My middle son and I recently were talking about church, specifically Sunday School and his teacher, Mr. Burney. Mr. Burney teaches in a large room, with rows of benches. Boys and girls in 4th and 5th grade sit on the benches, behind the benches, some even under the benches—as long as they will listen, he doesn’t mind. Mr. Burney, equipped with his white board, teaches a curriculum on the names of God. He asks the children to bring and use their Bible, requires their attention during class, and even asks them to complete a worksheet at home.
Mr. Burney, I explained to my son, has such a passion for God, such knowledge and experience of how good Jesus is, that he wants you and your friends to know this same Jesus. And that is why he cares that you listen, or bring your Bible, or learn even when you feel tired and don’t want to be there. God is that important to him, and so it is that important to him that you know about God too.
As boys are, my son is a man of few words, but I think it clicked with him, at least in that moment, about why in the world Mr. Burney shows up every Sunday—and has for twenty years. Why Mr. Burney cares that 4th and 5th graders learn the names of God, and thus learn who God is. It is that important to him.
Our church is full of men and women like Mr. Burney who know God and want my children to know Him better too. When my children go to church and are taught by the body of Christ in worship, children’s worship, small groups, and Sunday School, they witness what it looks like to be in a family of faith. They see a body of people who are dependent upon each other, but who are also completely dependent upon God.
But we had certainly gotten out of practice of being physically present with the church body over the past year and a half with on-again, off-again routines that changed as the pandemic evolved.
My children are still getting back in the routine of weekly, in-person Sunday School after virtual teaching and lessons, or every other week in-person class more recently. It has felt like my younger boys were surprised that they had to go their classroom for their own Sunday School when we started back full tilt this September. We had to relearn what was once a routine.
As a parent, I was beyond ready for Sunday School to start back full time. While we have been provided with wonderful resources throughout the different phases of the pandemic, my execution left something to be desired. I knew I needed the physical help and support of the church body.
God sees that parents cannot go at it alone. In his grace, he has provided people and places like Mr. Burney and the church, to come alongside parents as we raise our children. The church itself reminds us of that when we take baptism vows, pledging that “with God’s help” we will help raise the child being baptized in the knowledge of the Lord.
When we participate in the church –whether by sending our children to Sunday School, youth group, or worship, or teaching children ourselves, or praying for the students in our church — we are living out the vows that we made to God on behalf of all the church’s children (including our own) when they were baptized.
I am also one voice amidst millions of others vying for the attention of my children. As my children get older, my voice sounds different to them, or they don’t want to hear what I have to say. I might tell my son that he needs to control his temper or be respectful at school, and it sounds like the teacher in Peanuts: Wa-Wa-Wa-Wa-Wa. But if his Bible Study leader, who also happens to be a college student who throws the football with him, mentions it, he might actually hear it.
Thus, it is important that as believers, we seek out voices who will point our children to Jesus—who will show how he takes the broken places in our lives, the hard places, and redeems them. That might look Mr. Burney teaching that a name of God is Abba, or Father. It might look like a minister listening to a child whose parents are divorcing. It might look like a small group leader supporting a teenager who was caught drinking underage. Our children, and we as parents, need voices who point to the cross, where Jesus died for our sins that we might have relationship with him now and live with him forever.
If the pandemic taught me anything it taught me that I am, in fact, not enough. I didn’t pull up the Bible Story video provided to me every week; I didn’t make time to work with my boys to memorize the Scripture verse; I couldn’t make them listen during virtual worship. I need help. The Lord graciously does give us people like Mr. Burney, but more importantly, He also gives us his himself and the Holy Spirit, the Helper.
In a version of a perfect Christian, pandemic or non-pandemic world, I might have been really good at teaching my children Bible stories. I might have been really great at teaching my children to worship at home. I might get my children to church every single Sunday, follow up with excellent questions about the sermon or complete the Sunday School handout. But without the Holy Spirit at work, no amount of teaching or church attendance matters.
In fact, Jesus speaks to the role and importance of the Holy Spirit before his death, as he seeks to prepare the disciples for what is to come. He tells the disciples, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26 ) The Holy Spirit, Jesus explains, will bring who Jesus is and what he has done to life, penetrating the heart, mind, and soul of those who hear it. This is true for us as parents but also true for our children.
The question for me is not why go back to church, but how could I not go back to church? It is at the church, an imperfect place full of imperfect people, that I am taught, reminded, and reminded again of how much I need God, need his Son who rescued me, and need the Holy Spirit to be at work in myself and my children.