| from Julie LaQuey |
My husband and I grew up in churches where we attended Bible study classes and corporate worship times at least once a week. Our Bible study classes were often segregated by age, gender, or life stage. But the corporate worship times included the whole church community, with perhaps the exception of very small children or those who had significant difficulty participating.
We recognize now the considerable impact of being included in these church communities.
Dr. Kathy Koch speaks of our core need to belong in her book Five to Thrive. Significantly, the first place most people experience belonging is within the nuclear family, with our parents and siblings. The second place where belonging is most crucial, in my experience, is in the church. It is within the church that children can first experience relationships with people of all ages in a safe and loving environment.
When a child accepts Christ as their Lord and Savior, they become a member of the body of Christ. As they learn about what this means, they learn to submit to authority, with submission to Christ as the head of the church and ultimate authority. They also can discover gifts God has given them and how those correspond to God’s gifts to others.
This past weekend, we attended a small church where children sat on the front row together. During the time for prayer requests, one young girl spoke confidently, knowing that she would be heard and valued, apparently even when she often prayed for snow.
In church, children can learn to appreciate individuals with various personalities, genders, races, backgrounds, and cultures. They can begin to recognize how a wide variety of people can work together towards common goals. They begin to appreciate the strengths and talents of people who are different from them within the context of shared belief in God and a common goal of growth for all.
Even very small children can find belonging in the church. When our kids were as young as four years old, we brought them into corporate worship times with us. They learned to sit quietly, perhaps while coloring, reading, or playing with a small toy, but also listening and observing. They began to understand reverence for God and the importance of worship. We enjoyed fellowship at potluck dinners and various church events, and our children were known and included. They knew they belonged there.
Now that our children are older, they retain this understanding that they belong in church.
If children feel unwelcome, they may not develop this understanding of belonging in the church. Our response to children in the church is important. The ministry of Celebrate Kids is aptly titled because it is vital that we celebrate kids in our families and our churches. Individuals with disabilities also belong in the church and should seek out and find their belonging there.
Our daughter Abby has Down syndrome. Throughout Abby’s life, we have sought to find groups where she would know that she belongs. There have been times we experienced rejection. When we knew we didn’t belong, we moved on to find a place where we were embraced, welcomed, and where all our kids were celebrated. Unfortunately, some families experience rejection so often that they resign themselves to isolation.
We learn in 1 Corinthians 12 about gifts God lavishes upon the members of the church. In verse 12, we read, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” And in verse 18, we are told that “God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”
It’s worth taking time to think about how individuals with disabilities belong in the church and how you might help them know they belong. In verse 22 of 1 Corinthians 12, we read, “Those parts of the body that seem weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
Many are familiar with the chapter that follows, 1 Corinthians 13, as it describes love. Interestingly, chapter 14 then teaches about having order in our worship times together. As we strive to understand these truths and how they fit together, I pray that we will learn to help both children and individuals with disabilities know they belong in church. As we seek to maintain order in worship times, and as we balance that with honoring children and those with special needs, may we demonstrate God’s love to all who are in the body of Christ.
I’m thankful for the many ways the body of Christ demonstrated God’s love to our family and especially to Abby. Because we have been loved well by the members of the church, we know we belong there. Our children now have a firm foundation upon which they can fulfill their purpose and exhibit competence as active and vital members of the body of Christ. Children need this!
If you are interested in thinking about this further, check out the LaQuey Family podcast, Season 1, Episode 14, at this link: https://anchor.fm/julie66136/episodes/Belonging-in-the-Body-of-Christ-eut6ce
Julie LaQuey is a follower of Jesus Christ, intent on sharing the hope of heaven and the Truth of God’s Word and His great love to others. She is wife to Tyce, married 26 years, and mother to Caleb (age 23), Abby (age 20), and Luke (age 15). Tyce and Julie have formally educated their children at home since the fall of 2006. Julie is passionate about helping women learn to respect their husbands, value their children, and love God above all.