Thinking Out Loud

February 3, 2014

Kids and Communion: Sacrament or Snack-Time?

This is a topic that was covered here twice before, in February of 2011 and December, 2011. I’m presenting both complete today, but including the links because the December one attracted a number of comments. You can join that old comment thread or start a new one here that might get seen by more people.  The first article is more practical, the second more doctrinal. The first article also appeared on the day after a piece about children and (immersion) baptism, which is why it begins…

Continuing where we left off yesterday…

I like the story of the little boy who wanted to take part in the communion service that followed the Sunday morning offering. When told by his mother that he was too young to take communion, the eager participant whispered loud enough to be heard five rows back, “Why not? I just paid for it, didn’t I?”

~Stan Toler in Preacher’s Magazine

Last week was Communion Sunday at our home church. We attended the 9:00 AM service so that we could actually get to a second service at 10:30 at our other home church. The 9:00 AM service is attended by families with young children who wake up early, and I was horrified to glance and see a young boy of about six or seven helping himself as the bread and wine were passed. Maybe this story describes the kind of thing I’m referencing:

At my church, we had a special Easter night service, and we took communion. My brother was in there, and he’s only 6, so he doesn’t understand the meaning of it. When he saw the “crackers” and “grape juice” being passed around, he said “mommy! Its snack time! I want a snack too!” Obviously, he’s too young to take communion. But for those of us who do take it, do we see it as “snack time”? Communion is great. I love to hear Pastors words describing the night when Jesus and his 12 apostles took upon the 1st Holy Communion. I think since we do take communion regularly in church, we overlook the importance there is in it.

~Summer, a 15-year old in Illinois

But not everyone agrees with this approach:

I have allowed my children to take communion ever since they have told me that they love Jesus. I think 3 was the age they were first able to verbalize that.

We explain it to them each time as the bread and wine come around, and while they dont get it all, they know they are considered ok to partake.

This would not have happened in the world I grew up in.

~Andrew Hamilton at Backyard Missionary (no longer available)

The latter view is the one currently gaining popularity among Evangelical parents. And there are often compelling reasons for it. A children’s ministry specialist in New Zealand only ever posted four things on his or her blog, but one of them was this piece which argued for including all children because:

  • The historical reason: Children would be included in Passover celebration;
  • The Passover parallel: It is a means of teaching children about Christ’s deliverance for us;
  • Salvation qualifies them: If they have prayed to receive Christ, which is not exclusive to adults, they should participate;
  • The alternative is complicated: The age at which a child would be considered “ready” would actually vary for each child, and setting a specific age adds more complication;
  • Communion is an act of worship, something children should be equally participating in.

Having read that, it might be easy to conclude that this is the side to which I personally lean.

That would be a mistake.

Despite the arguments above, I really think that Summer’s comment adequately describes the situation I saw firsthand last Sunday. As with yesterday’s piece here — Baptism: How Young is Too Young? — I think we are rushing our children to have ‘done’ certain things that perhaps we think will ‘seal’ them with God.

I thought it interesting that one of the pieces I studied in preparation for yesterday’s post suggested that the parents of children who would be strongly opposed doctrinally to infant baptism have no issues with their non-infant children being baptized very young. Another article described a boy so young they had to ‘float’ him over to the pastor, since he couldn’t touch the bottom.

I’ve often told the story of the young woman who told me that when she was confirmed in her church at age 14 — confirmation being the last ‘rite’ of spiritual passage for those churches that don’t practice believer’s baptism by immersion — she stopped attending because she ‘done’ everything there was to ‘do.’ She described it perfectly: “The day I officially joined the church was the day I left the church.”

Are we in too much of a hurry here to see our children complete these things so we can check them off a list? Are parents who would be horrified to see their daughters wearing skimpy outfits because that constitutes “growing up too fast” actually wanting their sons and daughters to “grow up spiritually too fast?”

I was eleven when my parents deemed me ready to take communion. While I question my decision to be baptized at 13, I think that this was a good age to enter into the Eucharist. I know that Catholic children receive First Communion at age seven, therefore I am fully prepared to stick to this view even if I end up part of a clear minority.

