As we considered the future into which we feel God is calling Decatur First United Methodist Church, most of us acknowledged the prominence of children and youth in the church. We called for a priority on creating an excellent space for them. We acknowledged the importance of their discipleship.
There are likely a couple of reasons for that. The first is a near-universal truth: people understand that the rising generations constitute the future. We raise our children in faith. They raise their children in faith. Thus the Christian movement has existed for these two thousand years, and thus it will continue to exist. It will be augmented by our evangelism—by our continued making of new disciples (or at least one would hope it will). But our blood is its life-blood. That’s why most churches, here and everywhere, want to see more kids and youth. More kids and youth means a bright future as successive generations pick up the torch and carry it forward.
The second reason, much more specific to Decatur First, is that children and youth are all around us, as are their parents. People—even the President of the United States—are flocking to Decatur because they want their children in the Decatur Schools. And listen, to pay that price in taxes, these folks love their kids and want the best for them. Not just in education, but in life. I believe their lives will be more fulfilled if it includes faith, and I’m happy to share mine with them. In any event, if we want to be relevant in our community, we must pay attention to children. But you knew that.
So, with thanks to Whitney Houston, I believe that children are our future. That line has been used so often that at this point it has become a cliche.
But do you know what comes next? “Teach them well and let them lead the way.” Let them lead the way. LET THE CHILDREN LEAD THE WAY?! HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND?! JUST YESTERDAY MY CHILD WAS LICKING THE TV. LITERALLY LICKING THE TV! AND YOU WANT ME TO LET HIM LEAD THE WAY?!
Why? Because children are our future. Our future. Children are not our past repeated. Teaching them well doesn’t mean telling them how we make choices and then expecting them to make the same choices we would. It means helping them understand that choices have consequences...and then letting them choose their own adventure. Look, I’m a parent, and this is hard. I know it. But that’s how the future comes into being. And it’s worth noting that this is true whether we allow it to be or not...eventually we will be wholly unable to ensure our children choose the way we would. Better to let them make those mistakes now while we can still help them work their way out of them, right?
So if children and youth are really important to us as a church, it’s not enough to give them nice places to gather and hire staff to look after them. No, if children and youth are really important to us, we must teach them well...and then we must let them lead the way. We have to hand them the keys even though we’re afraid they’ll scratch up the car. Which means we have to pray...not that they won’t scratch the car, but that they’ll learn from the scratches.
Well, we did that this past Sunday. We handed the youth the keys to our worship service. An amazing thing happened. They showed us our future. I don’t mean that in the “Anna preached a great sermon, and won’t it be great when kids like Anna grow up and become preachers so that we can keep sitting in our pews and enjoying faith as we know it” kind of way. No, no. I mean it in a “Anna preached a great sermon in which she told us that the future of the church is using the gifts God has given us to help people in this world have a better life” kind of way. She reminded us that faith, real faith, begets effort and commitment to find our better selves and be who Jesus called us to be. She reminded us that God calls us to use our words to answer God’s Word. If you’ve read our church’s future story...that is our future story of ministry. And the rest of the service, songs chosen by youth, prayers written by youth, all of it—all of it—echoed that very message.
This Sunday we’ll be handing the keys to our worship service to our younger children, leading us in service (worship) and leading us in service (of the world). These kids, they aren’t just our future by the miracle of birth and the inevitability of aging. Children are our future because they have fresh vision largely unencumbered by the harsh reality that awaits their growing up. Maybe that’s why Jesus said to let the children come to him and not hinder them—because he knew that they were in a special place to get to know him...and in a special place to help us get to know him.