I grew up going to church every Sunday, and I do mean “church” not youth group and I do mean “every” Sunday… I have 4 years of perfect attendance pins to prove it! It was a Lutheran church, lots of aerobic liturgy, stand up quote creeds, sit down, stand up quote more creeds, sing 500 year old hymns played on a 50 year old pipe organ that shook the 100 year old building. The pastor wore a collar and a robe, he shook your hand at the door with a rather limp, weak grasp. I spent countless hours staring at the elaborately painted ceiling and the stained glass windows that depicted different events of the life of Jesus… all in all not a hip, happening or riveting experience.
But I was with the “big people”, I saw Bruce Hargreaves, Dick Stonex, Bud Funrue, Bob Stutzman, Art Sachar, Bob Barnes… all men, friends of my dad. They were farmers, loggers, linemen, welders even a cartographer. Being around these men and their wives, in this context imprinted on my heart that you could be a man and follow Jesus. They knew me by name, they allowed me to drift into their conversations. I saw them sing, heard them read scripture from the small pulpit, watched them put a check in the offering plate, listened as they talked about rain and crops, taxes and hunting during the fellowship hour. On church work days, they’d show up with tools and tractors… I learned a lot from watching them.
As I entered high school, they would attend my games, comment on my performance. They tried their best to lead our sad little high school group with the catchy name “Luther League”. We used their cars to get to Hoodoo, their boats to learn to water ski, I picked their strawberries, bucked their hay and drove their tractors to earn money for my first car.
Why this stroll down memory lane of my Norman Rockwell childhood? To emphasize why I think kids and adults should share the same space on a Sunday morning. Being around men and women who were followers of Jesus, watching them, learning from them made a huge impact on my life and faith. Frankly, the preaching in my Lutheran church was abysmal, not much scripture and lots of platitudes. So for me, my faith was not fed from the pulpit, but from the pew, by the adults sitting around me.
I learned that church was about more than receiving, it was about serving, giving, friendship, community and faithfulness. I saw this in my parents and in their friends. I saw this because I was there in their midst to see it, not segregated off to the shag carpeted youth room in the basement filled with bean bag chairs (yes we had one).
UFC is a different experience than Emmanuel Lutheran… the preaching is from the Bible and most weeks not abysmal, the music is engaging, the culture is friendly and freeing, the social mix is broader, there are 100’s of hip college students in the mix. Your kids need to be there, with you and with your friends… it will feed their faith, form their world view and grow them up in a way that Dave, Aly and Josh cannot. Where else do they get to rub shoulders with teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, contractors, homemakers, business owners, plumbers, electricians, division 1 football coaches, university professors, college students, police officers, firemen, dentists, architects, farmers, artists, mechanics, etc. all that love the Lord and are trying to live life as His followers.
But heres a little secret… if you are “just there” and not engaged you will not reap the full benefit of the “big church” experience. Do they see you sing, read your bible, take a note or two, cut a check, greet a friend, welcome a stranger, move a chair, roll up a tarp, take a student to lunch, invite an international student into your home? If you are not leading in these actions, consider a change, but in the mean time putting your kids around those in our church that are engaged is a great investment in their faith and maturity… who knows how God might use it in their life and yours?