Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Inclusive Church

Remember this? " Since children's ministry is one of the most important things we do and the main service is designed for adults, children 6th grade and under are not permitted in the adult service. They will have a better experience and learn about God in a more appropriate manner in KidVenture. Check-in begins 20 minutes before each service."


What do we mean by inclusive church? Do we mean that people with physical or mental disabilities should play a full and equal part in the life of the faith community?
Of course they should; we should ensure we have hearing loops and can meet physical access requirements as well as access to spiritual counsel and encouragement. We have the Disability Discrimination Act to pay attention to; this is something we cannot ignore.

But what about the largest unreached people group in the world? They are found everywhere. Children. They make up 21% of the UK population (2001): that’s one-fifth of the population; yet they often get the least amount of the church’s time and resources. In some churches, their existence within the congregation makes no difference at all to any church meeting decisions, future plans or resource allocation. And yet this was the group of whom the Lord Jesus said: if you welcome one of these, you welcome me. (Luke 9:48)

How do we view children in our churches? Do we consider that the real worship begins when children leave us for their own groups? Or are we experimenting with a model of church where adults, children and young people are entirely separate at all times for their own worship and teaching? Most Baptist churches opt for the model of “in for 20 minutes of worship altogether including a children’s talk, then out for Sunday School/Bible Class”. Scottish Baptist Churches are ideally placed to foster inclusivity alongside legitimate separateness for age appropriate teaching. Gordon Wenham analysed the pattern of family life in the Pentateuch and described a large body of people: social order is demonstrated where everyone cares for the other and lives in harmony with the other, in larger units rather than as individual families. Could we not emulate this pattern of inclusivity? But mere existence, pew warming alongside one another, is not enough. Deliberate and sustained exhortation and encouragement to teaching those younger in the faith is absolutely necessary. The longer I serve in this particular pastoral role, the more I am convinced that the needs of new Christians and children are similar!

The academic Edesio Sanchez states that no other book in the Bible gives more teaching to children and young people as Deuteronomy . There are key principles in Deuteronomy for church leaders and families today as there are countless references to the people of God in the past, present and future along with the exhortation to “impress these commandments upon the children” (Deut 6:7). This was done communally as well as within the family. Did this change in the NT? Not as far as we know. People met in homes without Ikea-type soft play areas!

We cannot fulfil Deut 6:7 if we send children out as quickly as possible to their own groups to engage head-knowledge only with oft repeated stories. Inclusivity means providing opportunities for children, young people and lone parents to be discipled without having to go out at 7.30pm at night. True inclusivity will allow all ages and stages of people within the church to tell stories of God working in their lives to one another, to pray together, to celebrate together; to eat together.

I have posted this short article because I am increasingly concerned with the North American model of "entirely separate". I read a lot of children's ministry/church blogs in the USA and have had to exit the page as - each to their own etc - but I am reading many of them saying: "we are concerned about our ability to help parents", "we are concerned for whole family discipleship", "we are concerned about what happens when our children leave children's church". Hello? Why not have some crossover then?

I know I sound so intolerant and grumpy. Its only because I can see their dilemma....
I've been very encouraged this week by 3 reports from different sources about children who enjoy coming to church so much because they feel part. This is my heart's desire.

Useful links:-
1. check out cell church UK for helpful resources:
2. Generation to generation:
1. Family in the Bible (cited below) – for those interested in the theology behind family and community - R Hess and M Carroll (eds), Grand Rapids, Baker Books 2003.
2. Reconnecting the Generations by Daphne Kirk
3. Top Tips on Encouraging Faith to Grow (Scripture Union) ** a MUST HAVE and only £2.99

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