Keep At It, Mom and Dad!

I love the fact that we have so many children in worship these days. Indeed, it serves the heart well.

This is true because it means that when you look around the room, you’ll see moms and dads taking very seriously the Lord’s words in Matthew 28:19-20 where He instructs and emphasizes that Christians are actually made through the two-fold event of washing with water and the Word (Baptism) combined with a regular diet of all that the Lord has given (teaching). Baptism and teaching are inseparable parts of the same mandate.

To put this into perspective, if someone were to come to me and ask that I baptize his or her child, and yet would state an unwillingness to raise the child in the Christian faith, I would say no. I’d have to. Baptism and teaching go together. You can’t have one without the other.

So, when I look around the church during worship and I see the little ones with their parents, it always makes me smile. It reminds me of the living faith that Christ gave those parents in their baptism, and it points all of us to a horizon where we see the next generation equipped to do the same.

It also makes me want to help those families with children in any way that I can. It’s one reason why we supply the pews with those Kids in the Divine Service booklets, which are designed to be a helpful resource for teaching the “why we do what we do” of the life of faith in worship. It’s also why we encourage parents to take the kids out when they get a little rowdy but then to bring them back in as soon as they are ready. Sure, every kid gets restless, and so when they decide to bang the hymnal against the pew, or shout at the top of their lungs, or run their Tonka truck up and down the hardwood pew, that can be incredibly loud and distracting and it’s a good idea to take them out in respect of others. But once the appropriate recalibration has happened, get them right back into the church as soon as possible. The little ones belong in there with the rest of their Christian family—with their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Are there other things that we can do as a community to help parents? You bet! We can be sure to give mom a hug and say, “Keep at it, mom,” or give dad a pat on the back and say, “Good job, dad.” These gestures and words make a difference. I know they helped us when our kids were smaller.

Another thing to keep in mind (and it’s something that many folks with older children already know so well) is that so often parents of little ones feel as though they are working so hard and doing all they can just to get to and keep the child in worship, all the while feeling as though as parents, they aren’t getting anything out of the service because they’re so busy with the child.

This is a very real concern, and it’s one that when I hear it, I not only do what I can to encourage the parents—reminding them that this is a very important time in their life when faithfulness to Christ in holy worship looks and feels less like something spiritual and more like riot control. Still, they are being faithful to Christ in their service, and He by no means intends to leave the parents out of the blessings being bestowed to the whole Christian family in the worship setting. With this, I also try to remind them that the Word of God is so much more powerful than we often give credit. When it comes to worship, just being there, just being immersed in the liturgy which is entirely comprised of God’s holy Word, is by no means an empty experience for the Christian. To this, in a practical sense, I try to add that for most who come to worship regularly, the liturgy gets written into the heart and mind in a way that allows a mom or dad to do mom or dad things and still receive. Because of the liturgy, the service becomes more or less memorized, and now mom and dad can follow along and be fed without needing to juggle a hymnal, ordo, baby bottle, and infant all at the same time. They become people who live and breathe the words of worship, and what better example do we want to display for our kids than this?!

Thanks be to God for the little ones in our midst. Thanks be to God for the parents who stick with it, who give it their all to make sure that their baptized children are being raised in the Christian faith. “Therefore, my beloved brothers,” Paul said, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Of all efforts in the church, perhaps the job of parents doing all they can to get their kids to and keep them in worship is most appreciated by this text.

To such folks I say: Know that I’m rooting for you, and so are many others in our midst.

Leaving Stuff Laying Around

I have an idea—two, in fact—and they relate very closely to helping connect people with the message of Christ through our identity as a congregation. Both are easy. And both, I think, would make a difference.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that when we are clear, straight-forward, and intentional in our efforts to communicate to our surrounding community that we are a congregation that appreciates the historic liturgy, does not have rock bands or screens, holds to the Bible as the inspired, inerrant, and immutable Word of God and the sole source for faith and practice, and subscribes to the Lutheran Confessions as a true exposition of the Word of God—when we communicate these particulars to our community, we see a regular stream of “off the street” visitors. When we stop doing this, we stop the “off the street” flow.

