Mark 10:13-16

When I was a boy “The Wonderful World of Disney” came on ABC at the same time Sunday evening church services started. If we were running late getting out the door I saw Tinker Bell with her magic wand sprinkle pixie dust around the television screen as Disney theme songs started playing and fireworks went off over the Magic Castle.

Had I been given a choice of walking into Walt Disney’s imaginative world or going to church, I confess, I would have chosen Mr. Disney almost every time.

My parents were faithful in their church attendance. They were among those members that went to church when the doors were open and that meant I was there, too. Of course, I am more than thankful for their commitment.

As I reflect on those childhood years in church, the lessons never got much more creative than a flannel board with felt pieces or a 16 x 20 color drawing that came with the lesson from the Sunday School Board.

Vacation Bible School brought a bit more imagination. It was a big deal to be picked to carry in the Bible or one of the flags as we marched in at the beginning each day. We all seemed satisfied with Kool-Aid and cookies at snack time.

During craft time we used what people had available. One year I made a drum out of a coffee can and a piece of rubber from an inner tube. Another year I made a box out of Popsicle sticks. Another year we made items out of clay.

I remember making my grandfather an ashtray that would fit in the palm of his hand. Back in the 70’s no one thought it was a conflict of interest for a child to make an ashtray at Vacation Bible School.

My point is that there wasn’t much creativity or imaginative effort that went into the education of children at church. However, it wasn’t all that important forty and fifty years ago. It seemed enough to tell the stories about Jesus.

There wasn’t compelling competition for the minds of our children. About all the competition there we had was Walt Disney’s Sunday night films.

A lot has changed since the seventies.

Not long ago I was about to lead a Bible study at the Food Bank and a young couple was there with their 18-month-old child. She was in a stroller sitting there quietly with her mother’s cell phone. The mother had an app open on her phone and the child was scrolling the screen with her little finger. I was amazed at how young this child was sitting there interacting with technology and how easily she seemed to be working the app on the phone.

The gospel hasn’t changed. It is the same gospel that my parents taught me. It is the same gospel that your parents taught you. It is the same gospel that the Apostle Paul taught Timothy which he said had been handed down to him from his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. However, the world that we now live in has changed drastically and the church is struggling to catch up.

We now live in a world that moves fast. We live in a world where people learn differently and process information differently. Learning comes from using all the senses. People are used to multi-tasking and expressing themselves through a variety of ways. I am talking about people who have never known life without the Internet, cell phones, and interacting through social media. I am mostly talking about the Millennial Generation, those born from the 1980’s to the 2000’s. I’m also taking about Generation Z, those born after 2000 up to the current day.

Why are so many Millennials leaving the church? Is the gospel no longer relevant to this generation? Is the message of Jesus no longer compelling? Are His words no longer applicable in this world of technological advancement?

The words and ways of Jesus are needed more than ever. However, one-third of millennials polled by Barna Research say that they simply find church boring. One in five say it feels like God is missing from church. 8% say they don’t attend because church is “out of date.”

As always, you can bend statistics to say what you want them to say. However, it seems that these statistics are shouting to us that we cannot continue to do church exactly as we’ve always done it and expect to attract millennials and the generation they are raising. The world around us has changed.

Throughout Christian history we have always repackaged the gospel but we have always done so cautiously and slowly because tradition has great value and great worth.

All of us are aware of those churches that have forsaken most of the traditional symbols many of us grew up with. We realize that people are quick to follow fads and when the fad fades they are left with a shallow faith that will not sustain them.

So we ask, “Should we lose our traditions in order to reach new people?” Here at FBC we have said, “No, our traditions have great value. In our efforts to reach new people, if we let go of our traditions, we will lose those we have and empty a great deal of the meaning that worship currently has for the faithful.”

So the church walks a precarious line, especially one that is as old as ours, between embracing new ways of introducing Jesus to new generations and maintaining time-tested ways that are very meaningful to so many.

So as we move forward into a New Year, as a church we have a great deal to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to. While there is room for improvement we are doing a good job working together, seeking to embrace all the goodness of tradition, while we understand that some people have a need to worship God through more contemporary ways. We are learning to navigate and traverse these two paths. The way we are doing that is by keeping our eyes on our mission and our vision, and not on our individual self-centered preferences.

It is our mission to “Go and Make Disciples,” and it is our vision to “Impassion People to Follow Jesus.”

We are learning that there is more than one way to do that when it comes to expressions of worship and we are learning that when it comes to the Christian education of our children and youth, we must bring all the creative energy to the table possible because today there are a hundred times more things competing for the minds and attention of our children on Sunday morning than attending church and the days are long gone when church came first and all other activities came second on parents’ priority list.