(more…)

December 4, 2012

Concordia Decides Enough is Enough with VBS Entertainment

Concordia VBS

VBS (Vacation Bible School) is a major industry. Let me be clear, VBS is big business. In North America, nearly two dozen publishers compete — in every sense of the word — for your church’s summer Christian Education dollars to be spent on their program. Each year the programs get more and more elaborate and involve an increasing number of ancillary products which help vindicate what each publisher spends on marketing.

And according to one publisher, each year it gets, from a Biblical viewpoint, more and more silly. Concordia Publishing has decided to swim against the current. Good for them.

On another blog that I write, I deal with issues confronting the world of Christian publishing in general and Christian bookstores in particular. Sometimes I link to articles at a Strang Publishing website called Christian Retailing, but usually I don’t need to because bookstore owners and managers already have that information covered and are regular readers there.

So normally, I wouldn’t reblog anything from Christian Retailing there, let alone here, but this is something every Kid Min director, every Children’s pastor, every Christian Education department head needs to be aware of. As always, reading at source is encouraged, click here.

Concordia Takes Stand Against VBS Entertainment Machine

Concordia Publishing House is calling on Vacation Bible School (VBS) publishers to make the gospel—not entertainment—central to their VBS programs.

“Our stand is against Vacation Bible School programs that confuse children with images and characters that are unrealistic and too similar to cartoons on TV and in the movies—where is the Christian focus?” said Emily Barlean, senior public relations specialist.

Acknowledging that VBS themes may use cartoonish figures or themes to “hook” children and get them interested in participating in a church VBS program, a company statement observed that “the steady transformation of VBS programs into full-on entertainment machines has created a rather distressing situation.

“Instead of being used to share the Word of the Lord, VBS is being used to babysit and cure boredom—and many children are leaving VBS more confused than ever as to who and what is real and who and what are just characters and stories.”

Laying the blame at the feet of publishers, parents and churches alike, Concordia, publisher for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), has spent three years refocusing its VBS brand and creating programming that remains faithful to the gospel message and the Scriptures as a whole. The publisher calls this renewed focus “VBS with Purpose.”

“After many years of trying to mold our VBS programs after what was considered fun and popular, we decided that we’d had enough,” said Pam Nummela, Concordia’s VBS editor, who is also a director of Christian education and a 30-year veteran leader of VBS programs.

Concordia’s VBS curricula will be changing significantly as a result. Stores and churches will see the publisher’s VBS programs will no longer be set in locations that cannot be found in the Bible, stories will no longer feature characters outside of the Bible, all artwork will be realistic, and “wise-cracking animals” will not be the spokesmen for Concordia VBS themes.

“Kids love all kinds of art, but that does not mean all art is best for presenting Bible stories,” said Gail Pawlitz, a childhood education expert. “During the early childhood years when children sort out for themselves what is real from what is not real, realistic images for Bible stories trump others because they communicate the idea that if ‘it looks real, it is real.’ “

…[T]o learn more about Concordia’s 2013 program, click Tell It on the Mountain.

February 1, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Ideas are always welcomed, but I’d especially like to hear from people who are in touch with electic Christian bloggers from outside North America. 

As for the drum kit (above) the blog where I sourced it (click image) says it’s claimed to be the largest drum set in the world by a church in New York state.  Can someone verify this?

