Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Teens Who Love Church & Ministry

From the time my children were four weeks old, they've been in church (I stayed home the first month to rest & recuperate).  Our church does not have Sunday evening service, but we would go Sunday morning and Wednesday night, as well as any special services.  Admittedly, there were several times when I wondered why I bothered even going as I often spent services in the nursery with a crying baby.  Wednesday nights were tough - long days with babies and toddlers then get everyone ready and go to church, where I may or may not hear a sermon preached.

However, it wasn't about me.  My husband and I wanted church-going to be a natural part of life for our children, like it was for us.  We wanted them to know that it was not optional, but a privilege and, yes, even fun to attend the house of God to worship the One who gave so much for us.

Our church did not have a nursery or a Sunday school when our older ones were little.  They learned to sit in church.  When they were babies, we would take them out if they cried.  When they got to be about a year or so, we sat them in our laps or next to us and they learned that they were expected to be quiet.  They often fell asleep on our laps.  Knowing that twice a week was not consistent enough to really train such a young one, we would sit on the couch at home during the weeknights and sing or listen to Daddy read the Bible.  In this way, sitting still became common and they would not despise church as being the only place where they had to be quiet.  My husband and I found books, crayons, etc. to be extremely distracting to us and to those around us, so we never made those available to our kids in church.  If they were bored due to their being too young to understand, they fell asleep.

Don't get me wrong....our children were not perfect.  Our children are not just naturally quiet or well-behaved.  Some of them have more wiggles than others.  Yet, we expected the same stillness from each one.  Trust me, I often wondered why I was even bothering.  I will say I am grateful that my husband was with me so we could tag-team.  Not sure I could have done it without him.

By the time our children were two/two and a half years old, they could sit calmly in church.  They may have needed the occasional reminder to be still or quiet, but, for the most part, they were little trouble.  Which was good, because usually by that time it was time to train another little one to sit quietly.

We did not want to teach our children that only church was important, but serving God and living for Him were essential.

Church without ministry is ritual. 

Sitting in a building listening to a preacher for a couple of hours a week is religion.  Living for and serving Jesus is Christianity and that is how we wanted to nurture our children.  Therefore, from the time they were young we involved the children in any ministry we could.  Our church would go on the streets of downtown to sing and pass out tracts on various occasions.  Usually, my husband would have to work, but I would pack up the stroller and children and we would go.  My oldest would walk ahead or beside me, two little girls would hold on to either side of the stroller while the youngest rode.  They each would have a handful of tracts and give their sweetest smiles while they offered them to passerby.  Very few could refuse those precious faces. Once our fifth child came and my oldest was just 6 years old, it was a bit more difficult to do this on my own.  So, I did take a step back for a short time for safety reasons as trying to keep an eye on five little ones in a crowd of people is very difficult - no matter how well behaved the children.

When our oldest was 8 or 9, he had learned that serving the Lord was fun and he had a desire to pass out tracts in Buffalo when a group would go weekly during the summer.  A couple of men agreed to keep an eye on him and he was able to minister even though my husband and I had to stay back with the younger ones.  Because he had been trained to listen, pay attention to where the adults were and do what he was told, it was safe to send him along.

Let me say here that my husband and I have never had the mentality that our children need to be with us at all times.  There are many others we trust and have never wanted to hinder our children when it comes to ministry opportunities just because we can't go.  Every parent has to make these decisions for themselves, but that is where we stand.  There are many good people that make up the body of Christ who are willing and able to help our children to grow beyond what just he and I can do.

By the time our youngest was 2 years old, our church had begun CHOICE, an after school ministry in the city.  I was able to pack up the seven kids (and other kids as time went on) every Monday afternoon and we were able to minister together in a place where my children had their eyes opened to a different culture and different way of living.  It was at CHOICE where my children really came face to face with the fact that not all kids come from two-parent homes where there is love, safety, and money.  It was at CHOICE where most of my children learned to share the gospel and led their first soul to the Lord.  Yes, it was at CHOICE where my children heard their first swear words - but while I was there and that only opened up the conversations of what is right and wrong and how important it is for us to know that and to share it with others.  For 6-7 years, my children and I ministered side by side.  There were times we wanted to quit, weeks when it would have been easier to stay at home than go, and times when we were just miserable when we were walking out the door to get in the van.  Yet, the Lord always rewarded us and we never regretted a week because we never regretted making a child's day a little brighter by shining the love of God in their life.

Today, all of our children love going to church, including our teenagers.  We don't have to prod or threaten them.  It's something they look forward to. In fact, one of our teens loves to find a church that holds Sunday evening services, hops in the car and heads for a Sunday night of worship.  Our oldest now attends a different church where he attends faithfully and has begun to minister on his own in various capacities there.  We have also encouraged our son that if there are any extra meetings or activities to take part in them - no matter what we may have scheduled as a family (with the exception of graduations and weddings).  To this day, it is important to my husband and I that church, no matter where it is, is like family to our children.

The rule in our house is that as long as you live here you go to church.  But, that doesn't seem to be a point of contention as going to church and ministry is about as natural as breathing because that is how we have tried to raise our children since their first breaths.

I write all of this for God's glory.  Any good that comes in our children is due to His grace and His mercy.  He gave us many wonderful examples of older Christian parents from whom we learned much.  I just write these things in hopes of passing on the blessing.

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