The Census Taker In a Church Pew, Part 5


The humorous look of children is perhaps the most endearing of all the bonds that hold the cosmos together.

G.K. Chesterton, The Defendant

The little one, not even a year old, sat reclined on her mother’s lap. When she wasn’t turning her head to look at her grandmother, who sat next to her, quietly smiling at her, or surveying the room to find other kind faces giving her attention, the little one, wearing a small dress and matching headband, had my face to watch as I led a Bible study. Before the little one’s mother toted her into the adult Sunday school class, the group’s attention fixed on the book of Genesis chapter fifteen where we were continuing our study of the first book of the Bible. The arrival of the child warranted a break from the text, so anyone who wanted to—and almost everyone wanted to—could smile at her and wave at her as she drifted along in her mother’s arms towards an empty seat on the second row of chairs next to her grandmother. You must give your attention to such a young presence, at least for a moment, because for only a moment is such a presence among you, youth being ever fleeting yet also the fountainhead that must not run dry.

After the little one and her mother took their seat, we returned our focus to Genesis 15, stopping at verse three, where God, speaking to Abram, calls Himself “the Lord Almighty.”

“The name ‘Lord Almighty,’ in the Hebrew, is rendered El Shaddai, meaning ‘all powerful,’ I said, “and the Latin word for ‘power’ is potis, from which we get the word ‘omnipotent.’ The Latin potis has a homophone in our American English: the acronym-moniker POTUS, which stands for President of the United States.”

“THTHTHTHTH,” rolled off the little one’s tongue. Our collective, brief silence signaled the getting of the humor. Then one adult said, “That was good timing.” And then our silence, which felt suspended like a swimmer just before she dives off the dock and into the water, broke, quiet and clean, as the swimmer when she crosses through the water’s surface and enters into its cool depths.

Not Little Kingdoms

The cool moment passed. We returned to Genesis. How many people gave more attention to the little one than to our Bible study, from that point forward, I don’t know. She made a few more noises but stayed mostly silent and still. Should someone, especially her mother or grandmother, have turned more often to the little one and not the book at hand, then so be it. However, the little one did not become a distraction, meaning she did not behave in a way that demanded everyone’s attention turn to her, like persistent jabbering or screaming; crawling or running around the room; treating objects and people as toys. There are those adults who grant such liberties to their little ones and, thus, take liberty away from everyone else in the room. A child’s humorous look, act, or remark loses its lightness when it functions as a declaration that the child is always the center of attention, that the little one’s little kingdom is being set up on the earth. What love is it for children when we let them rule the world, the court, the church house, the nursery, the home? These are places for true love to have its way, and true love entails correction, instruction in righteousness, as well as silly faces, goofy noises, jokes, and playful imagination. For without true love, we ignore humanity, and, more than that, we ignore humanity’s Maker, the Fountainhead of Eternal Life, the Hope of Posterity.

“Without the Hope of Posterity”

A little one’s presence reminds us that the fountainhead will not run dry. At least not today. With the fountainhead streaming, our engrained desire for life is wed to hope. It is a fascinating part of human nature that we want to live, and that, since time immemorial, our stories, especially Bible stories, abound with characters seeking to live: the Old Testament progenitors Abraham and Sarah awaited the birth of Isaac, their promised son; the rich young ruler of the New Testament, who asked Christ how to obtain eternal life. As for childbearing, the parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and great-grandparents can be seen and remembered in their children’s faces; consequently, human beings, the created beings that we are, can participate in perpetual existence.

Plenty of liars, however, have given voice to not wanting children because of the unfair burden children put upon a life; rather, those voices claim that what should be coveted is a life lived chiefly for the pursuit of one’s wishes and the satisfaction of one’s pleasures, one’s will. Such a lie is not without heft because bringing a life into this world and raising that life, especially in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, does demand a great deal of courage, work, prayer, trust, and humility. However, such a lie should not be counted as gospel because it contends with Nature and with Nature’s God as it tries to ignore or, worse, corrupt our design, when our design to desire life, to make life, keeps room for the hope of posterity. In the dystopian novel The Children of Men, by P.D. James, the following statement is found: “Without the hope of posterity…without the assurance that we being dead yet live, all pleasures of the mind and senses sometimes seem…no more than pathetic and crumbling defenses shored up against our ruin.” All the pleasures of the mind and senses that can be found in this world cannot escape the void that accompanies the absence of infants and little children, a void that when it comes to the church sits in every room like an unwelcome guest, haunting the pastor, unsettling the congregation. When infants and little children attend church services, the softness of babies and the rambunctiousness of kids fill a church house with light and heat and smiles and laughs, enough that the hope of posterity ushers the void out the doors, into the wind.