  • Okay, I can’t say I’ve read every single word, but this exhaustive article on the subject of tithing is probably the best I’ve seen — author and Canadian financial consultant Leo De Siqueira really poured himself into this — but you have to read  all  three  parts.
  • Despite the popularity of the recent TV series “Big Love” and the current Broadway hit, “The Book of Mormon,” a Reuters special report quotes Mormon leaders admitting that people are currently “leaving the church in droves.” Apparently all the pop-culture attention is a double-edged sword.
  • The news story playing out about an hour down the road from where we live — involving the ‘honor killings’ of four family members — got worldwide coverage this week, and Get Religion looks closely at press coverage both in and outside Canada.
  • A tarp now covers a prayer in a high school auditorium after a federal judge ruled its presence unconstitutional; … a poem a seventh-grader wrote in 1963 that begins with the words “Our Heavenly Father”  Karen Spears Zacharias sees an irony involving the 16-year old who brought the complaint.
  • Jeff Bethke, the guy who did the viral video, Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus (now at 18,000,000 views) is back with Sex, Marriage and Family. “You might share a checkbook and a house, but are you actually friends?”
  • If The Shoe Fits Department: At least one Roman Catholic blogger thought the Bethke video was directed at his denomination, and filmed a response. Then he disabled comments, though a few got through.
  • Call me old fashioned, but you just don’t expect to see “Allah” in a scripture translation project sponsored by Wycliffe Bible Translators.  But before Jack VanImpe is all over this, let’s hear the explanation.
  • If you go to a certain ministry job-finding site, the greatest need right now is for worship pastors. But Jim Greer thinks we’re putting too much emphasis there and advancing the wrong paradigm.
  • Meanwhile, Willow Creek (and former Mars Hill Grand Rapids) worship guy Aaron Niequist as released A New Liturgy. Brad Lomenick introduces the project and its promo video.  If you already know Aaron’s music, check out (and download) Liturgy #2.
  • Pete Wilson sits down with Will, a friend and neighbor, who describes living with the consequences of childhood sexual abuse.
  • When times get tough and the pews get barren, the church gets resourceful, but blogger Josh Rhone thinks they’re taking The MacGyver approach to church.

    Wednesday List Lynx arrives late to the party

  • In the modern church, especially the American megachurch, kids are conspicuously absent, doing their own thing in a Kid Min program.  But that doesn’t fit every situation, hence the need for the Messy Church template.
  • Brett Harrison explains carefully his decision about his tattoo, which, for the record, he didn’t actually get yet.  (Not sure about the one he wants to give his 2-year old,  though.)
  • Kerri Weems offers some fasting recipes.  Wait a minute, I’m confused, isn’t that a contradiction?
  • Speaking of food, while Christianity Today isn’t switching to a format featuring restaurant reviews, they do pay a visit to The King’s Kitchen in Charlotte, NC.
  • Meanwhile, in other part of the galaxy: This is Your Wake Up Call Online is the website of Chief Inspiration Officer, Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie. Research it and get back to me, okay?
  • The graphic below originates with the photoblog Spiritual Inspiration. There are some you can use on your blog or Facebook page which are perhaps better quality than the one I chose, but I was really struck by the quotation.

January 4, 2012

Wednesday Link List

By request, a fresh take on the recurring List Lynx pun here

(B)link and you’ll miss it! 

  • Hard to imagine anyone opposing a translation of the Bible into another language, but the Jamaican patois version isn’t pleasing everyone.  Text sample: “De angel go to Mary and say to ‘er, me have news we going to make you well ‘appy. God really, really, bless you and him a walk with you all de time.”
  • Daniel Jepsen admits it’s not like him to walk out of a church service, but he did just that when the service went too far, or perhaps didn’t go far enough. Teaching the Bible would have been a refreshing addition.
  • Fuller Theological Seminary’s Kara Powell thinks that while adults and children are all sharing the same church, they’re all having a different experience of it.  In a 4-page article at CT, she suggests keeping kids in church beyond high school means giving them a faith that sticks.
  • He uses his involvement in TV and film production to evangelize well known actors, and he’s been fired by one prominent casting agency for doing so.  Steve Cha talks to Christian Post about evangelizing Hollywood.
  • This is the link to part one of the original video that Ben Breedlove posted at YouTube just days before he died on Christmas Day; though you need to watch part two to get the full story.  Gateway Church in Austin, Texas also posted the 42-minute memorial service  video in which lead pastor John Burke refers to Ben’s faith in Jesus Christ.
  • Cerebral palsy and epilepsy didn’t stop Toronto’s Robert Gagnon from completing a BA at Redeemer and an MTS at Tyndale Seminary, or from launching a new ministry for people with visible disadvantages, Abilities in Christ.
  • Here’s an interesting standup routine by Phil Long that gets some deep analysis on Tyler Braun’s blog.
  • Still haven’t made those New Year’s Resolutions?  Ann Voskamp offers five steps to help you begin.
  • Is heaven and The New Jerusalem the same thing? Think about it.  Here’s a C201 blog post that took on a life of its own in the comments.
  • Mike Breen looks at the Rainer Research Group’s ten trends for the next decade in church life.
  • The man at the center of the Jesus movement in the early 1970s, Costa Mesa California’s Calvary Church pastor Chuck Smith is now battling lung cancer though he never smoked.
  • TV Producer Mark Burnett is joining with Zondervan and the digital team that developed Glo Bible to introduce a new app, Bible 360 which will integrate with devices and social media. Sales will be through iTunes.
  • Seems a policy statement issued at Rossville Christian Academy in Tennessee is really just a mass memo directed at a single student. (The video is useless, but there’s a full text of the story when you scroll down.)
  • Time for one last Christmas image; J. R. Briggs got this from David Fitch; it’s titled Advent Distraction:

