“I’d like to thank everyone who made it possible to be here today.
My mom and dad, without whom I literally would not be here. My sisters who always seem to have my back. And of course my family for being so supportive of me. Most of all, I want to thank God for making it all possible.” Last Sunday, I was watching the Tony Awards. I’m a huge fan of the theater and in particular musical theater and the Tony Awards are always a blast to watch. Not only do they have great production numbers but there is a sense of community that you just don’t get from watching the Academy Awards. They genuinely seem to be so happy for one another, even when they are nominated but don’t win. So I’m watching the winners give their acceptance speeches and I started thinking who I would list if I ever won a major award. Mom. Dad. Cassie. Emma. God. And as I’m watching all of these people give their acceptance speeches and thanking all the people who have made a difference in their lives, I was reminded of how interconnected the world truly is and how much we depend on one another for our success. Being famous, winning awards, doing something noteworthy is more than just having the talent or the intelligence to do it. Those things are important, but there’s an element of community that is at least as important as all of that. I can’t help but think of people I know who are fantastic writers who have never had a book published or a script produced; wonderful singers who have never been signed to a record label; artists who haven’t had their work published or put in a gallery and I know it’s not because they lack talent. On the other hand, have you seen some of the movies that Hollywood pumps out? Someone is convinced to spend millions of dollars to put together a movie that most of us could have told them would have bombed before they shelled out one penny. My mom would often say, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” And to some extent that’s true. No one becomes a success in a vacuum. No one becomes a success in a vacuum.
Successfully raising a child is a lot like being a success at anything.
You simply can’t do it alone. And I don’t mean just being a single parent. Even having both parents around doesn’t guarantee success. I knew someone who had two kids. Same parents. Same household. Same schools. One of them grew up to be a model student. Helped out with the family, got good grades, never got in trouble. The other one was always getting in fights. Got sent to the principal’s office time and time again. And if I remember correctly started doing drugs and breaking the law. It just didn’t make any sense! Same parents. Same household. But different friends. Different influences. Different variables that the parents just didn’t see or know about. And it sent their kids on two completely different paths. Friends, family, church, community. They all make a difference in how a child turns out. That’s why for us as a church it’s so important to do our part. To help build up children in faith, to give them a solid foundation, to make church feel relevant to them. Because if we don’t, they will drift away to find themselves in other things. Church will become something their parents “do” instead of part of who they “are.” Church will become something parents “do” instead of part of who our children “are.” I don’t want that for our kids. I don’t want that for ANY kids and I’m sure you don’t either.
It scares me because the vast majority of kids leave the church when they leave the nest.
Studies show about 70% of kids who took off for college or for careers also took off from the church. Seventy percent! They just…leave. Some of them come back, but a lot of them don’t. CNN did an article about a year ago examining millennials and the church and in the space of just 7 years, the number of unaffiliated people (meaning people with no religious affiliation) rose nearly 7% to a whopping 23% of the population. The number I found most shocking? “Of America’s major faiths, mainline Protestants have the worst retention rate among millennials, with just 37% staying in the fold…” Just 37%. As the study pointed out, “Many young Christians seemed bored by church…pointing to youth ministers as particularly ineffective at piquing millennials’ intellectual interests.” In an effort to appeal to kids, lots of churches with bigger budgets sponsor “youth night” or hire bands to play Christian rock music. But the truth is kids are looking for more than just glitz and glamour. They may like the music, they may like the youth nights, but it still doesn’t give them the substance to deal with life. Kids are looking for the same thing from the church as their parents. A reason for being. Kids are looking for the same thing from the church as their parents – a reason for being. We undersell children and their intellectual capacity. We undersell their honest desire to know God and know Christ. And instead we take them bowling and say a little prayer beforehand. Other than making their parents feel good about who they are hanging out with, how does that contribute to their growth in faith?
It makes me reflect on a passage from Deuteronomy that keeps tugging at my heart.
If you would open up your Bible or your Bible app to Deuteromony 6:4-8, I want to share this passage with you today. I feel like God is calling us to help children know him, to really know God and what God is all about. Even though I often read this passage as a father of my own child, I think we can read it as a call from God to all of us as the people of God whether we biologically have children or not. As we have read in other passages, children are important to Christ. Jesus warns us that it would be better for us to tie a millstone around our neck and be thrown into the open sea than to cause one child to stumble in their faith. But I don’t think most churches take that seriously. We all say the same things – that we want more kids in church – but do we act like it? Do we think about the kids’ interests or do we just like to see kids in church because it helps us to hold on to the belief that the church isn’t losing children every day? Christ warns us against being a stumbling block to a child’s faith and the passage we are going to read this morning emphasizes what God expects for us to do for our children every day.
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
It really does take a village to raise a child.
Yes, it takes good parents, but parents alone can’t do all of the work. Like we talked about before, we are all products of more than just our genes or even our family life. Friends, church, community, our nation, and our world all contribute to making us who we are. When then First Lady Hillary Clinton wrote her best-selling book with that title, it’s purpose was to drive home this point and to inspire us to collectively take responsibility for the welfare of our nation’s children. When I read this passage from the Bible, Moses is talking not just to parents, but to the entire nation of Israel. “Impress (God’s commandments) on your children… Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Even though it would be cool to see entire neighborhoods with verses of Scripture written on their houses, Moses is speaking figuratively here. He’s trying to make the people understand that in every aspect of our lives we have the responsibility to find a way to impress upon the children the lessons of Christ and to live them out as a reminder at all times what it means to be Christian.
I believe with my whole heart that we need to be both relevant and substantive.
As a church, when it comes to the faith of our children, we need to be both relevant and substantive. If we are not relevant, the lessons we share won’t sink in. If we are not substantive we are wasting their time. We need to help kids learn from the church those lessons they can only get here. We have to do a better job of teaching them WHY church is important and stop using the “I SAID SO” reasoning of the past. In the short term, “I SAID SO” works great, but if you want kids to remain in the church long-term and have them understand why church is important to a deep life in faith, they need more of a reason than that. And we can give it to them. When studies tell us kids seem bored by church, the answer isn’t to blame the kids but to understand WHY they are bored. We should try to understand what about the powerful message of Jesus is boring. Because maybe we aren’t doing a good job of communicating to them the profound significance of Christ. Maybe the responsibility is on us instead of them. As adults, we have had at least 10, 20, 30 or more years to come to an understanding about Jesus. Most of our kids aren’t even that old yet. Even Paul talked about feeding disciples of Christ the right spiritual food to nourish them. If our kids were lactose intolerant, would we give them milk? NO! So why would we feed them the essence of faith that isn’t easy for them to swallow? And before you think I’m saying it’s about entertaining kids, it’s not. It’s about helping them to relate to Jesus in a way that feels natural for them which might be very different than how it is for us. But the important part, the MOST important part is helping them come to know Christ and realize what it means in their life to call him Lord and Savior.
Who will be in your thank you speech?
If you were up on stage accepting an award, who would you give thanks to? If you said “no one” that would be really sad. Not because you didn’t get any help, but because you’ve never realized all the help you already have received. Our lives are made up of a cacophony of experiences that help to mold us and shape us. We are given not only a genetic imprint from our parents but also the environment in which we are raised. Our friends often have at least as much influence as our family as do a whole host of other pieces of our social networks. As the church, we are called upon by God to make a difference in the lives of children everywhere. Let us make sure we do what we can to fulfill our part of the mission and clear a path for the children to see and know God. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.