Kingdom-Formed Hearts

“God has given us the job of teaching his law and demonstrating his grace,” says Rachel Jankovic in her book Loving the Little Years. “We are to be guides to…children as they learn to walk with God. Sin is just a fact of life. It is the way we deal with it that changes ours.” Our church employs a monthly schedule whereby one couple or family runs the children’s service for one month, then another couple or family takes the next month, and the schedule runs like this all year long. There’s about a two-month reprieve just before Christmas, so kids and teens can prepare for their Christmas service program. Several couples and families take part, so that you might have children’s church two or three times a year, rather than going years missing out on Sunday morning services with other adults or going years without ministering to the church’s little ones. One month my wife and I had our turn with the children’s service, and for one of the services I had the idea to drape blankets across the couches in the fellowship hall to construct a “fort,” so we could all sit in it and learn about the Old Testament tabernacle. I got the lesson ready; Beck figured out the songs, games, crafts; and that morning we put the fort together, right after the adult Sunday school class, before we brought the kids out of the morning church service. Whether you have a class full of boys or girls or both, blanket-and-cushion forts appeal to the whole gang. They give quarter to the imagination: symbols of adventure and coziness, a place to gather for warfare and for camaraderie. With the fort built, the music portion of the morning service complete, Beck and I led the kids into the fellowship hall, but before we could even tell the kids to wait, to corral their anticipation when seeing the blanket-and-cushion fort, one kid ripped across the room, took flight one or two steps in front of the structure, and landed right on top of the middle of the thing, bringing all the blankets and cushions to the floor, the tabernacle destroyed.

The goal is to run an orderly children’s service, where Wisdom rules and fun and learning are at her service. Some Sundays, however, the kids seem immune to any instruction from or interaction with adults. Those services bring to mind pearls cast before swine, or cats. And those Sundays plow over any hope that Wisdom will be given any ears to hear her and eyes to see her. But when the little guy dropped onto the top of our makeshift tabernacle, it struck me that this was one of the highlights of being in the presence of little children. Such a physical exploit wouldn’t happen in an adult Sunday school class or Bible study or worship service. And it shouldn’t. Kids require guidance, and while guidance should come before a mess is made, sometimes messes get made with such haste and in such fashion that no adult can anticipate, let alone imagine them until they happen. Again, Rachel Jankovic from Loving the Little Years: “If organization and order can still be found in my attitude, we are doing well. But if my attitude falters, even in the midst of external order, so does everything else.” I guided the boy to his seat, and rebuilt the tabernacle, while Beck turned everyone else’s attention to prayer requests and songs. Then we all gathered under the tent for a lesson that went not without some interruptions, imagining a tabernacle and learning of God being difficult for the kids because of disputes among them over who sat where in their blanket-cushion fort.

Before the children’s service, as adults and teenagers take their seats in the auditorium while the musicians play their hymns for the morning worship hour, a line of little children arrive from their Sunday school class. They trot, skip, and race from the back of the auditorium down the left side isle towards the front of the building to a second row of pews. One kid veers from the group to stop off where Jackie and Francis sit, ready with snack bags for the girl and her twin sisters. Close behind the line of little ones walks Mrs. Jene. She has some thirty years of service as the children’s Sunday school teacher. She draws the little ones to order. She gathers them unto herself. A mother hen whose almost-downy-like embrace bespeaks welcome. Mrs. Jene keeps the children with her until they are called to leave the auditorium to attend the children’s service. Then she follows them to that service, making sure each kid is accounted for. Her heart is for those little ones, that they might come to know The One who became a child for our salvation and for the glory of God.

Should a church become a place that abandons organization and order, especially so that God gets ignored by little children and adults, a church’s heart wanders from God; should a church, however, get to the place where it has no interest in or patience for infants and little children or teenagers, it also wanders from God, who said, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not to come unto me: for such is the kingdom of heaven.” And what should we want our church and our hearts to be, both ours and the little children’s hearts among us, but formed according to the way that is the kingdom of heaven?

Image via Flickr



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