Another September rolls around. If you’re a typical worship and liturgy planner, you’re probably thinking, “We really ought to highlight the beginning of another season of education.” On the heels of that thought comes another: “We need to commission our education leaders. Where do we find a liturgy for that?” You might rummage through your files, hoping to cobble something together. And that may be the end of it, at least until next September.
But doesn’t church education deserve more than a token nod? A Lilly Foundation study in 1991 concluded that an effective church education program is second only to parental influence in promoting and fostering
spiritual growth in youth and adults in the church. Yet church education has suffered a decline in status—more and more churches are finding that it’s harder to get committed teachers and leaders. At the same time, fewer people—both children and adults—are attending church school classes.
A regional governing body of the Christian Reformed Church decided to do something about this trend. One of the recommendations adopted at a subsequent meeting was to declare September 2001 “Joy of Growing” month. This four-week series is based on a package of resources—including Scripture passages and themes, sermon notes, children’s messages, song suggestions, prayer guides, bulletin notes, and a commissioning service—designed to help churches highlight the joy that comes from growing “in the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
The Theme, Scripture, and Sermon notes come from services held at Covenant Christian Reformed Church (Edmonton, Alberta), as does the commissioning service for Week Two.
Week one: The joy of hearing god’s word
The congregation reenacted the Scripture reading as described in this passage. Elders came forward and stood on either side of the pastor as he read; the congregation stood during the reading of the Word. At the end of the passage, members were invited to raise their hands and respond as the Israelites did, with the words “Amen! Amen!”
Often we feel pretty good about living—until we’re swamped by the treacherous high seas of life. The people of Israel experienced this as their once-powerful nation was led into captivity and then returned to find Jerusalem in ruins. Into the chaos comes the powerful Word of God, which, as Isaiah says, will not return empty. God’s Word inspires joy in our lives too as we realize that God wants to have a relationship with us. God comes to us in the chaos and calls us to himself. Our joy in the knowledge of God’s grace inspires us to reach out and share that joy with others.
Children’s Message: Where It All Begins
Bring as many different Bibles as possible to show the children: especially Bibles in different languages and formats (a Bible on tape, a Braille Bible, one on a computer disk). Talk about how important the Word of God is. People have died because they believed it or have been persecuted for owning it. Missionaries leave their homes and families to share its message with others. People’s lives have changed because they learned from it about God’s love for them. The Bible is God’s gift to us, and when we read its words and obey them, we grow.
Note: You may want to include these suggestions for prayer in your bulletin each week.
This week, ask your congregation to focus on church school. Pray for
- church school superintendents
- education committee
- Christian publishers of biblical resources
- denominational leadership in this area
- church school teachers, song leaders, helpers
- adult discipleship ministries
Week two: Commissioning service The Joy of spiritual maturing
Note: for complete service, see pages 24–25.
People are streaming to Jesus to find out more about the new kingdom. But Jesus knows that the darkness in our hearts is not easily overcome by mere curiosity. This story from Luke, with its negatives and positives, is both invitation and warning. People who hold fast to the Word and bury it in their hearts will produce a crop. The emphasis in this parable is always on hearing the Word, not on doing the work. The seed is obedient to its calling; God does the work.
Children’s Message: Seeds
Bring along a seed (such as a sunflower seed or apple seed; you’ll be using it again in Week Four). Hold it tightly in your hand and tell the children you would like them to guess what you’re holding. Give clues: it’s something very small inside of which hides something very big; something not very pretty that changes into something lovely. When the children have guessed correctly, talk about the life of the seed: how it’s planted and watered, how it begins to grow and send roots into the soil and tender shoots into the sunshine, how it sprouts leaves and flowers that eventually produce more seeds. Describe the growth of the plant, reminding children how much joy there is in watching that seed grow and change and become everything that God had in mind for the seed. Wonder with the children about how something so small can grow into something so big and lovely. End by giving thanks for God’s plan for seeds and plants.
This week ask your congregation to pray for your girls’ and boys’ club programs. Pray for
- specific programs in your church
- the boys and girls who attend them
- the leaders and coordinators
- the outreach potential of clubs
- families and parents
- growth of club programs to other venues
Week Three: The Joy of stepping out in Faith
This passage tells us about people being appointed to an incredible enterprise—the kingdom of God. Jesus is claiming every square inch of this planet, and he is appointing his followers to go before him as his representatives. Jesus is calling us to accept his lordship, to step out in faith, to take risks, to sense the urgency of the mission. Accepting his challenge stretches us, tests us, and brings us tremendous blessings and joy.
Children’s Message: Testing, Testing . . .
