Julia Ball is the wife to Andrew, mom to Levi and pastor to a group of amazing kids! She currently serves on staff as the Children’s & Families Pastor at Calvary Pentecostal Church in Clarenville, NL, Canada. She’s passionate about seeing all generations – but especially kids and their families – grow to understand the Gospel more and love Jesus more deeply.
If you’re part of a tradition that recites the Apostles’ Creed (or even if you’re not), you have probably heard this phrase at some time in your life:
“I believe in the holy, catholic church & in the communion of the saints.”
These words that have been recited for centuries in the church around the world have become somehow controversial in recent years. For many of us who didn’t grow up in liturgical church tradition, we stiffen up at this part of the Apostles’ Creed. Us low-church folk don’t use words like ‘catholic’ or ‘saints’ very often. It’s important to understand exactly what these words mean in this context.
Catholic (with a small “c”, as used in the creed) is defined by Webster’s as “of, relating to or forming the church universal” or “comprehensive; universal.” Essentially, when we recite the Creed and state when we believe in the catholic church, we’re not referencing a particular denomination, but stating that we believe that Jesus has formed a church – of those who believe in and follow Him – around the world, of which He is the head.
I often heard this referred to growing up as the “big-C” Church, or the “church universal.” Essentially, these phrases are our modern interpretations of this word ‘catholic.’
Saints in this context, or more specifically “communion of the saints”, is another tricky and somewhat unfamiliar phrase. If we look at the word ‘saints’ in the context of the New Testament, we quickly discover that saints didn’t refer to a select few heroes of the faith, but to all those who expressed faith in Jesus. The communion of the saints, then, summarized simply, is the privilege that those who follow Jesus have: to be connected to God, and connected to others who believe in Him. This happens through the work of the Holy Spirit, and through the community of the church.
Phew. That’s a mouthful. If I could summarize this historical phrase in just a few words, here’s what I would say:
“I believe the church matters – to me, and to God.”
While not as eloquent, and perhaps not quite as theologically deep, the words that are used here were meant – or are still meant – to remind us that God’s plan has always been the church. As Jesus prepared to leave the earth, He made his famous statement: “Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
There was no back-up plan – the Church – the body of believers who worship, serve and follow Christ – was, and is, God’s plan for this world. Encouragement, teaching, spiritual growth, outreach, and mission should all happen in the Church (and yes, I mean big “C”).
How do we explain this to our kids though? How do we make them see that the little-c church we attend each week is connected to the big-C Church around the world?
How do we make them see that it matters?
First of all, let me challenge you with this – your kids will love the church as much as the adults they know love the church. I’m talking both big-C and little-C here – your local church, and the church around the world. Kids adopt the attitudes of the adults around them – and if you are someone who always grumbles about your church after Sunday, your lack of volujnteers in kids’ ministry, the believers you know in the next town or church or province or state, or barely goes to a church because “you can do this on your own” – I guarantee your kids will have the same attitudes. Sure, God can change any heart, and God can change any attitude – but as parents (and dare I say – as leaders!?), we have a responsibility to model for the kids in our lives to model what it means to love the church.
Secondly – let your kids see the Church as more than a building, but as a family you’re a part of.
This will look different for all of us.
I have seen this sitting around a table in our church foyer covering a bazillion cardboard stars with tin-foil for summer camp – while talking and laughing with those around me. There, I’m reminded that church is where we come to serve and to be served.
I’ve seen this as I’ve watched a 7-year old proudly stand in front of our church to be baptized – and saw eyes light up and hugs after the service. Then, I was reminded, the church is a place where we grow in our faith, and celebrate others who do.
As families in our church face difficulties and sickness, I’m reminded that the church is a family that bears one another’s burdens. As people visit each other in the hospital, bring meals and pass along money inside cards, I see the Holy Spirit working in and through them to encourage.
I want the kids in our churches to know this too.
I want them to see it modelled and lived out – day in, day out.
I want our church to be a place of diversity – in age, race and socioeconomic status – but where everyone is embraced as family.
I believe this piece of theology is taught best through practice. The Church is a very practical, real-world thing. It’s not just a concept or theory.
So if you want your kids to understand and believe in the importance of the church –
Participate in it, and allow your kids to participate too.
Talk honestly about church, but favourably.
Affirm them as an important part of the church family.
Find practical ways to love those around you.
Point out ways God is at work in and through your church.
Let your kids see – and then hopefully believe – that the Church is God’s plan. It matters because He says it matters.
If you’re looking for some resources on this topic, here are some of my favourites: