I visited a church one Sunday and sat in the back pew. I generally lead worship for the congregation I serve and sit near the pulpit. But this particular Sunday afforded a different view and perspective on belonging.
Seated a few rows in front of me and on the other side of the aisle were a father and his son, probably about the age of seven years. What caught my attention was the boy’s head bowed in concentration over his Bible — just like his dad. Dad was apparently following along with the Gospel lesson being read at that moment in the worship service. The child looked to have the book open to the beginning, around the neighborhood of Genesis. When the preacher finished, both father and son closed their Bibles and returned them to the pew racks.
I realize that there are churches in which this child would not have been in the sanctuary for either the Scripture reading or the sermon that followed. There are arguments in favor of providing Christian education that is appropriate for different ages, including specific to our youngest disciples. Some might contend that a parent and a visitor seated a few rows back are better able to concentrate on the message if children are taken elsewhere.
Yet, I remembered while watching this scene that some lessons “are caught, not taught,” as Fred Rogers put it. It’s relevant to note that this father and son wore nearly identical brown loafers, each without socks. Just like wardrobes, attitudes are modeled for children. The child’s apparent reverence for the biblical reading may well be the beginning of a lifetime of faith.
I’m also wary of being too quick to judge what a child comprehends. After all, Jesus did not say you needed a graduate degree to enter the kingdom of heaven! He said we are to become like little children (Matthew 18:3). Ironically, the biggest shoes to fill may be worn by the littlest feet.
After the preacher finished the sermon, the adult choir sang an anthem. Then, it was time for the offering. Two little kids, likely a brother and sister, were in the pew behind me. Rather than wait for the ushers to come to them, they sprang into the aisle and danced their way to the collection plates. The usher, to his immense (possibly everlasting) credit, stopped what he was doing and bent down. The kids gave their dollar bills for the collection with grins that gleamed brighter than the silver plates.
Perhaps there are some who would say that these very young disciples did not “belong” in church with the adults. But “belong” is derived from Old English in which the prefix be- is an intensifier — “be-long” means to “pertain to something very strongly.” Jesus asked for this intensity when he said let the little children come!
While I worshipped that day by hearing a profound sermon and listening to gorgeous harmonies from a talented adult choir, I was blessed to be in the children’s church. Even now, I can see their bowed heads and sockless shoes, their dancing and bright smiles.