We didn’t send out mailings this past spring. We didn’t see many visitors. We left the “Now enrolling…” message on the sign for most of the summer. We didn’t see many visitors. I changed the sign two weeks ago to what it says now (see the photo), and as I expected, we’ve seen a pick up in the flow of visitors.

I believe this is indicative of something we’ve already known for a while around here: People are searching, but they’re searching for substance. They’re looking for something more than what they can get in an entertainment complex or a movie theater. They are looking for something that doesn’t just look and sound like a church, but something that feels like a church—something that emits a sense of care and concern for holy things, and in so doing, provides a setting of reverence in the presence of the Holy One.

This is a comment I receive regularly from visitors with regard to our worship life: “You guys aren’t like the other churches I’ve visited.”

Sometimes that’s meant as a compliment, sometimes not. But whether it’s good or bad, its message is unmistakable. There are fewer and fewer congregations like us.

So, here are the ideas. The first is the easiest.

We need money for effective marketing of this message to the community. We don’t have any in our budget and we need some. If that’s something you feel like supporting, please do. Any time we receive funding for marketing, we always spend it well and it always produces results. I have plenty of leads on ways to do it, and I think I’m creative enough to fashion some decent messages to the community. So again, if this is something you feel like supporting, go for it.

The second idea is still easy, but it takes a little more intentional effort.

Remember all of the Kids in the Divine Service booklets we used to have in the pews but swapped out for the new ones? Well, they’re sitting in a box on the floor in the entryway to the church office. There’s about 150 of them. I don’t want to throw them out. I’d rather give them away. With that…

Another frequent comment from visitors is that these volumes are priceless for teaching, and often they’ll ask if they can take four or five copies with them to share with friends. That’s a great thing, because when they look inside, not only will they find substance regarding solid, Biblical, and historical worship, but they’ll find information about our congregation—a church that does it! So, if they’re looking for a congregation like that, they’ll know where to find one!

So the idea is this: Take some of the older versions of the Kids in the Divine Service booklets from the box—as many as you want—and leave them in places here and there throughout your day. For example, if you have lunch with a friend at Leo’s in Hartland, take a few in and leave them at the table before you go. When you go to the library, take a few in and leave them on a study table. When you visit a hospital or nursing home, take a few in and leave them in one of the waiting room chairs.

People will find and read things that people leave behind. They always do. You know how I know this? My son Harrison, that’s how. He went with me to Walmart a few years back and was walking around reading a proof copy (which is a copy that I and others use to edit the manuscript before the final print) of one of my The Angels’ Portion volumes. He got distracted and set it down, and then lost it. He couldn’t remember where he’d left it. About a month later I got an email from someone who’d picked it up and had read the whole thing. He loved it, and since I was local, he reached out to me through my website to see if I wanted it back. In the end, I told him to keep it, and then eventually I met him at the Fenton Walmart and signed it for him. Fun, huh?! And an introduction was made. Since then, I do this purposely with every proof copy of any of my books. When I’m done with it (as long as it isn’t chock full of embarrassing mistakes that make it unreadable), I leave it behind for people to keep and read. And like it was with the first time, connections have almost always been made. In fact, I’ll be doing an online radio interview with a smaller, up-and-coming podcaster in a few weeks, and it’s the result of one of the proof copies ending up in his hands.

Now, it might not always work out like this, but there’s also the chance that it will. And it doesn’t hurt to try, does it?

So, take those Kids in the Divine Service booklets and do the same. Let’s see what happens.

By the way, remind me to tell you about the conversation I had at Tim Horton’s in Hartland this morning.

On second thought, maybe I’ll just add it to the sermon. I think it fits well with Paul’s emphasis in the Epistle.