Come, you children

Just around the corner from our church building is a junior school. We have a reasonable relationship with the school, extending to taking occasional school assemblies, depending on who is responsible for arranging them.

Over the last fifteen years or so, since the neighbourhood was established and our church building erected, we have built up something of a routine with the school. Every year or so, as part of their religious education classes, about 120 ten and eleven year olds visit our church building in two groups. The idea seems to be that they visit a number of "faith communities" nearby for the purposes of comparison and contrast. Yesterday was such an occasion.

With each group I get about half an hour, sometimes a little more. My usual pattern is to set out a few key facts and then to invite questions. My introduction centres on three things. The first is the pulpit, on which sits a Bible which is the Word of God, which tells us the good news about the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who came into the world to save sinners, dying in their place and rising again in victory from the grave. The second is the baptistry. Here those who - having heard the good news and been persuaded of their need of a Saviour - have trusted in Jesus Christ to save them from their sins are baptised in the name of the triune God, testifying publicly of their union with him in his death and resurrection and becoming members of the local church. The third thing is the communion table where there is a cup and a plate which would normally contain wine and bread, a meal for those who belong to Christ's church, in which we enjoy real fellowship with him, a meal which points us back to what he has done, up to where he now is, and ahead to the day when he will come again. We thus seek to make plain that the church is centred around Jesus Christ - he is the beating heart of all we are and do. We seek to make clear the need of sinners to turn from their sins and trust in him to be saved, and invite the children and their families to come to learn more.

Obviously, the main benefit of this meeting is the chance to preach something of the good news to the pupils and any teachers and parent helpers who come along. In addition, it means that the children know us a little, meaning that we might be able to make some more connections in our other evangelistic labours. Furthermore, it means that they have actually been into the church building, which strips away some of the barriers that some feel who have no experience of a nonconformist place of worship. Finally, there have been occasions when - years after their first exposure to the truth - we have met these pupils on the streets and at their doors, growing or grown up, and have been recognised and been able in some measure to pick up where we left off.

However, these occasions also give them a chance to ask some questions. This is where things can get fun. The standard questions are fairly straightforward: building design and furniture, differences between this and other buildings, and the like. But every so often, and yesterday was one of these, things kick off. Usually, it is a particular question that gets the ball rolling, something a bit more substantial or insightful. Then another child will pick something up from the answer, and then the hands start to shoot up, and it turns into a bit of a feeding frenzy. It is almost as if the kids suddenly get the sense that they can ask this bloke in front of them just about anything and he will try to give them a straight answer. It demonstrates a freshness and depth of thinking that often surprises the grown-ups, and reveals a willingness to hear and consider the truth that has sometimes been hammered out of adults. The fact that these things bubble up almost unbidden from their souls is a powerful reminder that God and eternity are written into our humanity.

As this process develops, the teachers, assistants, and parent-helpers can go through quite a fascinating range of emotions (and skin shades). Some of them are grinning as the preacher mentally leaps about like a cat on a hot tin roof, trying to cover all the bases. Some of them are stunned that such questions are pouring out of the minds and hearts of their charges. Some of them are infuriated by the answers that are given. Some are terrified that we are trampling merrily across the hallowed boundaries of political correctness. Some of them are simply bewildered by what we believe. Some of them come up afterwards and ask their own questions more subtly.

Our prayer is that all these things might serve, in the Spirit's hands, to convince the lost of their sin and misery, enlighten the minds of those in darkness, and renew the wills of those mired in spiritual death, so persuading and enabling them to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to all in the gospel. If I might borrow the words of the psalmist, "Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord" (Ps 34:11).

For interest's sake, I attach below a record of various questions that have been asked in these kinds of meetings. Some of them come out of the blue, others are built upon previous answers. It is worth our while to consider how we might answer them.

  • Who made God?
  • What does God look like?
  • What does it mean that God is a spirit?
  • Where does God live?
  • How is God everywhere?
  • Is God the air? Is God nature?
  • How can we know God if we can't see him?
  • How can God see everything?
  • Where did the world come from? Did God make it?
  • Why are some people different to others? Why did God make them that way?
  • Did God make space? Why did God make black holes?
  • Did God get baptised?
  • What is a pastor?
  • What is the difference between a pastor and a vicar?
  • Where does the word "pastor" come from?
  • What does a pastor do?
  • How much do you earn?
  • Can ladies be pastors?
  • Must a preacher/pastor/vicar be a Christian?
  • What is a disciple?
  • When you become a Christian, do you have to do what the Bible says?
  • Do you have to be a Christian to come to church?
  • If you belong to another religion, can you become a Christian? [and vice versa]
  • Does God love people who aren't Christians?
  • What happens when you become a Christian?
  • Is the baptistry a bath? A swimming pool? A birthing pool?
  • Can you go for a swim after you've been baptised?
  • What do you wear to be baptised? Can you wear goggles?
  • Is there something special about the water in the pool?
  • If baptism uses ordinary water, why is it so important?
  • What does baptism mean?
  • Can children be baptised? Can girls/ladies be baptised?
  • What's the difference between christening and baptism?
  • Is baptism safe?
  • What is the church?
  • If the church is people, why do you need a building?
  • Why doesn't the church have a bell?
  • Why don't you have stained glass/statues/pictures?
  • What happens when we die?
  • What is the difference between burial and cremation?
  • Why don't you have a graveyard?
  • Why are other churches different?
  • Why do you have an organ?
  • Why are most churches the same shape? Why are churches in other countries different shapes?
  • Can disabled people be baptised?
  • Can you worship God outdoors?
  • How can deaf people hear sermons?
  • When is the church open? How often do you meet?
  • How long has the church been here?
  • If you stop being a Christian, do you get "unbaptized"?
  • Why does the Bible talk about "drinking the cup"? You can't drink cups.
  • How do you know that the Bible is true?
  • How do you know that Jesus is real?
  • Why do you trust the Bible?
  • If God is good and in control of everything, why do we have wars and tidal waves and earthquakes?
  • What is sin?
  • If you have sinned, can you still get to heaven?
  • How do I escape from hell?
  • Doesn't God give you a second chance?
  • Does God have to make you a Christian?
  • If God is all-powerful, can he make a rock he could not lift?
  • How does someone stop being a Christian?
  • If God is in control, why do scientists say that everything began with a big bang?
  • If God cannot die, how can Jesus die?
  • How can you be God and man?
  • How do we know that Jesus is real and/or rose from the dead?