July 11, 2011

Perry Noble Lays Down The Law

NewSpring Church pastor Perry Noble has declared that he’s had enough of people arriving to church late, criticizing the music, etc.  They also have a rule that if you have to leave the auditorium during the message you cannot re-enter.  And kids under 12 are not allowed in the service at all.  A little over-the-top authoritarian?  Here’s what FBC Jax Watchdog had to say:

It ain’t easy being a member these days at NewSpring Church pastored by Perry Noble – the rules, the regulations, the sheep beatings, the curses.

According to Perry Noble, you “officially suck as a human being” if you express to Perry that you are purposely late to church because you like his preaching but don’t care for the music style.

NewSpring members need to be careful that their church doesn’t begin to fall into the category of a cult. Cults often begin by having a very demanding, charismatic leader, they will require conformity with rigid extra-biblical rules, they will devalue outsiders and non-conformists, and they will suppress dissent.

You see all four of these beginning to emerge at NewSpring. Not saying they are a cult, but when the charismatic leader starts telling people that :

  • - they can’t come back into the auditorium after the sermon starts even if they leave to tend to a child or go to the bathroom;
  • - that you suck as a human being if you disagree with the pastor over music styles;
  • - you are not allowed to designate how your donations are spent;
  • - you must give 10% of your income to the church un-designated or God will curse you;
  • - parents cannot bring children younger than 12 years of age into the church services;
  • - you must show up to church on time or you can’t get into the church service;

…then you better begin to get concerned.

So I decided to check out the sermon video for myself.  Perry makes some good points.  People have become apathetic about arriving to church on time, while they would never think to be late for work, or a sports match.  And some people seem to have no problem about the people they are distracting when they sit near the front, need to leave, and then return.  As for the issue of kids, I agree with Perry that his sermons tend toward PG-13 content.

But some of it was very disturbing to listen to.  Is something else going on here?  Where is grace in all this?  Why give up an entire Sunday sermon to an apologetic for the church’s rules and regulations?  Let’s return to the FBC Jax Watchdog blog:

Lest you think that I’m overstating things by bringing up the word “cult” – don’t forget what happened to a critic of Perry Noble’s at the hands of staff members a few years back that is the subject of an on-going lawsuit. You see from the “you suck as a human being” quote how those who even mildly express dissent are devalued by the pastor. I would say it is this kind of rhetoric from the pastor towards dissenters that breeds the actions taken by a staff member against the Noble critic back in 2008 and 2009.

Perry Noble even tells the parents that if they don’t conform to the “authority” of the church leaders, they will breed rebelliousness in the hearts of their children . No, actually subjecting one’s self to non-biblical requirements for the pleasure of the pastor might teach your kids that they must endure spiritual abuse at the hands of an over-bearing preacher.

This is classic sheep beating. A pastor is to be the picture of humility and servant-hood for the people he shepherds, but instead Perry Noble is a stand-up comedian who makes jokes about troublesome church members, denigrates Christians who disagree with him, and lays down extra-biblical rules that are burdensome on people.Unfortunately in Perry Noble and other mega pastor superstars these days, we have professional religious men who have turned Christianity from its essence: the release of sinful men and women from the burden of having to try to please God with their works and their alms through simple faith in Christ – into a strict religious system that demands conformity to religious practices, tells people how they must think and what rules they must obey to be pleasing to God and their priest, and uses tactics of guilt and shame in the process. And, oh by the way, they get filthy rich while doing it.

I’m pretty sure that if Jesus were here, he would warn the people of NewSpring about the arrogant Perry Noble and his professional religious men and describe them as he did the Pharisees:

“They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.” (Mat 23:4)

February 26, 2011

The Lord’s Table: How Young is Too Young?

Continuing where we left off yesterday…

I like the story of the little boy who wanted to take part in the communion service that followed the Sunday morning offering. When told by his mother that he was too young to take communion, the eager participant whispered loud enough to be heard five rows back, “Why not? I just paid for it, didn’t I?”

~Stan Toler in Preacher’s Magazine

Last week was Communion Sunday at our home church. We attended the 9:00 AM service so that we could actually get to a second service at 10:30 at our other home church. The 9:00 AM service is attended by families with young children who wake up early, and I was horrified to glance and see a young boy of about six or seven helping himself as the bread and wine were passed.  Maybe this story describes the kind of thing I’m referencing:

At my church, we had a special Easter night service, and we took communion. My brother was in there, and he’s only 6, so he doesn’t understand the meaning of it. When he saw the “crackers” and “grape juice” being passed around, he said “mommy! Its snack time! I want a snack too!” Obviously, he’s too young to take communion. But for those of us who do take it, do we see it as “snack time”? Communion is great.  I love to hear Pastors words describing the night when Jesus and his 12 apostles took upon the 1st Holy Communion. I think since we do take communion regularly in church, we overlook the importance there is in it.

~Summer, a 15-year old in Illinois

But not everyone agrees with this approach:

I have allowed my children to take communion ever since they have told me that they love Jesus. I think 3 was the age they were first able to verbalize that.

We explain it to them each time as the bread and wine come around, and while they dont get it all, they know they are considered ok to partake.

This would not have happened in the world I grew up in.

~Andrew Hamilton at Backyard Missionary (really good article)

The latter view is the one currently gaining popularity among Evangelical parents. And there are often compelling reasons for it. A children’s ministry specialist in New Zealand only ever posted four things on his or her blog, but one of them was this piece which argued for including all children because:

  • The historical reason: Children would be included in Passover celebration;
  • The Passover parallel: It is a means of teaching children about Christ’s deliverance for us;
  • Salvation qualifies them: If they have prayed to receive Christ, which is not exclusive to adults, they should participate;
  • The alternative is complicated: The age at which a child would be considered “ready” would actually vary for each child, and setting a specific age adds more complication;
  • Communion is an act of worship, something children should be equally participating in.

Having read that, it might be easy to conclude that this is the side to which I personally lean.

That would be a mistake.

Despite the arguments above, I really think that Summer’s comment adequately describes the situation I saw firsthand last Sunday.  As with yesterday’s piece here — Baptism: How Young is Too Young? — I think we are rushing our children to have ‘done’ certain things that perhaps we think will ‘seal’ them with God.

I thought it interesting that one of the pieces I studied in preparation for yesterday’s post suggested that the parents of children who would be strongly opposed doctrinally to infant baptism have no issues with their non-infant children being baptized very young. Another article described a boy so young they had to ‘float’ him over to the pastor, since he couldn’t touch the bottom.

I’ve often told the story of the young woman who told me that when she was confirmed in her church at age 14 — confirmation being the last ‘rite’ of spiritual passage for those churches that don’t practice believer’s baptism by immersion — she stopped attending because she ‘done’ everything there was to ‘do.’  She described it perfectly: “The day I officially joined the church was the day I left the church.”

Are we in too much of a hurry here to see our children complete these things so we can check them off a list? Are parents who would be horrified to see their daughters wearing skimpy outfits because that constitutes “growing up too fast” actually wanting their sons and daughters to “grow up spiritually too fast?”

I was eleven when my parents deemed me ready to take communion. While I question my decision to be baptized at 13, I think that this was a good age to enter into the Eucharist. I know that Catholic children receive First Communion at age seven, therefore I am fully prepared to stick to this view even if I end up part of a clear minority.


Footnote: Finding a picture to accompany this article was a reminder of how the Catholic Church has allowed remembering Christ’s death and resurrection to become an occasion for both gift giving and a party, as First Communion pictures totally dominate the available images. Of course before a Catholic of any age can receive communion they are supposed to have been to confession. The confession that precedes First Communion is called First Reconciliation and increasingly, people are visiting Christian bookstores looking for an appropriate First Reconciliation gift and card. What goes on at a First Reconciliation party? Is there a cake? Do the kids dance? I need to know!

Related post on this blog: On The Night He Was Betrayed

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