This is what happens when you take your children to church

by Elizabeth

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When you take your children to church, they’ll listen to the sermon. (Yes, even the little ones.) They will hear the Word of God being preached. Even when it doesn’t look like it, even when they fidget and squirm. But just wait, because after you take your children to church, you’ll take them home again. You’ll be sitting around the dinner table discussing life together, and they’ll bring up the sermon. And you will realize they were listening, and on their level, they understood.

When you take your children to church, you’ll be able to make theological connections and fill in missing pieces. Phrases and stories that you may know and understand but that you hadn’t gotten around to explaining, you’ll have the opportunity to talk about. Because they’ll whisper to you during the service, asking questions about sermon. They’ll bring up all sorts of topics you might not have addressed on your own. And you’ll have the opportunity not to shush them in the moment, but to answer their questions in brief and then dive deeply into them later.

When you take your children to church, they’ll pay attention to the songs you sing. They’ll ask you about the song lyrics they don’t understand, and right then and there, you can answer with the biblical truth for why we sing that part. And when they encounter God in worship, they’ll encounter their humanity too. The congregational singing will stir emotions in them that they may not entirely understand, emotions that need comforting, emotions that need talking through. And you’ll be able to take them into your arms and meet them in their need.

When you take your children to church, they’ll learn what it means to live in community. They’ll see people repenting through tears. They’ll see people on their knees, begging God for healing. They’ll see what happens when God touches someone’s heart, and they’ll see that it looks different from person to person. They’ll watch the different ways people worship, and they’ll be able to explore different ways of expressing their own devotion.

When you take your children to church, you’ll practice being patient with their impatience. You’ll practice not being embarrassed by their questions and their tears and their excitement. You’ll remember that you have a greater purpose than looking perfect or put together on Sunday morning: to engage your children with God and His people.

When you take your children to church, you’re committing to spiritual growth as a family. Of course church is not the only place spiritual growth is supposed to happen. It’s supposed to happen when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. But it’s also supposed to happen in church. As parents we are only one or two people in our children’s lives. We are key people, but we are few. We need others to walk with us in bringing our children up in the faith. And that is what happens when we take our children to church.

 

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*Children’s church is another wonderful option for the spiritual instruction of our children. In fact it’s often a life-saver for parents of young children. We have just found over the past 3 years that doing church together as a family has enhanced our family life and our spiritual growth. It goes without saying here that sometimes keeping your children in church can be hard. It can be wearying. It is not picture perfect, and it can interfere with your own communion with God from time to time. All that said, attending church as a family unit has been worth it for us.

How I Learned My Belovedness {Velvet Ashes}

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Czechoslovakia felt like home to me. Well, not Czechoslovakia exactly, but my mom’s large Czech family. Their love was a constant throughout all my TCK moves. I never fit in at school, but I never, ever doubted my belonging in the Musel family. And wherever I go in the world now, the memory of my mom’s relatives is a comfort that I return to again and again.

Nobody loved or accepted unconditionally like they did. Friends and significant others were always welcomed, no questions asked. It was mind-boggling, really, the inclusiveness they demonstrated, especially as I view it now through adult eyes. They are the ones who taught me my belovedness. That knowledge is a gift that sustains me anywhere I go (and one that the Church would do well to imitate).

Each Christmas we cemented our family relationships with a tradition that harked all the way back to the “old country”: The Apple. Every Christmas Eve after a special meal of noodle soup and hoska (traditional Czech pastry), we gathered around Grandpa (or the oldest living male relative) and listened to him tell the story. It was the same story year after year after: a story about getting lost and finding our way back again.

Grandpa would take an ordinary apple and cut it into the same number of pieces as the people present at the meal. One piece for each person, right on down to the fidgety toddler or the newborn baby. He would pass the plate around, and we would all take a piece, even the little ones who didn’t like the peel. Then we would each eat our piece of apple.

And as we ate, Grandpa would tell us that whenever we felt lost and alone in life, we could sit down, quiet ourselves for a few minutes, and remember eating apple together at Grandpa and Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve. He told us that if we did that, we would find our way. He told stories of family members who had been physically lost in the woods who found their way home because of this communal memory. But the promise wasn’t limited to physical lostness. It was for metaphysical lostness too.

