Some Things Should Never Change
Next Friday, October 31, Halloween, I will celebrate my 37th birthday. Born in 1977 I was a child of the 80’s. Although I never had big hair, I did peg-roll my pants and I did own a few pars of Zubaz, MC Hammer pants.
Growing up in the 80’s was a different time. I remember having a TV that only had 12 channels on it. I remember getting the cable box that allowed us to get 36 channels, and how I had to be my fathers remote, as it could not be controlled by a remote control. I grew up in a house where if we watched television we watched what my dad wanted to watch. This often meant we would go outside, play in our rooms, or watch what he was watching. The one exception to that rule was Saturday morning, when my sister and I would get up at 7:00 am to watch a Saturday morning cartoon, the one day of the week that cartoons were on.
The 80’s were a time when no one wore seat belts. I remember my parents driving a big cargo van and on long trips we would put a mattress in the back and lie down and sleep or play games. If we wanted something to drink we would walk to the front of the van and get one from my parents. There were no iPads, or iPhones. No portable gaming devises. In fact, the music we listened to was the stuff my dad wanted to listen to, we, as children, had no vote.
Many of my favorite movies I saw as a child in the 80’s. I got to see movies like Ghostbusters (PG), and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (PG) in the movie theater when I was 7 years old. I can still sing the theme song to Ghostbusters. When I was 8, I got to see The Goonies, maybe my favorite movie of all time. By the time I was 11 years old I had seen lots of movies including Who Framed Roger Rabbit (TV-14), Stand By Me (R), Children of the Corn (R) and Child’s Play (R).
As I was growing up I remember thinking to myself, I will never make my kids listen to my music; I will be a cool dad and listen to theirs. I also remember on Saturday mornings when my parents would wake up, and having to relinquish control of the television until the next Saturday, thinking, “I will be a cool dad and let my kids watch what they want to.”
Where I grew up we didn’t have any parks nearby so my neighborhood was my playground. I knew every one of my neighbors growing up; about 25-30 houses, and only 6-8 families had kids my age. I knew whose yard we could walk through for short cuts and whose yards we had to run through. Even today, when I talk to my sister about our neighbors, (she lives in the house we grew up in), I still refer to the houses by the people who lived in them when we were kids, including mean Jones and nice Jones. As you can imagine, they were two brothers with the last name Jones - one was nice to kids and the other, not so much.
We are not in the 80’s anymore. Things have changed over the years. As a parent I find myself giving up my wants and desires to cater to those of my children. If we watch TV at our house with the kids, it is almost never what the adults want to watch - it is usually cartoons or some other kids show we put it on so we can get something done while they are entertained. If our kids are tired we will put off what we need to do so they can sleep in. If my kids want McDonalds and I want Burger King, we go to McDonalds.
We live in culture where parents and grandparents tailor their lives around those of their children. We want to do things for them that our parents didn’t do for us. So we let them watch the television that they want to watch. We let them wear what they want to wear, because our parents didn’t. We get them the newest phone while our phone barely works, because we remember what it was like to not have something that our friends had, and we don’t want to do that to our children. Often, as adults, we try to correct the faults that we saw as children in our parents, and we find ourselves letting our children dictate our lives, instead of setting the example for them.
The same attitude often finds itself in the church today. We all have memories of church, some good…some bad. We remember pastors and leaders who made us feel special. We remember friends who made Sunday school bearable. We remember the lessons that made the Bible come to life for us. But we also remember our parents making us get up to go to church when we were too tired after a long night out and promising that we wouldn’t do that to our children. We remember boring sermons and telling ourselves that when we have kids we won’t make them sit through boring sermons.
When I was a kid I had two choices on Sunday. 1) Go to church or 2) not go to church. I could choose what I wanted, but I knew if I chose not to go to church, that must have meant I was too sick to go, and therefore couldn’t do anything else the rest of the day. When I was growing up worship was a must for my parents. Despite a feud in the church that caused a pastor that my family was very close to, to leave, we went to church. Despite an over-scheduled Saturday because of my sister’s and my sports, we went to church. Despite being yelled at by an elder for eating the left-over communion bread after communion (which she proceeded to throw in the trash), we went to church. When there were only four kids my age at church, we went to church. Church was never about me or my desires as a kid; church was always about God.
In our efforts to make accommodate our children’s wants and desires are we actually preventing them from making the life long connections with others that we hold so dear? If my parents had let me stay home from church, I would not have had the chance to meet a man by the name of Jerry Poole. Jerry was in his 60’s when we started attending our new church. Jerry always spoke to me, always made me feel as if I was welcomed and wanted, even when I was being hard to love. Jerry never looked down on my parents for my actions or made them feel like they were doing something wrong in raising me. As I got older, Jerry was still there the entire time. When I would return from college he would always seek me out after worship and and ask how I was doing. When I went on my first mission trip Jerry and his wife Martha sponsored me. They sponsored me on my second, third and fourth trips as well. When I met with Session to become an inquirer, the first step in becoming ordained as a minister, it was Jerry who volunteered to be my liaison. He was there for me every step of the way during my ordination process - driving two hours to join me every time I came home to meet with my Presbytery. Jerry was there the day I was ordained into ministry. When I return to the church I grew up in, Jerry is still there to ask me how I am doing, and now he welcomes my children, as he did me, so many years ago.
I know that church is not always the coolest place to be. I know that life is busy. But I also know that if my parents had let the busyness of our lives, the fact there was no one there of my age, or that we had been hurt by people in the church keep us away, I would never have met Jerry…and my life would not be the same.
Coming to church and worshiping God is about encountering God. We encounter God through the songs that have been sung by the saints for hundreds of years, through the Word of God that is spoken each week, and through each other. Jesus’ tells us “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them,” but as parents, grandparents and a church, sometimes we do stop them. We let birthday parties, sports and late nights stop us from bring the children to God. We keep children away by looking at parents oddly when their child is being disruptive, instead of asking how we can help. We give glaring eyes to teens that might be dressed in ways that we deem inappropriate, instead of rejoicing in the simple fact that they are in church and not sleeping in.
As a father of three children under 7 years old who works every Sunday, my wife finds herself being a single parent most Sunday mornings. So I know that sometimes the easiest thing for parents to do is to simply stay home and not deal with the stress and anxiety that comes from trying to control three children in worship - always wondering what people around you are thinking. But how nice would it be to let parents and children know exactly what you are thinking. To tell them that you are glad they are there. Tell them you understand how they have a choice to come to church, or not, and you know that it must be hard for them, but that you are so thankful that they did. If you see a teenager using their phone, be thankful that they are there, and show them that you care.
As a parent, many things are not the same as they were when I was a child. While I do relinquish control of the television, put sticker guidelines on what my children watch and allow technology to be a part of our children’s lives, one thing has stayed the same…the importance of God in the lives of our children and the role that the church family plays in showing God’s love. If we don’t encourage children to be involved at church then we may be denying them the opportunity to have a Jerry in their lives, as well as denying ourselves the opportunity to be a Jerry in someone else’s life.