Take along a root-bound plant in a pot. Remove the pot and show the children the roots. Tell them that when the roots fill the pot, no further growth can take place. A good gardener knows that the plant needs to be divided in two. (You may wish to do so with the children at this time.) This may seem like it would hurt the plant, but actually it’s important for the plant’s health. Remind the children that they are sometimes uprooted too. When they move into a new grade or school, they might miss their friends and former teachers, but if they don’t move into a new class, they won’t learn new things and grow. Growing and learning may be hard sometimes, but it’s also exciting and fun. Sometimes we need to do scary things so we can grow up to be all that God wants us to be.
This week ask your congregation to pray for teen and young adult ministries. Pray for
- the church to be a welcoming place for young people
- leaders of youth/young adult groups
- young people and their specific needs
- ministries that use the gifts of youth
- families of youth
- organizations that support youth ministries
- youth pastors and other people in leadership
Consider using one or more of these songs as a theme song for this month:
“Lord, Let My Heart Be Good Soil” SNC 79
“The Tree Song” (www.kenmedema.com)
“As Trees from Tiny Seeds Can Grow” A Singing Faith 27, Jane Parker Huber, Westminster Press, © 1981
“How Blest are They, Who Fearing God” PsH 1 (st. 1-3)
“I am the Holy Vine” PsH 220
“My Friends, May You Grow in Grace” SNC 288
“Tell Your Children” PsH 588
Week four: The Joy of church growth
“Take, O Take Me as I Am” SNC 215
The apostle Paul is like a coach who sees a rag-tag team that’s just beginning to play together. He knows the team is not as good as it will eventually be, but he sees great possibilities. When God breathes the Holy Spirit into the church, it grows into something wonderful, “bearing fruit into every good work” like the early church described in Acts 2:42-47. In one sense our problem is that we think too small. We have no idea what we can become once God answers our prayers, “filling us with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”
Children’s Message: Spread the Word
Bring the seed you showed in Week Two, as well as a seed head or a fruit containing seeds. Review with the children what you discussed about plants. Tell them you have another riddle: how many seeds are inside the tiny seed head or fruit you are holding? Let them guess and wonder about this, then let the children begin counting how many seeds have been produced by a plant that grew from one tiny seed. As the children marvel at the numerous seeds, rejoice with them in God’s good design for growing things to spread and multiply. That includes people. That includes Christians. That includes God’s love. God wants it to spread all over the world.
This week ask your congregation to focus on church leadership and outreach. Pray for
- denominational bodies that promote educational enterprises
- pastors and councils in your own congregation
- congregational leaders of outreach ministries
- new attenders at your church
- inclusive congregational hospitality and fellowship
- adult classes, small groups, and fellowships
- education, discipleship, outreach, and youth ministry leadership
Scripture Passages on the Themes of Joy and Growing
- 1 Chronicles 29:17: joy in giving
- Deuteronomy 16:15: joy in the blessings of the harvest and in giving thanks
- 1 Chronicles 16:27: joy in God’s dwelling place
- Nehemiah 8:12: the joy of understanding God Word
- Esther 9:22: deliverance brings joy
- Psalms 4:7; 5:11; 16:11; 21:6; 51:12; and others: God is the ultimate source of joy
- Psalm 19:8; 119:11; Jeremiah 15:16: God’s precepts bring joy
- Psalms 42:4; 43:4: worshiping God brings joy to the believer
- Psalm 92:4: the works of God’s hands are a source of joy
- Proverbs 10:1; 15:10: a wise child brings joy to a parent’s heart
- Proverbs 10:28: righteousness produces joy
- Isaiah 9:3; 35:2, 6; Jeremiah 31:12; Luke 10:17: fruitfulness produces joyful hearts
- Isaiah 44:23; 48:20; 49:13; 51:3; 52:9: knowing that God is our Redeemer and Comforter inspires joy
- Matthew 13:44: the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure; finding it is joy
- John 16:22, 24; John 17:13; Acts 8:8; 13:52;
- Romans 14:17; Galatians 5:22: joy accompanies the Holy Spirit’s presence
- Philemon 1:7; 2 Timothy 1:4: seeing other people grow brings joy to our lives
- Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 8: parable of the Sower
- Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 13: parable of the mustard seed
- Matthew 13: parable of the weeds
- Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21: parable of the fig tree
- Mark 4:26-29: parable of the growing seeds
- Luke 13:6-9: parable of the unfruitful fig tree
- Ephesians 3:17: roots
- John 15:1-17: the vine and the branches
- Matthew 7:15-20; Philippians 1:3-11: fruit
- Hebrews 5:12-13: dependent baby, feeding on the milk of the word
- Matthew 18:1-6; Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48: becoming and being like children
- Joel 2:28-29: sons and daughters will prophesy, old men dream dreams, young men see visions
- Hebrews 5:11: mature Christians