You are little for such a short time. But, when you grow up and think back on your childhood, we hope some of your earliest memories are about us, the church. Before you could walk or talk, you probably remember someone at church—even if you don’t remember who, exactly—rocking you and singing sweet songs into your fears until your tears were dried. Sitting in a circle with other kids, someone is singing Jesus Loves Me to you. It is probably one of the first songs you will learn to sing.
Today you lisp your way through John 3:16, For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life (KJV). But this verse (along with many others) is being committed to your memory where it will dwell for years, informing your entire lifetime. You will remember laughter that filled that special kid-friendly place at church and how it became your happy place with other kids every week.
Today we celebrate your childhood among us! In rooms painted with childrens’ delight in mind and furnished with tables and chairs that are just-your-size, you hear the Good News of the gospel and come to Jesus with childlike faith and trust. Your belief is nurtured by a community that protects your earliest understanding of God’s love and demonstrates it to you.
We are the church and you, child, are precious to us.
We are your Sunday school teachers … the ones with the funny puppets and great smiles. We are the people who run your KidMin programs, whose faith is so strong and so accessible that you easily embrace God’s love because you can see it in us. We hope you remember us, the adults who show up every week to make sure the church is there for you.
All is fine for now, but there is a rub: you are growing up and today is not the final chapter. Soon you will be an adult, living in a world that is yet unknown to any of us, but a world whose challenges to faith are even now rising on the horizon. As an adult, will your child-like faith hold strong against the secular world’s embrace of political correctness, relativism that challenges absolute truth and sexual and gender choices without boundaries?
Your future looks challenging. Warm-fuzzy memories may not be enough to strengthen you then. Will we regret that we filled the small amount of time we had with you with delightful things, spiritual entertainment, but things so inconsequential they didn’t travel into your adult life except as lovely memories?
Have we loved and entertained you, or have we also created disciples? With your adult future in mind, are we intentionally raising you to become Christ following men and women with both spine and heart—spine to stand firm for your Christian beliefs in an increasingly hostile secular world and heart to embrace that same intolerant-of-faith world, with a love that can’t be ignored.
Will you grow up and be grateful that we, the church, gave you everything you needed to both lead the church and influence the culture? Will you be prepared because the church today anticipated the challenges you would face as Christian adults in 2050? Will you experience our love then, or will our brand of kid-friendly-for-today love fail you as adults?
The pages that follow are a love letter to your grown-up selves and the church’s future. It is a strategy and blueprint for influencing a world we see coming your way. If you read it in the years to come, know that you were not only loved as children, but loved by the church who prepared you for your challenging adult years and tried to give you everything you needed to stand proud and unafraid.
May you know we never stopped loving you. And may that love root you firmly and prepare you for the decades to come when you are the church.
The future of the church rests with you.