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First Impressions

Summary: In this "Ask Pastor Ruthie" post, Ruthie Seiders, our Pastor of Next Generation Ministries, offers some advice to parents wondering about the right time to have their kids participate in communion.

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Dear Pastor Ruthie,

Help! I’d like to bring my elementary-school-age kids to church with me, but every time we’ve done it in the past, it’s gone terribly. They’re bored, they squirm, and they end up playing on the iPad by the time the sermon gets going. They don’t have these problems in school! I want them to have a great experience in church with us, to understand what worship is all about, but I just don’t know what to say to them.

And when it comes to communion, I have no idea when the right time to let them “come to the Table” with us is. Can you give us some help!

Sincerely,
Every Church-going Parent Ever

Dear Every,

I can relate to your struggles. I still remember my first impressions of our church worship services as a kid in Maine. One of my first impressions was that it was long and hot. But then, so were the rides to our camp on Little Sebago Lake. But as I paid attention to the route we took, the colors of the houses at every major turn, I realized I had learned the route when it was time for me to drive there by myself without my parents. Likewise, being in church each Sunday, learning the different parts of the service: the welcome, singing, praying, sermon, communion, and baptisms; hearing my dad sing in his deep, gravelly voice; watching the choir members smile as they sang; I learned that each was a part of the journey we were on together as a church family, and it was a path that just seemed natural to me when I became an adult.

But perhaps even more significant than that, my most lasting impression of being in the church worship service, is that I was welcome and known. I can remember where “our pew” was. I always knew where my family sat. In front of Ann and Jim Robertson. Behind Cecil and Alice Priest. Across the aisle from George and Ruby Blake. Mr. Maguire would squeeze my hand so hard when he shook it at the greeting time, I thought he was going to crush my fingers! I watched as adults hugged one another and laughed at the pastor’s bad jokes. The sun streamed in the stained-glass windows in the winter, and cool breezes came in when they were opened in the summer. Our place in the pew was a tradition we observed every Sunday. And it left the impression that I belonged there. These people were my family, my faith parents. And today I am even Facebook friends with Mrs. Robertson who is now in her 90’s!

So, I’m delighted you are asking these questions! The good news is you are not alone! People have recently been asking me, “When is the right time to start taking my children to worship?” “How do I know when my son/daughter is ready to take communion?” “What should I do when they get restless?” “Can children really understand what is going on in the service?”

At Grace Chapel, we want to equip parents, grandparents, foster parents, and yes, faith parents to answer these, and other questions about introducing their growing children to the worshipping family of God. Author, pastor, father, and now grandfather, Mark DeVries writes about bringing children to worship:

“Sitting in worship is like having a regular place to sit at the family dinner table…you know you belong. It is in worship that young Christians, week after week, can offer God praise, confess their sins, hear from God’s word and offer themselves in a deeper way to serve God. It is in worship and through the sacraments [Communion and Baptism] of God’s people that teenagers [and children] gain a sense of their connection to a rich family tradition.”

When we understand, and are committed to why children should be in worship, then it becomes easier to figure out how to help children and parents worship God together in the context of the church worship service. And hopefully we can then give our children warm, positive and lasting impressions of being part of the church family.

On Sunday, April 9, our NextGen Ministry is offering a class called First Impressions: Welcoming Children to Worship and the Table. This class is for parents AND their elementary aged children. We’ll help answer questions like these and others.

This is a great time of the year to hold this class as we enter Holy Week. Children and their families who attend could then come to our Good Friday service on April 14 and take communion together, perhaps even for the first time!

In Deuteronomy 6, Moses gives God’s instructions to the people of Israel as they prepare to enter the Land of Promise. He writes, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our GOD, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your GOD with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children…” Let’s give our children a great First Impression!

 

Blessings to you and your kids,
Pastor Ruthie, a fellow faith parent!

 

Ruthie Seiders
Pastor of Next Generation Ministry

On Unity

Summary: For all the progress we’re making in the world, we’re entering surprisingly intolerant times - and it's affecting the unity of the body of Christ. How can we stay united when there are such strong forces pulling us apart?

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We're living in tumultuous, polarizing times. At Grace we’ve always done our best to embrace the idea that while certain things in Scripture are clearly defined (humankind’s fallen nature, Jesus rising from the dead to conquer sin and death), there is room for reasonable minds to differ on some matters. When will Jesus return? Does my baptism count if I didn’t get submerged? NIV or ESV? Hymns or Chris Tomlin?

If it’s reasonable to expect differing opinions on scriptural matters, it’s practically a given that a Christian community will be filled with differing opinions on political matters. On any given Sunday, across all of our worship venues, there are plenty of very liberal Democrats sitting right next to some very conservative Republicans. And odds are that both get a little anxious when they realize their church just introduced politics into a blog post.