That means when children and parents do come, we have to be ready. We have to be on top of our game. We must do everything we can to make church inviting and an exciting place for children to come and learn about God. We want that ride home from church to be one where the children are excited about the experience they’ve just had so the next time a parent says, “It’s time to go to church,” the child is excited and ready; there’s no resistance.

Of course, that takes much more than the wall art we are currently installing to give our place a Disney effect. It takes love and acceptance from our teachers. It requires a safe environment. It requires an interest in every child that comes through our doors. It means communicating to them that each one is that specially created individual, a one of a kind being that God has made, like the snowflake that Jamie spoke of earlier, yet one created in the image of God. It requires a Minister of Children with a vision surrounded by a team of enthusiastic volunteers. It requires your faithful giving of your time and money to our church.

You may not have a child or a grandchild in this church. However, I want you to have an interest in the Christian education of our children and our teenagers.

As soon as our work is completed I want you to walk through our Education Department and see the transformation that has occurred. Be an ambassador for the work that has taken place there. Take a walk over and see the youth space sometime. Find out how you can help our ministers in their ministry.

Signs will be going up on campus in a couple of weeks to help people find our areas of ministry but it’s better if you know where those spaces are and can show them personally.

Take an interest in the children and teenagers in our church. Learn their names. Speak to them. Pray for them. Pray for their teachers. Pray for their parents. Encourage them. Praise them.

Volunteer for the nursery. Volunteer to be a teacher or an assistant. Let teachers know what your talents are. You never know where you can be used in their ministry.

I don’t know how many of the disciples were married and had children of their own at the time they were disciples of Jesus. We get the impression that not very many of them had families of their own.

This might explain why they were not very sympathetic to the needs of the people that brought children to Jesus for him to bless. In fact, the disciples rebuked them, thinking Jesus had more important things to do. They were turning the children around and sending them in another direction.

14Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there. (Matthew 19:13-14)

So, it is our responsibility as a church to do everything we can remove anything that hinders our children from coming to Jesus.

We have spent a lot of money on our facilities and we have spent almost a full year looking for the most qualified Minister of Children and Families in the country. We did a nationwide search. God brought us all the way back to Athens.

Debbie Braswell, who is the Minister of Children at Mountain Park First Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, recommended Sarah Corbett to us.

The last meeting that Becky Stowe attended before she was rediagnosed with cancer, she passed Debbie’s recommendation on to the committee. Becky never got to see the end results of her recommendation, but it’s just another example that we never get to see a lot of the good work we do in this world, as it lives long past our time here. As the Psalmist says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

We believe that Sarah is part of that goodness that followed Becky’s life. While Sarah is very bright and gifted, while she is called to this work and ministry, while she has been mentored and prepared for the work that she is about to embark upon, while she has a very strong daily walk with the Savior, the success of the children’s ministry is not just left up to her. It will hinge on whether you as parent’s, on whether you as grandparents, and whether those of you who have no children at all hinder the children from coming to Jesus or whether you enhance their opportunities to come to Him. It hinges on whether God’s Spirit blesses this ministry.

I appeal to you to do all you can to enhance their coming to Jesus.

What can you do? I’m glad you asked.

1.Partner with Sarah to educate your child about Jesus. She isn’t here to take your job away from you. She’s here to assist you. The main responsibility for the education of your child about Jesus resides with parents. The staff is here to assist you. It’s difficult to assist you if you don’t.

2.Bring your child to church. Last I checked children can’t drive and often they will choose whatever they are involved in at the time if you ask them, “Do you want to go to church?” The same goes for teenagers. You are the parent, so don’t ask your child; bring your child and allow your child to be blessed.

3. Volunteer your time. Sarah is one person. The children’s ministry requires dozens of support personnel, especially during the summer. Remember, we are shaping the minds of our children for the future and trying to win them to Christ. The fact that they grow up in a Christian home doesn’t mean they are automatically Christian.

4. Be a friend to Sarah. Sarah is leaving a support group of college friends and arriving in a new town in a new job. As the year moves on, spend some time with her. She needs friends. Invite her into your home. Take her to lunch. Get to know her. Be a friend to her.

5. Pray for this ministry. Find out the names of the children in Sarah’s ministry. Pray for them by name. Ask Sarah what to pray for specifically.

6. Remember, you were once a child. Remember your baptism. Most of us were shaped in some way religiously as a child and many of us were baptized as a child or as a teenager. This should remind you of the importance of the children’s ministry in our church.

7. Be an ambassador. Invite those you know with children to our church. Take the time to tour our newly completed children’s facilities, to meet our teachers, our Pre-School Director, and to introduce yourself to Sarah.  Then you can be be a wonderful ambassador for our church.

8. Be an ambassador for Jesus wherever you go. Jesus’ words were not just to his disciples. Jesus’ words are also to us:

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”