What is a church? That is the question we have been attempting to answer this semester in Providence Kids on Sunday Nights. The Greek word for church in the New Testament is this word “Ekklesia.” It means an assembly. The church is the called out ones. We are called out to be a distinct people, a counter-cultural people, a group of followers of Jesus who love one another and live on mission together. If your understanding of church, or your kids’ understanding of church, is simply what happens in the 72 minutes in a worship service (or for them in the 77 minutes they’re in a Providence Kids classroom setting) then my hope is to expand your thinking of this Ekklesia that we’re called to be a part of.
The understanding and meaning of a church is often maligned and muddied in today’s cultural climate of expressive individualism, me first mindset, busy, and technologically advanced society. We are more connected than ever before, but more lonely than ever before. How do you teach your kids what the church is with some of these realities? How do you help them understand that church isn’t a building you go to or an event you attend, but that it’s a people that you belong to?
1. You Have to Teach Your Kids the Entire Story of God
The first thing we talked about this semester is the foundation of the church. Christ alone, cornerstone. The confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God is the rock on which the church is to be built (Matthew 16:18). We stake our lives and the existence of the church on the solid rock of Christ. You must teach your kids that Jesus is first and preeminent in all things, including the church (Colossians 1:18). The gospel ought to be a regularly communicated thing in your home. As Tim Keller says, “It’s not the ABC’s of Christianity, but the A to Z of Christianity.” As with anything, you can’t talk about the church without talking about the gospel and Jesus. We can summarize the entire story of the Bible as Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. The entire biblical storyline points to God’s glory, our sin, Christ’s saving and redemptive plan, and our longing through the church to make all things new permanently. Christian living, parenting, and the church are all applications and outworkings of the reality of the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
2. You Have to Teach Your Kids That Jesus Saves Not a Person, but a People
This is one of those outworkings from understanding and grasping the entire story of God. From the beginning, God wasn’t after just saving and redeeming random individuals, but a people for himself. The Israelites were God’s chosen people under the Old Covenant and the church is God’s chosen people under the New Covenant. One of the weaknesses of modern evangelical culture is this idea and use of language of having a personal relationship with Jesus. The early church did not have such a concept in their vocabulary or reality. Christianity is profoundly relational. The gospel doesn’t just save you from something (hell) and for something (heaven), but into something (the ekklesia). You are saved for the purpose of becoming a spiritual house and a chosen people (1 Peter 2:4-10).
3. You Have to Teach Your Kids That Church is a Place to Go and a People to Be
Church isn’t a building. Church isn’t a place. It’s not a worship service. Now, all of those things happen and help contribute to the ekklesia forming and existing, but by themselves those things don’t form a church. This can be an extremely challenging concept for kids to understand since the full concept and reality of the Ekklesia cannot be visualized or depicted. The church exists to both gather and to scatter (more on this later). Church is both worship services and life groups and city serve projects and 1-on-1 coffee shop meetings. All of these things together comprise the church. You cannot be part of a church apart from gathering, but teach your kids that church is more than just gathering. In other words, just attending a worship service 52 Sunday’s a year does not mean that you are part of the Ekklesia
4. You Have to Teach Your Kids That the Church is Multi-Generational
How do you define and describe the church? You define and describe the church by the rhythms you keep and the practices that you make. Practically, for your kids this means that your kids need to grasp that church is more than just them getting dropped off in a kids class every Sunday for the first 11 years of their life. If that is all your kids experience then they are missing something beautiful and extraordinary about what the church is. The church is multi-generational so look for opportunities to engage your kids with people of all ages. Build a relationship with your kids’ kids leaders outside of the classroom, make your kids feel uncomfortable in a worship service that isn’t targeted towards their age group, get to know college students and young adults and have them in your home, extend relationships with your life group outside of Sunday morning so that your kids get to know your church friends. Let your kids know that the ekklesia is more than their preferences and comfort levels and teach them that it is multi-generational.
5. You Have to Teach Your Kids That the Gospel is Made Visible
The gospel is invisible. It is news, an announcement, and a declaration.Yet, kids in particular, need tactile and tangible things in order to make sense of the things around them. Well, the church is the gospel made visible. The ordinances of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are physical pictures and symbols of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave. The church, a redeemed people coming together, to love and serve unconditionally despite our sins and shortcomings is a visual depiction of the gospel. Every Sunday morning gathering of the church and every small group discipleship opportunity is a miraculous thing and the gospel is the only answer to them. If you want your kids to see and experience the gospel then engaging them in the life and rhythms of the church and explaining those things to them is the only solution.
6. You Have to Teach Your Kids That It Is Not About You
The most common question you hear when a mom or dad picks up their kid from a kids class at church is “Did you have fun today?” And while we don’t want kids not to have fun while part of Providence Kids, I think both church and home would agree that that is not the primary reason we attend church or are involved in discipleship opportunities within the church. If we imply to our kids, even unintendedly, that church is primarily about fun then we are also teaching them that it is about their own individual preferences. But church is not about you! It’s about public fellowship, not personal feelings. It’s about serving others, not satisfying ourselves. It’s about engagement, and not enjoyment. So teach your kids that you are part of a church to help meet needs and not to have your needs met. It’s not about our pleasures and happiness and ourselves. It’s about meaningfully being part of the body and seeking to cultivate, rather than consume.
7. You Have to Teach Your Kids That Church is More a Family at the Table than an Audience in the Worship Center
One of the core values of Providence is a decentralized ministry. We want to balance church being organized functions that happen at the church building vs. ministry being the people of God filled with the Spirit of God accomplishing the mission of God for the glory of God in their homes, workplaces, and neighborhoods. We see this picture from the early church in Acts 2:46 that church was being done “day by day.” As a friend of mine has memorably taught me, teach your kids that the goal of church isn’t just to house crowds in a building, but to crowd houses with relationships and conversations and mentorship and life-on-life opportunities of practicing the one anothers of the New Testament. A subtle, yet practical way to teach your kids this is by not referring to Sunday morning worship services as “church,” but as “gathering to worship with the church.” We don’t want our kids to understand and perceive that church is solely what happens between 11:00-12:15 at 6339 Glenwood Avenue.
8. You Have to Teach Your Kids That the Church Gathers In Order to Scatter
This point is related to the previous one. If the church doesn’t scatter, then the gathering isn’t being done very well. If we restrict church to what happens at a physical geographical address, then we limit the mission to what happens there and who we can get inside those walls at those times. The Great Commission tells us to go and make disciples, not come and make disciples. We don’t design most of our family ministry events around inviting non-believers to come things, because we want to call and commission our church to go to them. Another thing we see in the book of Acts is that the church grew simply by the church being the church. So we have to teach our kids that the kingdom of God is not limited to our church building and that being a member of Providence Church in Raleigh, NC isn’t limited to when we attend services and events at our physical meeting place.
9. You Have to Teach Your Kids That the Church is Eternal
The church is never going to end. Jesus will build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). There will be a day when the people of God that have been saved by the blood of Jesus will worship the Lord and will build a kingdom of God that shall reign on the earth forever (Revelation 5:9-10). Why should you and your kids want to be part of Ekklesia? Because of the promise that it will not fail? You can invite them to cheer for N.C. State, an invitation that will surely fail. You can invite them to cheer for UNC, an invitation that will often fail. But to build their lives and stake their identity in the Ekklesia, that’s an investment that will prevail. Church isn’t just something we do, it’s ultimately who we are. It’s a new identity bought with the precious blood of Jesus and it’s an identity that not only changes how we live now, but it’s an identity that we will carry into eternity. So we can fix our eyes on not what is seen, but on what is unseen because that is where our hope lies.