Sermon for Sunday April 22nd, 2012

How to Keep Kids Coming to Church After Confirmation by Dr. Marc Axelrod

Mark 10:13-10:16

One Sunday after church Mom asked her very young daughter what the lesson was about. Her daughter answered "Don’t be scared, you’ll get your quilts."

Needless to say, mom was perplexed. Later in the day, the pastor stopped by for tea. Mom asked him what that morning’s Sunday school lesson was about. He said "Be not afraid, your comforter is coming.
I LOVE having the kids in church! You never know what they’re going to say next! When it’s time for the children’s sermon, I love how some don’t just walk up to the front, they RACE up to the front!

That models for us the way WE should approach time with God! We shouldn’t say “Aw man, another boring day in church.” We should come to church with a SPRING in our step! We should be EXCITED to have this time of worship! We should be ECSTATIC to learn the great truths of God! Psalm 122:1 says “I REJOICED with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

But as the kids get older, the worst thing that can happen to them, happens to them. They get busy. They have school. They have pep band. They have sports. They have boyfriends. They have jobs. They have hobbies. Pretty soon, the initial enthusiasm for being in the presence of Jesus has been choked out by all these other things.

So I’m going to take us back to a great passage of Scripture, where parents and children were equally excited about coming to Jesus. We’re also going to discuss what we can do as a congregation to keep our kids coming to church.

We’re in Mark chapter ten. The message of Mark’s Gospel is that following Jesus demands faith and commitment rather than fear. In Mark 10 beginning in verse 13, we see the faith of the parents who were bringing their little children to Jesus. The term “little children” can be used to describe babies, like the baby Jesus in Matthew 2:10, but also of little kids old enough to stand on their own two feet, as in Matthew 18:1-2. Picture the disciples standing in front of Jesus, listening to His teaching about marriage.

Suddenly, they hear the sounds of toddlers, tykes, and babies! Moms and dads are carrying their little ones to the Lord! The older kids are screaming “IT’S JESUS!” They run to Him! They sit on His lap! “Tell us a story, Jesus! Teach us what heaven is like! Teach us about God! Tell us stories about the angels!”

It’s a wonderful scene! I borrowed a picture from downstairs to try to show you what it was like. You have all these kids sitting around Jesus, and He’s blessing them and encouraging them and teaching them! (I doubt that kids in Israel really had dishwater blond hair, but we can overlook that! The point is that these kids are welcome in the presence of Jesus!

The disciples should have been thrilled! “Praise the Lord! God has blessed us with an awesome children’s ministry! This is the first Vacation Bible School in history!”

But instead, the disciples rebuke the parents! The word “rebuke” means “to censure someone sternly, to express strong disapproval.” The same word is used in Mark 4:39 when Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves! It’s used again in Mark 9:25 when Jesus rebuked an evil spirit! So the disciples were rebuking these parents in the same way Jesus rebukes demons! They say “This isn’t Daddy Day Care! This is seminary for serious” Bible students! How is Jesus supposed to get any teaching done with all this noise? Take these kids home!!”

Let’s imagine what this scene would look like today. You bring your three kids to visit one of the local churches. You’re a little nervous. You’re not sure what to expect.

You’re just getting situated and comfortable when a big burly usher approaches your row of seats and says “Ahem. Maam?”

You say “Yes?”

“I’m sorry. Your kids are going to have to go down to the child care center.

You say “We want to attend church as a family. Our kids prefer to be up here with us. Can’t we just enjoy the service and talk to the child care people next week?”

Sorry maam. Rules of the church.”

You say “If that’s the way you treat guests in your church, then you can have it!” That’s when you get up and head over to Peace Evangelical and Reformed Church in Potter!

Situations like that make parents mad. But it also makes Jesus mad! Verse 14 says that when Jesus sees how the apostles treat young families, He was indignant! Indignant literally means “to be aroused with anger.” There are other places in the Bible where Jesus got angry. In Mark 3:5, He asked the folks in the synagogue, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath, to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” No one said a word, and the Bible tells us that Jesus was deeply distressed and angry.

But this is the only place in the Bible that tells us that Jesus was indignant with anger. He has strong feelings about the way we welcome kids. How do I know that? In Matthew 18:5, He says “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes Me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones to sin who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

And the Lord’s convictions about kids are just as strong here in Mark 10. He says “Let the little children come to Me. Let the kids who want to be here be here!”

Then he says "do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” God’s kingdom belongs to anyone who runs to Him with joyful and reckless abandon.

When people go to Lambeau Field, they get so excited about the Packers that some people are tailgating two hours before kickoff! They can’t wait to get inside to watch the game.

I believe that church is the best game in town! I believe that we should come in here more geeked up to worship Jesus than we are when we go to a football game.

Now notice what Jesus says in verse 15, “If we don’t approach Christ’s kingdom with the same joyful abandon as these kids, we will never enter it!” When these kids came running up to Jesus, they didn’t have any second thoughts: “What will my mom think? What will the apostles think? What will my friends say?” They came running to Jesus because He was the most special person in their lives!

When was the last time YOU felt that way about Jesus? Have you lost that loving feeling? Are you trying to get the feeling again? Are you lost without His love? It’s time for you to raise your hands and open your heart to God’s love like you did when you were little!