There is nothing magical about a shared meal, or even a ritualistic one. And there is nothing magical about finding peace through the memory of that shared meal. But there is something mystical about it.There is something calming about sitting quietly and remembering how very much you are loved, regardless of what you do or how you perform, but simply because you are part of a family.

Science shows that sharing a meal together produces the same hormone as that produced when you give or receive a hug or when a mother bonds with her baby: oxytocin. The first time I read about the physiology of shared meals, I marveled at the wisdom of a God who instituted a Church tradition that chemically bonds us together. This tradition goes by various names — communion, the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist. Regardless of what we call it, it’s been commemorated by the body of Christ for nearly two thousand years now. It goes back much further than my family’s life in the “Old Country.”

I grew up in churches that practiced open communion. Open communion means that anyone who was a follower of Christ could participate, no matter your history or church membership, no questions asked. It was customary to wait till after baptism to take communion, but over the years I witnessed actual open communion of both adults and children, pre-baptism.

I love this practice of open communion. God’s love and forgiveness are free for all, and open communion is a physical representation of that spiritual truth. The bread and the cup are offered to all; there is no judgment here. Everyone is welcome at this Table. We eat together, we gather people into our family, and we remember the love and sacrifice of Christ that created this family.

In the churches of my childhood we celebrated communion weekly, so I have literally a thousand memories of ingesting the bread and wine together with my brothers and sisters. A thousand times of remembering Christ’s sacrifice for all of us regular, ragamuffin believers sitting (and sinning) in those red-padded pews. It was a tradition much like my Musel family Christmas Eve Apple: capable of bonding us together and teaching us how loved we really are.

The Church is supposed to be that safe family atmosphere. And communion is meant to be our oxytocin-creating feast. It’s supposed to be a shared meal, a shared message, and a shared memory. It’s how God wants us to learn our belovedness. But we all know that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the church fails to live up to Christ’s dream for His Bride, and communion doesn’t become the inclusive, bonding event it’s designed to be.

If any of that is true for you today, let’s reclaim communion for our ever-wandering, never-belonging-anywhere hearts. Let’s remind ourselves that communion and other shared meals are an opportunity to rejoice in Christ’s offer of love to us. Let’s reframe time at the Table as a way to remember Jesus as the One who initiates relationship with us, over and over and over again. Let’s pick up the bread and reach for the wine. Let’s put them in our mouths and pass the plates on to the next person. Let’s remake communion into a time to breathe in our belovedness.

The promise offered to me as a child around the Christmas table is no stronger than the promise offered to us when we partake of the bread and wine. It is the promise of becoming one with Jesus and with His people. It is the promise that He is always with us, always welcoming us, always wanting us. So the next time you take communion or share a meal with your brothers and sisters in Christ — yes even the ones you don’t like or who don’t like you – may you remember that you are dearly and truly loved, and that you don’t have to do anything to gain this love.

 

Originally published here; reprinted with permission.

When you’re out of time

by Elizabeth

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Eugene Peterson, in his book Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work (which was originally published in 1980), writes: “America does not honor the quiet work that develops spiritual root systems and community stability.”

One sentence. That’s all it is. Yet for me it was flooded with meaning. I’ve always felt myself to be outside of time. I’ve never grasped fashion (NEVER – you can ask my sisters) or been able to keep up with what’s cool, hip, or current. In that predicament, I felt I didn’t belong amongst my peers. And in fact, friends were a rare jewel throughout many of my childhood years.

At the same time, I look back over my life and see the slow development in small, local Churches of Christ, learning Bible verses by heart, studying Biblical and early church history, and thoroughly taking faith into myself. I see my soul woven into other souls – not mostly of my peers but of those both older and younger than me.

It was my parents’ choices that kept me grounded in theology and tethered to church community. It was slow — very slow. And steady: Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings, every week, for decades. And though we lived in many places, my parents certainly weren’t church hoppers.

