This year, as with the last several years, we have ended by singing some Christmas carols and praying together. Tonight we had the kids up front and their parents sitting in the first couple rows of pews in the dark sanctuary, with the freshly lit tree shining out in all its glory. I look at these bright faces and I wonder: how will God use these children to build his kingdom? For four years most of them have been coming with their parents to lead Alpha in some form. They have grown into friendships together. There's no question that this group of children owns the church -- just watch them! They have strong opinions about the best ways to do ministry. They assume, from living with their parents' modeling, that it is right and proper not only to worship on Sunday, but to stand around after worship and talk to your best friends, who of course worship with you. And not only that, but you should also expect that you are giving your life away a few hours a week in some ministry that leads people closer to Jesus in very specific ways. They've learned by watching that when you have trouble in your family, you go to this same group of believing friends, and one of those friends is probably a pastor or other church leader, and that's also a good place to go for help and support. They've heard their parents and their parents' friends ( who are really more like extended family) talk about taking risks and making sacrifices because that's where God is leading them. They've overheard conversations about doing the right thing no matter what it costs, and about how to know what the right thing is. All in all, I think these kids have a pretty strong foundation for understanding what it means to love Jesus with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. I can easily imagine them in twos and threes when they hit college age going off to do a summer stint in Knoxville or Kenya or Kazakhstan or Kuala Lumpur, because they're convinced that is where Jesus is leading them. Yes, it will cost them something, but they've learned that is to be expected.
This group of shining kids gives me a sense of excitement for what God is doing in his kingdom. They love to sing, and to pray, and to serve, and their attention spans run out as fast as any other kids', and some of them can throw a mean spiral and they know all the best hiding places in the church. But they also have a deep-rooted sense of holiness, an awareness of the presence of God. When we say, "Let's pray" during the evening, they know exactly who they're talking to. It's beautiful to see.