Then in verse 16, Jesus takes the children in His arms and blesses them. This is an ancient Jewish custom that goes all the way back to the book of Genesis. In Genesis 48:14, as Jacob is getting ready to die, Joseph brings his grandchildren, and Jacob places his hands on their heads, and he blesses them.

Jesus goes a step further by taking them in His arms! He probably said something like this: “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face to shine on you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift His countenance upon you and give you His peace. Amen.”

You say “Why do kids sometimes lose interest in church as they get older?” Sometimes the preacher has to take responsibility. Sometimes we don’t know how to speak the Word in a way that connects with kids, and the kids end up getting bored.

Reminds me of the church service where a lady’s teenage son got up in the middle of the message, and walked out of church. A few seconds later, the woman got up and quickly followed her son out of church.

After the service, the lady said "I’m so embarrassed about my son walking out in the middle of the sermon. I hope you don’t take it personal."

He said “It distracted me a little bit."

She said "It’s not a reflection on you. Dave’s been walking in his sleep ever since he was little."

Not every sermon is going to hit home with every child. But as a minister, I need to ask God to fill me with the Holy Spirit so that kids will respond to the message.

But sometimes the parents bear some responsibility for kids losing interest in the church. If they have to choose between a Sunday morning tournament or a Sunday morning worship service, sometimes the tournament wins.

And sometimes, the student forgets that confirmation is not graduation. Confirmation makes you stronger in your faith, but we don’t graduate till we get to heaven! I’ve got a Master of Divinity degree and a Doctor of Ministry degree, and I still need the church! I need the fellowship! I need the worship! I need the encouragement! I need the love! Hebrews 10:25 says “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage on another – and all the more as you see the day approaching.”

And sometimes kids are awake till the wee morning hours, and are too tired to get out of bed for church. But I encourage you to prepare for worship the night before by praying up, reading up, and resting up, so that on Sunday, you can show up.

And when you come to church, I recommend 2 more things: Number one: If possible, come early. If you can’t come early, it’s all right. Life’s crazy. I get it.

But if you show up 15 minutes early to focus your heart on God, you won’t be stressed out and you’ll be able to focus more on the message.

Number two: Come expectantly. Come to church expecting to hear a word from God that will change your life! 2 Chronicles 15:15 says that the people sought God eagerly, and He was found by them."

Right now, Peace Church is doing three great things to encourage kids to keep coming to church after confirmation. Number one: We are creating an environment for fellowship. The high school Sunday school class is amazing! The room is totally decorated with sayings and slogans and Scriptures and posters! There’s a huge “Jesus Loves U” poster created by Danielle, Kate, and Katelynn.

And Dr Tom and Anne are teaching the word of God, but they conduct the class as a discussion rather than as a lecture, and every student’s viewpoint is important. One parent said to me last year “My daughter LOVES Sunday school! She looks forward to that high school class all week long!” The class is a community of friendship and fellowship. They had so much fun last year that they even met during the summer! That’s the first time EVER a Sunday school class has continued into the summer!

We have 20 members of the youth group who are in high school right now. 13 of them still come to church at least twice a month. That’s 65%. I won’t be totally satisfied until it’s 100%, but in this day and age, 65% is not bad. A big reason is because of the spiritual influence of the Peace Church teaching staff. Isaiah 55:11 says that God’s Word “will not go out void, but will accomplish what God desires and achieve the purpose for which He sent it.”

A second thing we’re doing to keep kids coming to church after confirmation is to create a community of outreach. Last year, the youth group invited friends to our annual thirty hour famine, and the kids loved it! It had to be a work of the Holy Spirit, because when was the last time you heard about 38 kids who WANT to be in church for 30 hours without food? That’s gotta be a God thing!

Now I’ll be the first person to admit that I don’t enjoy going without food for thirty hours. I even said to the kids, “How about this year, we fast for 30 hours from cellphones, ipods, ipads, laptops and computers?” The kids said “ARE YOU CRAZY? WE CAN’T GO 30 hours without our cellphones!!!!!!” It was worth a try.

Last year, I preached the gospel on an empty stomach, and a number of kids raised their hands to receive Christ! In fact, we’ve had one or two families become a part of our church family because their kids were ministered to during the 30 Hour Famine! The youth group has created a great environment for outreach.

A third thing we’re doing is we are creating a community of leadership. The kids did a brat fry to raise money for an orphanage in Ethiopia, they went down to the nursing home in Chilton to sing Christmas songs to the seniors, and they put together some excellent holiday themed worship services. 1 Timothy 4:12 says “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young but set an example for the believers in life, love, faith, purity, and speech.”

But our scripture passage mentions one thing parents need to do. You need to keep bringing your kids to Christ and the church, just like the parents did in this Bible story. Chuck Smith is the pastor of Calvary Church in southern California. He said “When I was a kid, I had a drug problem. My mother “drug” me to church every Sunday. She “drug” me to church on Sunday night. She “drug” me to daily Vacation Bible School every summer, and I am still under the influence of those “drugs” today. I thank God for my “drug” problem.

Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. They might not like it right away. But the Holy Spirit will eventually bypass their defenses and touch their hearts with the truth of God.

And maybe there’s someone here today who needs to come to the Lord Jesus. It’s time for you to run to Him in prayer. Ask Him to forgive your sins and give you eternal life make you the kind of person He created you to be, and He will! Why? Because Jesus loves you, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.