Later it was my own unconscious choices that rooted me. I think of how we got married young (so young!) and started volunteering in youth ministry right away. I think of years and years of working side by side in the local church, serving the people right in front of us. And we stayed in those small places. Even when it got hard — and it DID get hard — we stayed.

In some ways ministry has blossomed for me in the past few years, seemingly out of nowhere. But it’s not out of nowhere. It’s the fruit of working in small, local churches for many years, developing a love for people, for “small” ministry, and for the local church, which I believe is the very heartbeat of God.

All this was quiet work, silent work, unseen work, and yet it’s beginning to yield a harvest in my life. I’m beginning to understand how God uses small ministry to prepare His people for a little bit bigger ministry. And I’m beginning to see that if it’s God who roots and grounds us, we can still love, embrace, and be satisfied by that small ministry.

I may be unable to keep current, and America may only honor currentness, but in my square-peg-in-a-round-world life, I see something richer and deeper and more meaningful than fads and fitting in. I see that being out of time, in cooperation with God who is also out of time, and in friendship with His people, isn’t so very obsolete after all.

Further resources on these ideas:

Kelly Hallahan’s “Hidden” blog post

Video discussions on Banning Liebscher’s new book Rooted

You can also read the rest of my Church series here.

When You Stop Loving the Church

by Elizabeth

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I’ve had a life-long love affair with the church of Jesus Christ. Many of you know that. I’ve talked about it often enough.

But. I almost lost my faith in Christ’s blessed church recently. I was disappointed with His people. Disillusioned even. I felt betrayed by the depravity of mankind.

And then.

I sang the Doxology with my teammates. The words of life set in rich, deep harmonies. Ancient truth, ever new.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly host
Praise Father Son and Holy Ghost

And then.

I sang Hillsong’s “Glory” with my local church. Words I’d never before heard. Words my spirit desperately needed to hear and to proclaim.

Glory to the risen king, glory to the Son, glorious Son
Lift up your heads, open the doors
Let the king of glory come in
And forever be our God

And then.

I remembered the words of Psalm 29, words that my husband had read aloud earlier that day.

The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks and strips the forests bare.
In His Temple everyone shouts “Glory!”

And then.

It all came rushing back to me. All along, it’s been CHRIST. Christ is the reason I believed in His church in the first place. Because of Him, and not because of His people.

We are His because of Him, and because of Him, He is our God. Never because of us. For as we used to sing in youth group,

My only hope is You, Jesus
My only hope is You
From early in the morning till late at night
My only hope is You

Human beings were never worthy of my hope. My only hope is in God, and when we’re in God’s Temple, we all cry Glory! Even the believers who disillusion me.

And then.

I remembered more. Standing there with my hands lifted as high to the sky as I could reach, I remembered standing in that same position last year, shouting out Hillsong’s “The Creed” with a shattered heart.

I believe in God our Father
I believe in Christ the Son
I believe in the Holy Spirit
Our God is three in one
I believe in the resurrection
That we will rise again
For I believe in the name of Jesus

And then.

I realized that my strongest experiences of worship don’t usually happen when life is going well. No, it’s when life is going poorly and I’m in the middle of a storm and I still stand and sing GLORY that I most intensely experience God’s nearness and God’s greatness.

And this praise, this powerful act of defiance against evil and against discouragement and against hatred, it’s something no one and nothing can take away from us. It’s our right and our privilege as God’s children, and it can’t be stolen from us.

God alone is worthy of our hope and worthy of our praise. We proclaim it now, and one day in the Temple, we will all join together, saints and angels alike, to shout GLORY. Forever. And ever.

Amen.

This article was reprinted at both Relevant and Faithit.

You can read all the posts in my Church series here.

When your husband calls you “a shell of a woman” {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas today.

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For months this spring I felt like a shell of a woman. I was empty and didn’t have anything to give. Oh, I was still doing all the “right” things. I was still getting up most mornings attempting to connect with God, and I was still relatively consistent with my commitment to exercise.  But I felt dead inside and couldn’t figure out why.

