The following is an interview with three North American pastors: Scott Lee who pastors Bethesda Worship Center in Sheridan, Wyoming; Lloyd Phipps, pastor of Covington Drive Church of God of Prophecy in Decatur, Georgia; and Frank Smith, pastor of New Horizons Church of God of Prophecy in Washougal, Washington.
What does the phrase “a place at the table” mean to you in relation to children of your congregation?
To me, the phrase means that each one has an important place in the family. Each one belongs and each one is a necessary part of the family. At holiday family meals when I was a child there was often an adult table and kids’ table. The kids were to stay in their place and keep quiet. Sometimes I fear we have that same mentality in the church. Some say that the kids really don’t have a place in the church, other than nursery and kid’s church. It is kind of like children have their own table in the church where they are to be fed and they are to be quiet and stay in their place.
When we say that everyone has a place at the table we mean that there are areas of service that can be filled by our children, our worship services include our children, and our altars are open to our children.
As a pastor, the divine task to minister to, mentor and lead children to Christ within our congregation, as well as those in the community is an enormous one. Therefore, the metaphor “Having a place at the table”, in relation to these children, means a lot more to me than simply giving children their “fair share”. This phrase defines an environment where children are given the opportunity to be actively involved in the functions and activities of our local congregations and become an integral part of the growth and development of the church. It also means that the needs and interests of these children are adequately represented in the decision-making process of the local church and that these needs and interest have major influence on the church’s direction.
A place at the table has tremendous implications for me and our congregation. Many of the children that we deal with are from broken homes and are often made to feel that they are not important or even loved. To me, children are an important asset to any church and when they understand and know that that they are important and loved, they are excited, happy and evangelistic. They share their faith.
What beliefs, attitudes or values are necessary if children are allowed to have “a place at the table?”
We must recognize that our children were not saved by a Jr. Jesus, and are not lead by a Jr. Holy Ghost! The same Spirit that drew me to Jesus, the same Jesus that saved me, and the same Spirit of God that keeps me and guides me, does the same for our children. The same gifts of the Spirit that are offered to me are offered to our children, regardless of the age. And God can use them!! God does use them!! As a church family we must recognize that these children were born for such a time as this and they are a necessary part of the body of Christ! Not when they get older, but now! God can use them at the age they are now and they want to be used!
After seeing so many youth become disinterested in the church and pleading unsuccessfully with them as adult to get involved, we decided to change our attitude towards our children. Through the years we have challenged our leaders to use our children now, rather than waiting until they are teens. We have had more success keeping our youth and young adults involved in the church through this strategy than we have ever had before. We have found that children, just like adults, want purpose! We try to help them find it in the church!
The initial idea that comes to mind is the one where children are to be seen and not heard. In order for our church to grow and subsequently add value to our children we must forgo this notion. Secondly, we must vehemently dismiss the concept that the children in our congregation are the church of tomorrow, begins to embrace the fact that they are the church of today, and start treating them as such. It’s extremely important that pastors, leaders and our membership at large recognize that children are enormously valuable to the growth and development of our church today, not just tomorrow. Third, we must eliminate the spirit of the trickledown effect, and adequately invest in our ministry to children. This means, no more tucking them into a corner or in the room around the back, but providing them with a suitable, child-friendly facility with modern technology and trained, anointed, Spirit-filled personnel. An adequate facility and an effectively operated children’s ministry will communicate to parents that their children are in a safe environment and will excite the children with a burning desire to be in church. It is my conviction that a child, who is excited about the Lord and is involved in the life, worship, and ministry of the church will be considerably more effective in getting his or her un-churched parent to attend our church than the pastor of that church will ever be.
How your congregation views the children of your church is very important. I have learned that people do what you talk about. I speak often of the value of our children. I once was asked, “Why do you spend so much money on children? They do not do anything at church except make a mess.” My answer was, “Because they grow up and become adults who are productive, caring, and giving.” If children are to have a place at the table, congregations must develop a core belief that children can be dynamic under the influence of the Holy Spirit, we must believe that children are not only to be seen but heard and we must develop the attitude of Christ about children.
What steps have you taken to assure that children have “a place at the table?”
As the lead pastor, I learn their names and I encourage our staff to learn the names of our children. Much like adults, children enjoy having someone to know them by name. It lets them know that they are important and valuable to us at Bethesda.
We have given them opportunities to serve now. We have their names on our greeting schedule, they play instruments on our praise team (yes, in the main service!), they serve on our missions committee, receive offerings, preach sermons (in adult church!) and they serve in cleaning, serving meals, and going door to door with adults to invite people to special events.
We sincerely value their input in our meetings and we challenge them to share what God speaks to their heart because we know God speaks to them and through them! They have something to offer, and we want to hear and receive from them.
Our local church understands that it is very important that we have a vibrant children’s ministry, organized and effectively operating in our local church. As a result, we have taken steps to create a ministry where children are taught the Word of God and develop a relationship with Jesus Christ. We have also created an environment that honors their gifts, talents and abilities. The in our congregation are also given opportunities to minister and participate in all activities of our local church.
For example, on Children’s Day, the children in our congregation are totally responsible for and are in charge of all services. They are also actively involved in our monthly youth services where the children’s ministry works in synergy with the youth ministry in ministering and leading the day’s worship service. Those children who are part of the Praise Dance Ministry minister in dance before the Lord every Sunday morning during our worship service before leaving for Children’s Church. This involvement provides them with opportunities to see and experience worship modeled by adults and to be an active participant in that worship. We have also taken steps to encourage our more mature members to get involved in our ministry to children, to develop and maintain rapport with the children, to listen to and respect their opinions, thoughts, and views. I believe that if we allow the children in our congregation to be involved in our activities and we become involved in theirs, then, they will know that they are an important part of our congregation and they have “a place at the table.”
We have provided a children’s wing in our church “Trees of Righteousness.” It is exclusively for the children. They know this is their place. We invite the children to worship with the adults before going to their place. This helps all age groups become one. We have developed a school of discipleship in our church for the youth and adults and seeing the need for the children to be developed in this area, we are currently working on developing a discipleship curriculum for the as well.
How has your congregation, as well as families and children, been impacted by children having “a place at the table?”
Our children seem to feel safe and secure when they attend Bethesda. They know we love them and that we want them there. They seem to be growing in confidence in their walk with the Lord because they know who they are in Christ! Our church is growing because we place value on our children. Children sincerely enjoy attending Bethesda because they seem to feel a sense of purpose and belonging!! They invite other children to come with them to church. Our families enjoy attending Bethesda because their children want to attend. Our children seem to have found purpose here at Bethesda!
In our congregation, we have a vibrant children’s ministry, a place where children are provided with opportunities to learn, grow, and develop. The director of our children’s choir also serves as secretary for our Finance and Stewardship Committee. This strategically places the interests of the children and children’s ministry before those who make decisions regarding the disbursement and allocation of funds. In addition, the children are actively involved in our media, praise dance, and music ministries. Because of children’s involvement, our church is experiencing growth. Parents of some of these children are now regular attendees and some are now members of our congregation. The involvement of our children in the life, worship and ministry of our local church has also aided our congregation in recognizing that God honors the hearts of children, and He will and does use them for His glory. Giving children a place at the table has added fresh life, new vibrancy and enthusiasm to the life, worship, and ministry of our local church
I think the biggest impact I see is the interaction between the adults and children at our fellowship every Sunday after church. It is great to see the adults talking with the kids and the kids feeling comfortable with that interaction.