Sometimes I just don’t like the Bible. In I Samuel 1, Hannah desperately prays for a child, yet while the child is still a young toddler, she brings him to Eli and leaves him there for “as long as he lives.” Like Hannah, I struggled with infertility and a desire for children, so when that prayer was answered, I couldn’t imagine leaving my little girl at the church for the rest of her life. Hannah’s story shook me. Although I started praying over my children and reading them Bible stories at their birth, I never wanted to encounter a situation where I would need enough faith to completely give up my children to the Lord. Rather I preferred a safer vision of being the kind of mom that could keep my children safe, happy, and fulfilled while allowing God a supporting role in our life. Of course, I would give God the glory for the successful life of my children, but always at the foundation of my plans were my safe children and my healthy family. God understood my fears, and slowly over time, he began to stretch and grow me. He walked with us through unexpected job losses, unwanted out-of-state moves, shaky real estate markets, and a major family health crisis. Slowly, my faith flourished as I realized that I was totally incapable of controlling anything for my family. My only method of protection for my children was by offering them to God. We brought them up in the church and did our absolute best to pass our faith on to our children. Their memories of childhood include Wacky Wednesday, KREW, youth, VBS, Sunday School, confirmation, KidJam, BigStuf, and Salkehatchie. I wanted church life to be woven into the fabric of their daily lives.
I distinctly remember when we were going through a period of difficulty and my oldest girls were the acolyte and crucifer in worship. For a moment as the candles were being lit, my girls were paused in a tableau at the front of the church, posed between the pastors and the choir and in front of the altar and the cross. In that instant, God tangibly showed me that my children were safe and belonged to Him. He had a plan for them that included the love of our church family that was just an extension of His great love for them - and our church family demonstrated that love beautifully over and over again.
When Julie asked me to write an article about Bridge Kids, I agreed, but then I kept putting the actual writing off. I just couldn’t figure out what to say about Bridge Kids. My children had all moved on to youth when we revamped our KREW program and started Bridge Kids. I tried to figure out what the critical piece of Bridge Kids was that I wanted to communicate to new parents. Then I realized that I was looking at it the wrong way. There isn’t a critical piece to Bridge Kids that makes it essential to the children of our church; however, Bridge Kids is a critical piece of the overall embrace that holds the children of our church in the love of our church family. Focusing on one programming area of children’s ministry is like building a house and putting all of the planning into the floors and roof but neglecting plumbing and electricity. All the pieces of St. Mark’s children’s ministry fit together into a beautiful mosaic, enriching the life of our children and imparting a Christian faith to them.
So while we acknowledge that Bridge Kids isn’t designed to be a standalone program, we should question why it is such an important piece of our ministry. As an educator, a mantra that I return to is “repetition with intensity over time produces learning.” Obviously, the learning that we want to impart to our children is the growth of their faith - the knowledge that God loves them and is always there for them. Repetition happens when young children hear Bible stories over and over again. As they repeat through familiar stories, they glean new bits of insight and application. “Over time” reminds us that faith is built from toddlerhood through teen years. It’s never too late to start attending church, but there is never a reason to wait. Young children that know they are loved by a variety of adults grow into teens that have a strong support system for those difficult years. Eugene Peterson refers to a “long obedience in the same direction.” We are in this for the long haul. Teaching our children is not something that happens overnight or with ease.
What about intensity? That is where Bridge Kids shines! Puppets, songs, videos, crafts, games, food, laughter, and friends. Of course, parents can read Bible stories at home to their children - and they should! That is repetition. But that works so much better when partnered with the intensity and fun of the Bridge Kids experience. Children have fun while learning that church is filled with adults that form a support structure of love. They learn that church is a safe space worth their commitment and their time. They also learn that their parents value what they are learning at Bridge Kids.
So why should we as parents commit our children to the church? Because like Hannah, we will all face that moment where we know that we can’t do it alone. We will realize that we are dependent upon God and that many times His help comes in the form of His people. When illness strikes in the family or a teenager needs a trusted adult to confide in, the church can rally around a family. But that is not the whole reason. In John 16:33, Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Many of us have support systems in place: sports teams, family, friend groups etc. But none of those support systems are founded on the One who has overcome, the One who saves. In I Samuel 2:1 Hannah prays “I rejoice in the Lord. I smile at my enemies because I rejoice in Your salvation.” We want our kids to know God this deeply, this personally, this joyfully. Can that really happen because of a puppet show and songs on a Sunday night when we would rather be at home in our pajamas watching TV? It’s certainly a start. It’s a first step on a long journey to our children becoming the adult that God has created them to be.