By Jerry Harris
I have many fond childhood memories of Christmas. I remember the silver tree we set up in our front picture window. We shined a filtered light on it that changed its color to red, green, blue, and yellow. My older brother would attempt to hypnotize me by setting me in front of it. I remember getting a Close’n Play record player one Christmas that didn’t survive the day. I remember sneaking up behind my deaf uncle, who had fallen asleep in my dad’s chair; we made a huge racket, convinced he was faking not being able to hear. He never even flinched. I remember the Rankin/Bass TV specials featuring Rudolph, Santa, and Frosty.
I also remember the church Christmas pageants, the candlelight Christmas Eve services, caroling, and flannelgraph stories of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph being visited by shepherds with angels overhead and animals surrounding the manger. I remember Christmas choir cantatas at church followed by eating sugar-topped Christmas cookies in the fellowship hall. And I remember my parents reading the Christmas story before we were sent off to bed on Christmas Eve. Church played a central role in my understanding of Christmas and life in general when I was growing up. It was a defining context in my life.
And it wasn’t just a Christmas or an Easter thing. A Sunday school teacher first challenged me that my decision to follow Christ must be a personal one . . . that it wasn’t enough to be raised in a Christian family. I remember speaking with my father about making my own decision. Back then, the minister still did all the baptizing at church, but my father insisted on standing in the water with me when our minister immersed me.
While others were in Scouts, I advanced through the ranks of Jet Cadets. While they were joining school clubs, I was studying for our next Bible Bowl round-robin. I remember performing with my youth choir at the Lincoln Talent Rally—and winning—and I remember singing “Pass It On” around the fire at summer camp next to a girl I had asked to the banquet on the last day. In so many ways, my formative life was shaped by the context of church.
This issue focuses on what we in the Christian church were once the best at: training our children to be disciples of Jesus. As the articles explain, the norms and resources for training have changed dramatically, and our church’s present and future will reflect it. As church leaders, one of our most sacred responsibilities is to be custodians of sound teaching and social engagement with our children. So, how are we doing? How much of our leadership energy is focused on being the very best in this area?
Focusing on children is intuitive during the Christmas season. Whether its preschool programs (with angels sporting wings made from clothes hangers, satin, and ribbon), piano recitals featuring carols, or choirs singing the latest arrangement of “The Little Drummer Boy,” the season focuses on children. That’s evident by the presents under the tree, the ugly pipe cleaner/construction paper ornaments we’ve all made, and the family pictures on Christmas cards.
But the greatest responsibility we have as leaders—and the greatest gift we can pass along—is how we reproduce the eternal hope we have as believers and followers of Jesus.
I pray this issue helps us to focus on that sacred trust.