This morning on the radio I heard a review of a book written by an author who noted that this year’s high school graduates are the first class to go all the way through their school years under No Child Left Behind. Whatever one thinks about that effort at improving education, one reality is that these children have grown up taught to know the answer, i.e. to fill in the oval on the answer sheet on THE TEST. The author worries that this generation consequently feels a strong need to either know one right answer or to fake it in all of life. Not knowing THE ANSWER is felt to be an admission of failure. She gives examples of situations in which that tendency has led to disastrous results.
So, what does this have to do with including children in the congregation’s worship? Well maybe worship is one arena in which we most clearly deal with that which is more than we can ever fully know or understand. Maybe in the presence of people of all ages children can hear adults admit that there are things they do not know in a tidy “mark this box” way. Maybe they can hear adults who they love and respect ponder even savor things they cannot understand as mysteries of God. Maybe we can teach them that when you know you don’t know, the thing to do is to admit it and even to accept that you may never know – and that that is OK.
This seems like a small thing, but in today’s world knowing you don’t have all the answers and are not expected to is a powerful kind of grace. It frees us to know what we do know and be fascinated rather than threatened by what we do not know. It frees us to have awe before that which is bigger than we are. And, it equips us to face those who insist that they have the one correct answer to every question.
How do we do this in worship? A couple of ways:
1. For starters, we as worship leaders can avoid feeling that we must demonstrate that we have the answers in every sermon we preach or every prayer we offer before the congregation. I grew up among adults at my church whom I thought understood everything and so expected that when I grew up I would too. Imagine my surprise! I don’t think those adults meant to mislead me. But I do think they spoke to me in all-knowing terms in part out of feeling pressure from other adults to be all-knowing leaders. So, let yourself off the hook and in the process do not pass the need to be all-knowing to the next generation.
2. We can take care, especially during times we speak directly to children, to point to the mysteries that are more than we can define and explain. Too often we try to distill faith to simple indisputable facts with children. While that has it's place, we also need to savor the possibilities and enjoy the mysteries of the God who is more than we can ever imagine.
3. The psalms and hymns are filled with awareness of what is beyond our knowing. When we highlight and explore those poems as well as simply sing or say them. We can point out the big questions with which the poets were wrestling and the troubling situations they were facing. In so doing we invite worshipers of all ages to stand in awe with the poets and equip them with prayers and songs with which to face their own lives.
There are more possibilities, but at the moment I don’t know them. If you do, please add what you know in comments.