The reason for making this observation is that, for all the progress we’re making in the world, we’re entering surprisingly intolerant times. Between traditional and social media, we’re tuning in to an overwhelming number of voices, all expressing different interpretations of “the facts” – both true and alternative.

It’s as if our pre-existing opinions are being fed a high-powered diet that has them jacked up like an athlete on steroids. And it can feel – just like it does for the athlete on the juice – empowering, and exhilarating. But it’s not real, and it’s not healthy.

Now more than ever, we need to get better at listening to each other. Not just waiting for our chance to talk – really listening. Because unity starts with listening.

The unity of God’s people isn’t guaranteed; it never has been. And when that unity crumbles, when the followers of Christ can’t be the example the world needs, the world sees it - and they’re either entertained, or put off. Nobody is drawn closer to Christ.

So let’s all hold each other accountable to a greater level of empathy, to a deeper understanding of each other. It’s good for us as individuals, it’s good for the body of Christ, and it’s good for the world. Let’s get off the (metaphorical) media juice, and come together around one goal: reaching more people for Christ.

This kind of unity doesn’t happen automatically; it takes work. So to help foster that unity, here are a few principles we can all adapt in some way or another:

Get your information from a variety of sources. If you watch Fox News all the time, read the New York Times. If you love National Review, try reading Vox. Don’t underestimate the value of publications like The Wall Street Journal or The Altantic. If you only read Huffington Post or Breitbart News, please recognize that those aren’t news outlets, they are blogs. The main point is this: recognize that you rarely ever hear the whole story, even from the best news sources. We all have to allow for the possibility that we might be misinformed.

Make your first source of information the Bible. If you read the Bible like you read the news - picking and choosing the parts you want to dwell on - you’re reading it wrong. Scripture doesn’t just give us the good news of salvation, of God’s intervention in human history, as beautiful and amazing as that news is. The Bible offers wisdom for living a better life, and that helps our perspective on world events stay closer to the way God sees the world.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12).

Pray before you speak, act, comment, or share. Is something bothering you to the point where you just have to say something about it – to everyone? For those of us who use social media as an outlet for our thoughts and feelings, keep this in mind: just because you said exactly what you wanted to say, that doesn’t mean people heard exactly what you wanted them to hear. Be aware of the power of your words, and remember that on social media you’re speaking to people who may live in an entirely different context from yours.

If you’ve got a particularly strong opinion on a social or political matter, pray about it. Pray for the people who are in the midst of the matter, whichever side they are on. Be open to God shaping your opinion through prayer.

And if you are taking to social media to share that opinion, it’s a good idea to share it with someone in person first. Before you put words out onto social media, where they can have a life of their own, see how they impact people you know in person. Too many of us say things on social media with a bluntness or an edge that we would never use face to face.

"Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." (James 3:3-6)

Posting on social media is, by definition, an act of leadership; so treat it like one. I can almost hear the comments coming: “Wait… what? Leadership? Are you telling me that when I share my vacation photos, or that funny video with the panda grabbing the zookeeper’s legs, I’m leading people? Isn’t that kind of a stretch?”

Maybe not as much as you think it is. When you hear us talk about Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit (an event for everyone, well worth attending), you’ve heard us say that “we all influence people in some way.” When you are on social media, you’re trying to influence people. You’re trying to change their perspective, get them to take action, or motivate them. You want to engage people in an idea, whatever that is. That’s what leaders do.

Leaders spend a lot of time trying to create a clear picture of an intended outcome within their sphere of influence, regardless of where it is. So be aware that, when you are posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snap, you’re influencing people, and that influence can show up right away or a long time down the road.

Every once in a while, have an “Input Fast.” Periodically fasting from food and water is good for our bodies, our minds, and our souls. But in today’s information-obsessed world, another kind of fast is to stop consuming information, of any kind: news, entertainment, even Scripture. Imagine taking a day or two, and turning off all of the technology, all of the input, and allowing space for your mind to do the other thing our brains were designed to do: create.

As amazing as they are at holding, retaining, and processing massive amounts of information, God didn’t design our brains to function solely as storage containers. They’re also instruments of creation. We’re all designed with an incredible capacity to craft and express ideas. But we rarely ever allow ourselves the mental bandwidth to do it.

So turn off the computer or TV and delete your social media apps – just for a day or two. It will all be there when you go back to it. Take the time you’d spend consuming and start creating: write in your journal, write down your goals, write a letter to a loved one. We were all made in the image of God, our Creator. So go create something, for the good of the world.

(And pray.)

Posted by Jared Willey with 1 Comments

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