“Well, mostly we just ran off into the bush with our knives.” So answered the 11-year-old, gleefully, when I asked him about past church camp kids’ programs. He wasn’t right of course. I can’t speak to the knives—it’s Darwin, anything’s possible—but there had been kids’ programs at previous church camps.
A Good Question
At the end of camp last year, Bruce, our Youth Minister and my friend, didn’t pull any punches. Despite the carefully crafted kids program, full of Bible stories and complementary activities, minute-to-win-it, golf lessons and the kind of craft whose materials filled my car boot, he wanted to know: “why are the kids separate from the adults, in the first place?” It was a good question.
Why are the kids separate from the adults, in the first place? It was a good question.
We had spent the first half of the year talking about Intergenerational Ministry, and the recognition that church is family. In Ephesians 2 you have a motley crew of Jews and Gentiles who have been made fellow citizens in Christ; members of God’s household. And our church does the motley thing well: besides a broad age-range, we have different cultures attending, multiple languages spoken, and different life circumstances represented. We don’t make sense together apart from Christ but, because of Christ, we are family. As you know, just because something is true doesn’t mean we always “get it.”
Trying to Get it
2017 included a lot of chat, as we tried to “get it.” What we arrived at, is that church is for everyone. Not “for everyone but primarily for adults” (or children, or white people, or English speakers or married people). Church is actually, profoundly, for every kind of person who has joined the family, because they have been joined to Christ.
Church is actually, profoundly, for every kind of person who has joined the family, because they have been joined to Christ.
This doesn’t mean that everything we do at church will cater perfectly to every person. It means the opposite, really. It means that we will do all kinds of different things as we seek to make Jesus known, because we have all kinds of different people in our midst. It also doesn’t mean that we lean-in to the latest gimmick, or that everything is on the table all of a sudden. We meet to hear from God’s word, participate in the sacraments and encourage each other—that doesn’t change. The “what” and the “why” doesn’t change, but the “how” will. Instead of asking “how does this serve me?” the question becomes “how does this serve others?” as we recognise and celebrate our differences. These differences are no longer insurmountable, because we share is the truest thing that can be. We too are no longer foreigners and strangers but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household (c.f. Eph 2:19).
Trying Something Different
So what does this have to do with church camp, and kids programs, and pocket-knife loving children? It means that this year, we are trying something different. This weekend, we will head to church camp and there won’t be any minute-to-win-it supplies in my boot. Our sessions are “all-in”—which sounds like what it is. We will rattle around together, in an open shed which backs onto bushland: 79 adults, 36 kids and 18 teens. Rattle is probably the operative word.
The theme this year is “the cross,” and our speaker, Rory, will help us think through four implications of Jesus’ death on the cross for our lives—both eternal and immediate. Our sessions look a little (okay a lot) different from the norm. Rory’s talks will be split into 3 or 4 small chunks, which are interspersed with all-in games, a skit, a puppet show, songs, videos and a kids’ Bible reading. There will be worksheets for the kids to follow along with the talks, worksheets which require listening rather than tuning out. There will be a (literal) fire; a simple English communion service; there will be 20 minutes of creatively responding (in the middle of one session) via writing or drawing or craft. Turns out my boot will still be full of craft supplies—some things never change.
We aren’t doing this because it’s easier but because we are convinced that church camp is a unique time to live out the reality of being family together.
We aren’t doing this because it’s easier—in every possible way, it isn’t. But we are convinced that church camp is a unique time to live out the reality of being family together. We are excited to learn from each other, to see people interacting across age and cultural boundaries, to see people who learn differently learn together.
Chaos over Comfort
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a manifesto against teaching kids separately. We still have kids church each week, and we are committed to age-appropriate learning. We just want to change the question from “why stay together” to “why separate” and sometimes the result will be that we opt for chaos instead of comfort.
There are lots of scary statistics out there about teenagers leaving church because they feel disconnected, as well as data which indicates that most Christians first hear about Jesus when they are very young. We long for kids at St Pete’s to belong and remain and flourish in our church family. We want them to know that they aren’t an inconvenience to be tolerated, or nothing more than potential adults in the making. We want them to understand that they belong now and they have much to offer as well as gain.
We want them to understand that they belong now and they have much to offer as well as gain.
Beyond age-differences, we long for everyone who comes to St Pete’s to know that they can find a home amongst this funny group of people who are so different—but who have the most important thing in common. We can all approach the throne of grace; all know the same Lord; all lament our sin and all know the forgiveness that is found only in Jesus. We can all hear the Bible read and explained and all know it to be God’s living word as it teaches, rebukes, corrects and trains us in righteousness (2Tim 3:16).
At St Peter’s, we long to help everyone grow in Jesus. That’s our aim. It’s the sentence we repeat from the pulpit; the tagline on our five-year-plan. We don’t know how this weekend will turn out, but we pray that everyone will see their need, and Jesus’ work on their behalf, in a fresh way. We pray that we will be other-person-centred: loving, looking out for, and including each other as we have been loved and included in Christ. We pray that in the middle of our sessions, in the middle of our family, God will be at work to change us by his Spirit, and make us ever more like his Son.
To the glory of God alone.