My husband noticed. Where before him once stood life and life abundant, he now saw a shell of a woman. He even suggested another round of counseling. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do about it or even what it was. I was unhappy in life and unmotivated in work. Was it depression? Burnout? What???

I felt especially dead at church. That was a strange feeling, because corporate worship has always quenched my thirst and nourished my soul and made my spirit come alive. But I just buried that newly incongruous feeling and ignored it. I tuned it out and refused to listen to it. I ran to the nearest screen and numbed out on TV and Facebook and solitaire games instead.

Finish reading here.

The Two Things I Believe About Youth Ministry

by Elizabeth

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I was 19 years old when youth ministry bored its way into my bones and penetrated my marrow. I’m 34 now, and youth ministry still pours into my blood and circulates through my veins. I believe in youth ministry, in all that is good and holy about loving and caring for young people in the context of the local church. And these are two of the things I believe about youth ministry:

1. Effective youth ministry isn’t in opposition to involved parenting. It doesn’t have to be “youth ministers are bad and war against the parents.” And it doesn’t have to be no ministry at all. Youth ministry can be respectful of parents and their influence and authority. It can bridge the gaps between parents, teenagers, and the local and global Church.

2. But effective youth ministry needs more workers: more Bible teachers and youth leaders, more Christ followers and relationship builders. Group ministry is great — and I believe in it — but one-on-one discipleship is even greater, and I believe in it even more. One minister or even a ministry team can’t possibly disciple all the youth in the church. So we need more people who care. More people who aren’t afraid of teenagers. More people who think youth ministry means something, something really important. Because youth ministry does mean something. It means the world to every teenager you invest in. So let’s do a little investing. A little guiding. A little caring and a little paying attention. And we just might witness the restoration of lives and the rescue of souls.

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With many thanks to the youth workers who poured into me as a young person, the youth workers who now pour into my own children, the parents who have trusted me to minister to their children, and the teenagers who have allowed me into their hearts and lives over the years. I love you all.

Authenticity is Not New

by Elizabeth

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These days people toss around the words “authentic” and “vulnerable” as if they were brand new ideas. As if no one had ever experienced them before. As if they weren’t already there for the taking.

These statements sound strange to me when all along, I’ve been quietly receiving the benefits of authentic community and vulnerable relationships – and in the Church no less, a place people often complain they can’t find any community. And to further confound stereotypes, I’ve found this type of friendship even as a ministry wife.

I don’t think we need special buzzwords to validate our experiences. I’ve been inviting people into my home and into my heart for nigh unto 16 years. I’ve been developing real, honest, gritty relationships as long as I’ve been of age — as did my husband’s parents before me. And that was back in the 80’s and 90’s, before people began being vulnerable and authentic with each other (or at least before the words were trendy).

They invited people into their messy home to talk about their messy pasts and their messy relationships and their messy eating disorders. No one needed to validate them. No one needed to approve them. No one needed to give them permission. They simply lived, and they simply did fellowship the way believers have been doing it for thousands of years: open, honest, and real. In community. Before community was “buzzing.”

God designed us to have these kinds of relationships, and His people have been tasting of them for thousands of years. We need only look to Ruth & Naomi or David & Jonathan to realize this.

So when you develop relationships that are authentic and vulnerable, don’t delude yourself into thinking you’re doing something new or novel. Rather, tell yourself that you’re doing something holy and good, something God created you to do, and something that brings Him pleasure.

May you remember that you stand on holy ground when you partake of the ancient practice of community. May you honor the memory of friends who have walked with you into authenticity and vulnerability in the past. May you lift your hands to heaven in thanksgiving for the friends who are currently walking with you through the storms of life. And if through some tragedy you have never had your own safe and secure people, may the wind of the Holy Spirit blow some your way.

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And because I’ve been feeling extra sentimental lately, here’s one of my favorite songs on fellowship, from the dark ages of the 1990’s and sung by the group Acappella.

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Other posts in the Church series:

Hungry for Community

“Me Too” Moments

On Not Being the Casserole Lady

Dear American Church

I am a Worshipper