At our Awana home office we try to practice what we preach. We feel it’s important that as we disciple others, we ourselves are practicing that discipline. How can we encourage children and youth to memorize scripture if we don’t ourselves? And so for 68 years everyone at Awana, from the person in the CEO/President’s office to the youngest toddling Puggle out there, memorizes scripture.
Our ministry meetings begin with corporate recitation. Plowing through with determination, leaning into each other as our minds go blank from time to time, together we recite the passages we are learning. Currently we are learning Romans 12. Some memorize from the King James Version and others prefer the English Standard Version, the ESV… so we recite in both versions. I am one who memorizes from the King James. I admit it is a curious language, but somehow I find the rhythms of these centuries old words more memorable; thou and ye substituting for you, all those -eths suffixes… exhorteth, giveth, and ruleth for example, and then there are all those non-contracted negatives… And be ye not conformed to this world. These archaic words, though odd to our modern ears, come back to me like childhood whispers, speaking to me from my Sunday School and Vacation Bible School days. They are old friends.
Recently, while flying back home from Johannesburg, South Africa, I thought I would use my long flight time to memorize a few more verses in Romans 12. And I was doing fine until I came to verse 9. “Let love be without dissimulation.” I confess. I had to look it up. Dissimulation. It means don’t fake love, don’t pretend, don’t act like you love, don’t just go through the motions, but really love each other.
I thought of the children who come through the doors of our churches. Do we really love them, or are we just going through kidmin motions, filling a couple of hours each week with children’s programming because it’s compulsory in church life? Are we caring or just there?
Wess Stafford, the President Emeritus of Compassion Int’l, is a new Awana board member. He said something recently that struck a chord. “Maybe the most important thing that can be written in the handbook some weeks is not a checkmark for completing a memory verse, but words like “I am so glad you came. You are so precious to God and to us. We love you.”
I know it’s a radical suggestion in Awana culture, but radical love is what this achy world is crying out for. Radical love can heal a child’s life. It could keep a kid who lost his mother and father too early, a boy who is bullied, a young man who is lost and alone from picking up a gun and using it to fire randomly his pain into the world until innocent schoolmates lie bloody and dead at his feet. Oh Parkland! How we long to love your precious 17 children, but it’s too late to hug, comfort, or shield them now.
Sadly, our country seems unable to address the random violence lashing out at our most innocent ones. Our nation is experiencing a painful reoccurring loop:
Violence and debate
Violence and debate
All the while we are losing our children.
But there is something we can do, no matter which side of the gun control/political debate we take.
I believe the heartbreak of Sandy Hook, Columbine, Parkland is crying out to the church saying “Let your love be without dissimulation.” Really love us! This violent world is in need of real lovers and the church is IT! God’s people can love a child until the pain stops. We already know how to do this. God’s love made real to a child through the presence of caring adults who love radically week after week is the answer to violence, hatred and sin. We know this way of love. It is the Jesus way and in America it’s never been more needed than it is now.
What if we committed ourselves to making sure that every child within the reach of our churches knows he or she is loved by us and by God? I mean wanted, and celebrated, and really loved. Let’s commit to more than grudgingly showing up. It is the wrong time to drop children’s ministry. (Yes, we know it is getting harder to get volunteers.) It is the wrong time to settle for time-filling programming instead of “I-know-this-child” discipleship. Our world desperately needs us to understand the times in which we live. If we make a love for children our priority and the mark of our presence in our communities, our churches will grow in influence and numbers. We need no other church-growth campaigns. We need to love and reach every child…the ones from our Christian homes and the others.
Pastors I have to say this to you: Awana is your biggest fan. We are so for you. Would you think about preaching this love for children to your people? Will you consider talking about Parkland this way? You don’t have a more timely or critically important message than the love of God shining from your people to the children and families of your community.
Real love. It’s more powerful than legislation or politics or Facebook debates. This loving, self-sacrificing Jesus way is the most powerful change agent the world knows. And it doesn’t matter if you are a mega church, an urban storefront church or a congregation struggling to get by… now is the time, this heartbreaking, seemingly unsolvable time for real lovers to say, “No more. Not another Sandy Hook. No more Columbines. Parkland is the last. We will address this pain in the bud. We will love until the anger subsides. We will advocate for every child within our reach.”
The church. If 10,000 Awana churches dedicated themselves to this real love mission, it could change everything.
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Let’s be transformed by letting our love be real. Let’s go the Jesus way, not the world way. This is my prayer dear God. Let it be.