Post Mother’s Day Reflections

A gripping video making the rounds of Facebook recently shows a mother elephant giving birth to her baby, who is born completely unresponsive.  There is no human intervention, and the next several tense minutes show the mother’s increasingly energetic effort to get her baby breathing.  She kicks the baby with her hind foot, checks it with her trunk, and kicks again, until finally the baby takes a big gasp of air.  Within minutes she has this newborn pushed up against a pole, in spite of its loud protests, and forces it to stand unsteadily on its legs.  Within half an hour of birth, the baby elephant begins its first wobbly walk.

What a contrast to human mothers.  Our babies won’t walk until about a year after birth.  During that year they must be fed, changed, held, soothed, interacted with, and coddled.  Precious little time of the day or night is the baby out of touch or sight of a human caregiver.  Babies are extremely labor intensive.  The process of making that child self-sufficient takes another 17 years, according to our society’s standards of independence.  Many a mother of an 18 year old wonders how on earth we can consider a teenager an adult.  Current scientific research supports this thought by proving that the brain is not fully formed until the mid-20s.  Even then, every mom knows that the job of nurturing, loving, helping, and caring for their children is not done.  Motherhood never ends.

Previous cultures treated children like mini adults.  Children were seen but not heard, and sometimes they were put out of sight entirely while adults went on with their own important adult business.  The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, as modern-day parents build much of their lives around their children.  At Altadena Baptist Church we have made substantial changes in our kids programs in the past couple of years in line with current developmental understanding.  But as we do, we are very careful to think about how our programs and practices reflect our values and our faith.  How we treat our kids says something about our God.

These are some of our values that we’ve articulated:

  • Everybody who comes to church needs to be loved well.  This includes our children.  At a training for everyone who works with kids, we were taught that “the obedience of children is not God’s, nor should it be our, primary concern. Instead we want them to learn to take responsibility for themselves and each other, to ask their questions and explore faith, and join in the life of the community.  We are here to model what it is like to live in the family of God, not to enforce a set of rules.”  So our main goal is not discipline, or compliance, but love.  This marks a big shift in the way we teach.  Every child needs to know that God loves them.  A lot.  And the way they understand this is to have the adults around them love them.  A lot.
  • Everybody who has received Jesus has spiritual gifts.  This includes our children. They have something important to give to us.  A child’s worldview, a child’s simple faith, a child’s hard question–these cause us to think in new ways, and our faith grows.  A child’s praise lifts our hearts.  A child’s love melt hard corners of our own heart.  A child is built to praise God, and they can lead us to His throne of grace.
  • Everybody is a valuable and necessary part of our community. Children are valuable in themselves, apart from what they have to give.  They’re valuable as God’s loving creation.  We would be much the poorer without this gift from God.

We have put these values into action in many ways.  We have roughly 40 people working with children and youth.  This is about a third of our active congregation.  Everybody worships together every Sunday.  When we get to the “adult talking time” in the service the kids go to their own Kids’ Church, to learn and grow in a developmentally appropriate way.  But once a quarter we all stay together throughout the service.  Our goal is not that kids would learn to sit still in an adult-style worship, but that they would be engaged in worship alongside adults who are engaged in worship.  These services are much more challenging than a “normal” service, as we try be developmentally appropriate to both children and adults.

We want our ABC community to reflect the vision of God’s salvation as expressed through the prophet Zechariah.

“Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age.  And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets”  Zech. 8:4-5

The most vulnerable of our community are free to express themselves safely.

Really, we’re just following Jesus, who was light years ahead of his culture in the way he dealt with children.   We might be tempted to think that babies and children, especially the smaller they are, are all about taking, taking taking.  They’re noisy and bothersome.  They haven’t learned social niceties.  There are a lot of adults who might think: Kids-what are they good for?  At ABC we know differently.  Jesus said “Let the little children come unto me.”  We’re just thankful he let all the rest of us come to him, too.

–Pastor Connie Larson DeVaughn