There is a picture of me when I was little in the high school wrestling room where my dad coached. In the photo, I’m sitting down on the wrestling mat with my legs crossed, drinking a chocolate milkshake. But what strikes me as I look at it now, many years later, is the fact that my eyes are wide open.
My memory of being in that room is so visceral. I remember being surrounded by the "big kids" and experiencing awe as they wrestled, fought, argued, and high-fived one another. The wrestling room was always turned up to what felt like a hundred degrees. There was nowhere else in the world like it. The rest of the world seemed dim compared to the wrestling room. It was like a furnace in there.
No wonder my eyes were wide open.
This is why I am so passionate about the life of children in the local church. God has creatively designed the local church gathering to function in the life of children like a soul-shaping, Christ-forming furnace. The little children watch the big kids and the adults with wonder as they raise their hands in worship and furiously scribble down sermon notes. When the pastor stands behind the pulpit to proclaim the crucified Christ, it feels like somebody turned the temperature of the room up to a hundred degrees. There is nothing in the world like the Sunday gathering. When God’s people gather together for worship, the next generation’s eyes are wide open.
Consider Psalm 145. For this article’s specific purpose, limit your scope to verse 4: “One generation shall praisethy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4, KJV).
It’s worth remembering that Psalm 145 is a song that King David wrote for the body of Israel to sing together in worship. Verse 4 is not merely intended for parents to sing. When Israel gathered together for worship, the singles and the childless didn’t sit down during verse 4. All of Israel would sing verse 4. I take this to mean that the local church isn’t merely suppose to "hand down the faith" to the next generation. Instead, the church is supposed to "praise down" the faith to the next generation, singing it down to those who are up next.
You don’t need another article beating you down with the numbers about the next generation’s departure from the church. But if you take all of the cold, hard numbers and boil them down into honest narratives, the reasons why children seem to depart from the church generally fit into one unified story: people seem bored at church.
In other words, the next generation’s most pressing questions about the Christian faith are not: "Is Christianity compatible with science?" or "Does Christianity provide me with ample social opportunities?"
The next generation is asking those questions, but those questions are ultimately bubbling up from a much deeper, primal question. Should you trace all of those question marks down to their deepest shared root, you would find that all of these concerns are simply rhetorical reformulations of one bigger question: "Do people really believe this stuff?"
If the local church is going to pass down the faith to the next generation, we must praise down the faith to the next generation. Here are four prayers to help get you started:
1. Pray for your church to become your grandchildren’s church. Pray for this often. If the church you belong to is anything like mine, then it’s full of young adults who are heavily medicated by "me-ology" - theology that revolves around them. Your members need help in order to view themselves in the church as one link in what is hopefully a long, long chain. Your members need to constantly be reminded that they are not the first generation of Jesus followers. This will help them celebrate timeless practices in your local church, like expository preaching and communion.
2. Pray that the gospel spark in your generation will become the gospel flame of the next generation. When the preacher begins clearly and powerfully articulate the gospel, actively pray for the toddlers and children around you to come to faith. Actively pray for this while you're sitting in a pew on Sunday morning.
3. Pray that the next generation will outsing your generation. Every Sunday, your local church probably sings five or six worship songs. If you do the math, that adds up to about eighteen hours every calendar year that you spend singing with your local church. Don’t spend eighteen hours every year mumbling. Show the next generation that the heart is like a step-on trash can: when the glory of Jesus Christ steps on the human heart, oh, how the human mouth pops open with praise!
4. Pray that your church celebrates the sights, sounds, and even the smells that next generation makes in your church. The knee-jerk reaction to a crying baby or a spilled bottle in the middle of a church service is: "That’s distracting.” But you can pray for God to convert that reaction. Instead of responding with “That’s distracting,” your church’s knee-jerk reaction can become: “That’s the type of church we are. We want to be their church!” After all, King David doesn’t specify which generation is supposed to praise God’s works to the other generation. The assumption is that it’s all generations. Maybe the noises that the children make are almost as important as the noises the adults make.
We desperately need God to regenerate the hearts of the children in our local churches. We cannot make them worship Christ Jesus. But we can show them, through song, what it looks like to breathe in God’s grace and sing out God’s praise. We can show them, in sermon, what it looks like to hungrily feast on the proclamation of God’s word. By God’s grace, we can show them what it looks like to worship Christ.
Believe me. The eyes of the next generation are wide open.