I remember being appalled when I read this. Whatever the author thought the explicit message of their talk was, the implicit message is "Don't trust the adults in church because they can trick you!."
We must always be careful that our actions don't contradict our words. But also remember that all kinds of good content can be wiped away if a child is hurting emotionally.
How should kids FEEL when they are at church? If you answered "Safe" and "Loved" then you are definitely on the right track. But how about Accepted, Welcomed, Listened-to, and Respected? Here are some thoughts on the emotional well-being of children in our church.
SAFE -- Obviously we want our classrooms and buildings to be safe. Our spaces should be clean, well-lit and in good-repair. Cleaning supplies and other chemicals should not be where inquisitive kids can get to them. Please don't leave heavy metal tables stacked against walls where they could easily fall over onto small children. Also for safety's sake - is there a check in system at church so that children can't be tracked down and taken by a predator or an estranged parent. And are you aware of all food allergies/food needs that kids might have?
Outside of the obvious physical safety, have you made sure that all your teachers and volunteers have taken SafeGuarding God's Children online Training? It is free online to churches in our diocese, so get everyone up to date with these online modules!
LOVED -- Do you know the names of the children in your church? Can you greet them when they enter? Do you let them know you are glad to see them? Are children protected and valued in your congregation?
WELCOMED -- Are all children welcomed? or only when they act a certain way? I have heard too many times adults in churches say "they're glad the children are there, but. . . ." Try to encourage adults to make the necessary changes for their own worship experience while still allowing the children to be children. As an example of this, if an adult doesn't want to be "bothered" by kids coming into the service, then encourage them to find the seat that isn't in any child's way. Help them to take ownership for the children in their midst. Remember, the whole church promises to "support these persons in their life of faith".
RESPECTED -- Do we actually listen to what the children and youth are saying? Can we respect them as humans with their own likes and dislikes, ways of being and learning? Sometimes in teaching situations we want the kids to like what we do rather than meeting them where they are. And do we ask kids opinions for some of the big decisions in church? What might they say?
Wherever these types of questions take you, think about the feelings of the children at your church. Remember that no matter how perfect your theology is, if a child feels hurt, abused, scared or ridiculed they won't hear anything you SAY about the love of God. And really - it won't BE the love of God that you are sharing.
Stay tuned for Part 3 - coming soon.