one people in life and mission together. In today’s world people of different ages and life stages are stratified and lead largely separate lives. They even live in separate communities. Congregations are often stratified in the same way. Intergenerational small congregations offer a much-needed alternative that challenges everyone–younger, older, and in-between–to love each other as neighbors.

If you are looking for a church for your family, don’t just automatically drive past a small church. Stop in and take time to get to know the people.   Give them a chance to bless you and your children.  You may find that God has led you home.

You may also be interested in these posts:

Mr. Rogers, children, and the small church…

Small Church Children: Growing Up in the Arms of the Saints

How One Family Ended Up Choosing A Small Church


Click on Children in the Church in the sidebar for more links.

In a blogpost entitled A Child Speaks About Church, pastor Steve Lindsley and director of children and family ministries Lynn Turnage share six things children need from a church.  They write as if a child is speaking.  Here is the list.  Click on the post to read the details for each point.

  • Just tell me the Bible story.
  • Remember: I can’t sit still for long.
  • Give me, at the bare minimum, an hour a month with the pastor.
  • My best adult teachers/leaders/volunteers are the ones that I KNOW care about me.
  • Give me some responsibility in the church.
  • I like to be with my family and all ages together in worship.

On that last point, here is some of what they add: “You think I don’t want to be in worship during the sermon because it’s ‘boring.’ I actually listen to what they say and it sticks with me–as you are well aware in other contexts, I’m great at remembering everything you adults say.  All things being equal, I’d rather stay in worship with my church family–we call ourselves a family, right?  I might get a little antsy (worship bags will help). But I promise you I won’t fall asleep like that dude in front of me every week.  Surely you’ve seen him.”

Thanks for some good food for thought, Steve and Lynn!

Bartimaeus’ Cry

Bartimaeus’ Cry

A Sermon on Mark 10:13-16 and 46-52

“Hush, Bartimaeus! Be quiet! Don’t make a scene!” MANY people scolded him. They spoke in the same harsh way as the disciples had spoken to the adults who tried to bring their children to Jesus. Mark uses the very same Greek word to convey their sternness.

Instead of helping Bartimaeus make contact with Jesus, they tried to shut him up. Was it because they thought he was an eyesore, a nuisance, an embarrassment that they didn’t want any VIPs to see? Bartimaeus sat by the roadside with his cloak spread open to receive coins passersby might toss his way. Maybe he resembled a homeless person curled up in a blanket in a doorway.

Bartimaeus was one of society’s least ones, a person whose life mattered less in others’ eyes—though polite people would be reluctant to admit that it mattered less. All lives matter. Right?

“Be quiet, Bartimaeus! We don’t want to hear it!”

Be quiet! Don’t make a scene. Through the ages that’s what countless people longing for things to be better have heard. People just wanting to exercise their rights as citizens, for example. People just seeking a decent living and who don’t want to be redlined out of safe neighborhoods. Be quiet! Don’t stir things up!

People just wanting to use the gifts God has given them—women who hear the call to preach, for example, still being told in so many places “Be quiet! It’s not your place!”

Parents of children with special needs petitioning for an appropriate education for their children being told “Go away! Don’t take resources away from our normal children!”

People deeply hurt by derogatory or unjust remarks made about themselves or others, but they don’t speak up. They swallow the pain because how well they have learned, “Be quiet! Be polite! Don’t stir things up!”

People with smiles plastered on their faces, but inwardly they struggle and cry. “Keep quiet,” they tell themselves. “Don’t let anybody see. Don’t let anybody hear. Don’t burden someone else.”

And many have internalized, “Don’t even bother the church. Don’t bring your brokenness to church. You at least gotta look like things are alright.” Continue Reading »

*at least not THAT kind of youth group.

Here is a challenging post on not segregating youth into youth ministry silos.  Its catchy title: Blowing Up the Youth Group Model. 

I recognize that people in in different age groups and generations do need to spend time with their peers.  However, I’ve long thought that the typical youth group ministry aimed at “hooking” youth interest with entertaining, exciting, and often expensive programs led by a high-energy professional actually vaccinates youth against full participation in the church.  Too often graduation from high school and from the youth group has also led to “graduation” from church.

While it might not feel like a blessing, it is indeed a blessing not to be able to have such a program.  The small number of children who spend significant time being nurtured and mentored by mature Christian adults in a small faith community grow in discipleship, and they often end up being leaders themselves.  When they move away to pursue education and careers, they can end up being the most mature leaders in a larger church because they grew up being active in the church’s ministry and not just consumers of the church’s ministry.

I recently came across this quote from Eugene Peterson. It comes from an interview he did with Jonathan Merritt of the Religion News Service:

JM: Eighty-one years is a long time. As you enter your final season of life, what would you like to say to younger Christians who are itchy for a deeper and more authentic discipleship? What’s your word to them?

EP: Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place. That’s what I always told people. If people were leaving my congregation to go to another place of work, I’d say, “The smallest church, the closest church, and stay there for 6 months.” Sometimes it doesn’t work. Some pastors are just incompetent. And some are flat out bad. So I don’t think that’s the answer to everything, but it’s a better place to start than going to the one with all the programs, the glitz, all that stuff.

– See more at: Faithful to the End: An Interview with Eugene Peterson.  

Simply inviting people to church isn’t enough.  Here is a post from Karl Vaters on being church for people who don’t go to church.  Among his recommendations:

  • Build relationships with no strings attached.
  • Talk about life, not just your church.

Read more at 11 Ways to Be the Church for Those who Don’t Go to Church.

Stories don’t always have to be big to be good.  They don’t have to be exciting to be powerful.  Here is a sermon inviting disciples and congregations of disciples to point to Jesus by telling the simple, beautiful stories that are ours.  It follows up on the sermon Be Opened, and it celebrates my home congregation’s heritage.


