“[And Jesus said] ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in My name welcomes Me. If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in Me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea.’” (Matthew 18:5f NRSV)
My… how things have changed! I pulled out the Church Information Form (CIF) that I received 16 years ago when I was looking to serve a church. The form was filled out in 1999 for First Presbyterian Church of Santa Ana. And the form was a kind of resume for FPCSA. Here’s how the narrative portion begins:
“Standing before this congregation, you would see that we are predominantly Caucasian (Anglo), with less than 8% being black, Hispanic or Asian.” Wow! 92% Caucasian. In a community that was 15% Asian, 2% Black, 35% Caucasian, and 48% Hispanic, the congregation was 92% Caucasian! The congregation did not represent the community very well. My, my… how things have changed! Now Hispanics represent a third (or more) of our membership (as well as our leadership), and Asians are around 10%. That, combined with our partnership with the Kenyan congregation means we are a healthfully mixed up bunch!
But one thing has not changed: a commitment to youth and children. In the CIF there were four initiatives that the leaders wished to focus on in the life of the church. The first was this, “Ministering to our church family: We will focus on young families, yet maintain our strong ministry to our older members. We will focus on youth. Programs will be created to allow all generations to minister to each other.” I hope we never forget that focus on children and youth.
This statement was followed up by a strategy in the Congregational Study, which stated, “Build staff, develop church leaders, and redirect budget/program resources to emphasize youth and young families, which will complement and strengthen our existing ministries.” I wonder how many of our longer-term members remember this emphasis. Certainly, many of our long-term members remember the dynamic and large children’s and youth programs of yesteryear.
We recently did a sermon series on “Welcoming the Stranger” using the verse where Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed Me.” In that sermon series, we looked at how Jesus identified with the stranger, the sojourner, the resident alien. But in the above verse, Jesus identifies with children: “Whoever welcomes one such child in My name welcomes Me.” Do we see the face of Jesus in the face of children at our church?
If we could step back 2,000 years, and stand in the Jerusalem temple when Jesus came as a youth (Luke 2:41ff), how would we treat Him? Knowing what we know today, wouldn’t we rush to serve Him? Wouldn’t we do everything in our power to encourage Him, to support Him, to love Him? Then that’s the way we should treat every, single child who walks into our church. See the face of Jesus in the face of a child.
I remember when I interviewed for the position of pastor here at FPCSA, I said, “After the pastor, the most important staff position is the director of children’s ministry. And after that person, the next most important position is the director of youth ministry.” If any church hopes to grow, they must emphasize ministry to young families. If the children and youth are happy, then mom and dad are happy. If the children and youth are growing in their faith, then mom and dad are even happier! Now please don’t take this comment in the wrong direction to say (what I am NOT saying) that the other staff positions are not important. I’m not saying that. I’m just saying, let’s remember our priorities.
Summer time is a time when we focus special attention on children and youth. Many pastors take a breath in July and August, as adult programs stop meeting for the summer and activities slow down. But youth pastors and children’s pastors kick it into high gear. This month of July we have Vacation Bible School from Monday, July 18th, through Friday, July22nd. VBS will run from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. VBS Sunday will be on July 24th. We could use volunteers and resources. If you can help in any way, please speak to Pastor Peter Kim.
In past years, we’ve had as many as 50 children come to VBS. That’s substantially more than what we see on Sunday morning. That means we have kids coming from the neighborhood who do not come during the school year. Pray for our children’s ministry, as well as our Hispanic ministry, as they seek to invite children from the neighborhood, but more importantly, seek to invite them to join in the ministry at FPCSA. We see VBS not only as a service to the neighborhood, but also an outreach to attract new members.
I’ll also be doing the summer adventures with the youth (high school and middle school students). We’ll try several adventures: visit the Reagan Library to see the Vatican exhibit; a Surf Camp to Dana Point; and, a day/night to Santa Monica Pier. We need drivers. If you’re available and willing, please contact me. Please. We need you!
Jesus placed a high priority on children. Let’s never forget that. Our congregation has maintained a high priority on children’s and youth ministries. Let’s never forget that. Let’s see the face of Jesus in the face of every child and young person who enters our church building. And let’s encourage them, support them, and love them.
In Christ’s Love & Service,