Who would make your list?
One day I plan to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for my film “A Kidney Between Us” so I need to be ready to give one of those fancy acceptance speeches. Winners only have 45 seconds unless you win one of the big four (Actor, Actress, Director, Film) so it has to be quick and precise. Of course, you have to thank the Academy since they voted for you in the first place. And the fans for getting your film recognized. But who else? Forty-five seconds is a terribly short time to squeeze in every single person who made a difference in your life, so who would be “Oscar worthy?” Because let’s face it. None of us achieves anything in life on our own. As much as the idea of the “self-made man” is part of American society, it’s the ultimate in hubris to think we really didn’t have help. I know people 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 it’s not because they lack talent. On the other hand, there are movies like John Carter. Someone was convinced to spend over $250 million dollars on a film that ended up losing $200 million. No one becomes a success in a vacuum. We are the product of so many different variables and all of them are important.
Successfully raising a child is a lot like being a success at anything.
You can’t do it alone. And I don’t mean being a single parent. Having both parents around doesn’t guarantee success. I knew a couple with 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 started doing drugs and breaking the law. If it was just about good parenting, it wouldn’t make any sense! But it’s not. A child doesn’t grow up in a bubble. They have different friends. They have different teachers. They get involved in different things. All of it adds up to the person they become. As a church, we have to make sure to do our part, to help build up children in faith, to give them a solid foundation, to help them see God at work in their lives. Because if we don’t, they will drift away to find themselves in other things.
And most of them do drift away.
Studies show about two-thirds of kids who regularly attended church before college or careers took off from the church once they left high school. Two-thirds! And the numbers don’t get better as they get older. They get worse. Once kids reach their 20’s only about 33% still attend church regularly. Some of them come back, but a lot of them don’t. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of unaffiliated people (meaning people with no religious affiliation) stands at 29% of the population, up 13% since 2007 when these stats started being tracked. The group that has become unaffiliated the most? Millennials. They find God elsewhere. They feel the church is irrelevant. Or church is just plain boring. And they aren’t wrong. Every church says they want kids and young families but do little to prepare for them or meet their needs. Try modernizing worship or doing something new or innovative often gets resounding resistance from the pews. Most kids I know and speak to want the same answers their parents do. They want to know why they are here, if there’s a God, if there’s a purpose to life, and what that purpose might be.
We need to help them answer these questions.
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. The key isn’t to be a Biblical scholar, but to be the kind of person who exemplifies God’s love. And that means being willing to do what’s necessary to reach kids with that love. We need to do that with more than just money, but by our presence, our service, our witness, and our time. Kids are smart. They are far more intuitive than we often give them credit for. And they know when we truly mean what we say and when we’re just offering lip service. Too often children and youth are undervalued in church. Ask yourself, is that what Christ would want? We read so often how much Christ valued children and their perspective on life. He even said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. (Matthew 18:2-5)” Then he followed that up with a warning, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)” What are YOU doing to help our children know the love of Christ?
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. – Deuteronomy 6:4-8
It really does take a village to raise a child.
Parents are the most important ingredient to be sure, but parents alone can’t do all of the work. We are products of more than just our biology. 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 the title It Takes A Village, it’s purpose was to drive home this point and to inspire us to collectively take responsibility for the welfare of the children in our lives and in our world. In the passage we just read, 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.” That word “impress” is more than just “teach.” The dictionary defines the word as “to apply with pressure so as to imprint.” Teaching is the transfer of information, but impression is making it part of the person’s character. In this passage, Moses is telling the people of Israel that it is our 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 of what it means to be Christian.
Wouldn’t it be great if you ended up in someone’s “thank you” speech?
What an honor to be placed in that rare category of influential people upon a person’s life. If we take seriously Christ’s call not to hinder the little children, we also have to take seriously Moses’ call to impress upon the children the lessons of Christ. Pray about how you can support the children of our church. When we join, we offer our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. How can you do that for our kids? Our Outreach Team is working hard to be inviting, but the question we keep coming back to is this, “What are we inviting them to?” Are we ready to be a family church? Can we truly make a commitment to helping kids grow in faith? That will be the next challenge we have to face. I’m reminded of a scene from The Untouchable when Eliot Ness and Jimmy Malone are talking in the church and Jimmy says to Eliot, “What are you prepared to do?” And Eliot responds with “Everything within the law.” Jimmy responds with “And then what are you prepared to do?” That is our challenge. Eliot was willing to do whatever he could within the boundaries he was comfortable with, but Jimmy knew that to achieve results they would have to think out of the box. They would have to dare to be different and find solutions that hadn’t been tried yet. Do we have that kind of commitment to our children? It takes a village to impact the life of a child and YOU are part of their village. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.