Have We Got a Story to Tell!
A Sermon on Exodus 3:7-12, 4:10-13; Romans 10:14-15, with allusions to Mark 7:31-37
Homecoming at Morton Church

At first Moses liked what God was saying. God was saying, “My people are crying out in pain in Egypt, and I’m going to do something about it!” Even though Moses had been living in Midian for decades, he remembered well the horrible abuse the Hebrew people were experiencing at the hands of the Egyptians: unjust working conditions, physical and emotional violence and more. Doggone right something needed to be done! High time! Past time!

“I’ve seen my people’s misery in Egypt,” God was saying, “and I’m going to get them out of there and take them to a good new place.” “Wow!” Moses was thinking.

“ And so…and so,” God continued. I am sending you to Egypt to speak up for me. Tell the people that I know very well what is going on with them. I see how they are suffering. Tell them the good plans I have for them. And tell Pharaoh that I say, ‘Let my people go!’” Then you lead the people to their new home.

Moses was utterly gotten away with. “Who, me?” he exclaimed. What made God think anybody would listen to him? Nobody was going to listen to him. So Moses gave God all sorts of reasons why this was not a good idea. Moses raised a series of objections, ending with one that really was serious. “But I am slow of speech and slow of tongue,” Moses objected.

Perhaps Moses simply felt that he wasn’t particularly good at putting words together. But the original Hebrew text there uses a pretty strong word for what ailed Moses. It reads “heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue,” like there really is some physical difficulty.

Moses probably had a physical problem—perhaps a cleft palate—that meant he had to work really hard to make himself understood. And the reality is, if you have speech related difficulties, people often wonder if your intelligence is intact, and if you really have anything to say. Is it worth the effort to listen.

With substandard speech, who was Moses to be speaking publicly, and in the name of God? No! Just no!

“Lord, please send someone else!”

But when God’s got a job to be done, somebody has to go. Somebody’s got to speak up. Just like Paul said in our epistle lesson today, “How are people going to trust Jesus unless they hear about him? And how are they going to hear unless somebody tells them the good news? Somebody’s got to tell the story.”

Often people think that telling the story of Jesus is a job for someone else, and for reasons a lot like Moses’ reasons. They feel inadequate. Surely somebody else can do a much better job. What about a trained professional?

Maybe it’s partly a hearing problem, as we were talking about last Sunday. Last week we noted that you have to hear and repeat words in order to be able to speak them. Hearing and speaking go together. To speak the word of Christ’s love to others, we must first hear it—hear it deep down in our souls, and let it heal us.

Or maybe it’s that we aren’t sure we have a story to tell, not an interesting story, anyway. Not a powerful, riveting story like Paul’s story, where the light of God literally knocked him down and turned him completely around. How can we be effective witnesses unless we have something big and exciting to share? Who’s going to listen to us? Continue Reading »

Be Opened!

Here is a sermon about Jesus’ power to open the innermost ears of our souls to hear the good news of God’s love, and then to open our mouths–and lives–to share that good news.

Be Opened
A Sermon on Mark 7:31-37 with allusions to Psalm 51
We don’t know what had gone wrong. We don’t know what caused the man’s hearing loss. It could have been a problem from birth. It might have been the result of ear infections or injury. One overly loud noise is all it takes to cause permanent damage. My father-in-law traces his hearing loss to machine gun practice during basic training after he got drafted. Dad served in the Philippines during the Korean War.

People can experience hearing loss as a blanket of silence, or as the loss of some sounds. Many people that are hard of hearing experience tinnitus—ringing in the ears, phantom sounds ranging from high pitched whistles and hissing to wailing sirens or blaring musical notes. These unreal noises drown out the real sounds that they want to hear. The ringing in my ears sounds so much like the sounds on the hearing test that I often can’t tell if the sound I’m hearing is real or not.

The man in the gospel story had hearing loss, and he also had difficulty speaking. Hearing and speaking go hand in hand. Most people learn to speak by hearing and repeating what they hear. It really is a miracle. When they come into the world infants already recognize and respond to their parents’ voices. When our daughter Laura was a year old, we saw very clearly that she was well on her way to learning how to talk. One night she came downstairs after my mother had given her a bath, and I said in a sing-songy voice, “Hi, clean girl!” And Laura imitated my exact intonation: aye een irl! It was only missing some of the consonants.

Ordinarily children are born able to hear and imitate the sounds of all languages. The sounds they hear and repeat get reinforced, and the ability to make the sounds they don’t hear falls away. After a while it gets so that what you don’t hear, you can’t hear. That is why it is much harder to learn to hear and speak another language later in life.

Children learn to hear and reproduce music in the same way. And that is why we encourage babies and toddlers and their caregivers to participate in Music for Little Friends, our children’s music classes. It develops their musical ears and their ability to make music.

What children hear—or don’t hear—matters. And what they hear from the adults in their lives is incredibly powerful. I recently read a story about a little girl who was born very prematurely, and the medical personnel were pretty sure she would die within minutes of birth. The parents wouldn’t let them take her away. The parents insisted on holding their daughter and talking to her for however long she was alive. The nurses left them alone, and they held their baby. They looked her in the face, and the mother softly crooned over and over, “We’re so glad you are in the world. We’re so glad you’re here. We are so glad God gave you to us.” Immediately the child’s heart rate improved, and after a while it became apparent that she was not going to die

When I read that, I thought about how every child needs to hear that message, and about what happens when children don’t hear those words in some form. They might get so they can’t hear those words, or can only hear them after a major breakthrough.

Because we don’t just hear with our ears. We hear with our hearts and our souls, too. Continue Reading »


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