On Tuesday evening this week, we set a record cold here at this old house: 44 degrees! Today, we are back in the 90s. At over a mile high in elevation, August is a transitional month, blending elements of summer and fall, often in the same day. We will continue to have days of intense heat but that heat is losing its dominance. Up on the Mesa, a few leaves have begun to change colors. The quality of the blue in the sky is different: deeper and clearer. The vegetation looks like August–tall and dry–and the days are definitely getting shorter. Public schools have started and, like the swallows of San Juan Capistrano, 27,000 University of Colorado students have returned to the city. I won’t go near Target for about three weeks as at least 20,000 of those students and their parents are in there buying things to furnish dorm rooms or first apartments.
It is also the time when many churches are beginning to ramp up the fall schedule: Sunday school resumes, Youth groups and Confirmation classes start their routines, and the musical groups that have been on hiatus during the vacation months re-gather to lead worship. I found an interesting article on Facebook about how we have “Sunday schooled” our children out of church. The youth programs that have run concurrently with corporate worship for adults for years have now borne their spiritual fruit; a generation who knows about God but feels no need to attend corporate worship and especially a corporate worship service that isn’t fast-paced and entertaining with pizza served somewhere in the mix. (See http://www.patheos.com/blogs/searchingfortomsawyer/2014/08/sunday-schooling-our-kids-out-of-church/)
It is hard to wring our hands over kids not going to church when we are the generation that kept them out of corporate worship. We Baby Boomers saw it as a time of “free baby-sitting” for the parents with a religious component to it. I have always wondered when the promoters of the”junior church” model thought those young people would transition into corporate worship. In college? There are many dedicated college groups in the churches and in para-church organizations. When they got their first job? There are so dedicated groups for singles for them to attend. When they had kids of their own? They would possibly send their children to Sunday school but would they be drawn to corporate worship, which seemed unwelcoming to them as children? And we have to admit, this touches on the belief of many that one can be a Christian without ever going to church, a popular idea but not a Biblical one.
Perhaps a solution might be a “graduation from Sunday school into corporate worship” ceremony at some point. Of course, the kids would have to have some advanced training that corporate worship wasn’t centered on them and their need to be fed and entertained. They would need to learn that corporate worship is about God first of all. We are not there as spectators but “players on the field,” to use a sport’s analogy. The kids would have to transition from a mentality that has them as “fans in the stands” waiting to be entertained into the ones who actually do the work of worship. Would that transition happen for most middle or high schoolers, even college age people raised on the junior church model? I fear the repercussions of this well-intended but mis-guided policy will haunt us for a long time.
Being in corporate worship from infancy on makes worship a truly inter-generational event, a true reflection of the Body of Christ. Older people learn to absorb the noises of young children and children learn how to behave. They see what the adults do to make worship happen: stand, sit, kneel, pray, listen, sing. This only works well in the model where long sermons are not the norm. The historic liturgical format of Gathering-Word-Meal-Sending, regardless of what kind of music you are or are not using, is much more participatory and interesting for children, as well as adults. A faith community might have to do some serious soul-searching and revamping of its worship practices and that would not be easy. Cherished traditions might need to give way to more ancient forms. The celebrity pastor might not be the star of the morning any more. It would take great humility and maybe more than the faith community could bear.
However, which is harder: re-looking at an order of service or losing a generation of kids to the Church? Religious education is important. Sunday school for all ages still needs to happen but is it wise to have it happen at the same time as the Body of Christ is gathered for worship? It seems like that question is being answered for us.