Dear Wyatt,

It was so much fun to get to be in Rock Hill for your first birthday party with your mommy and daddy and big brother, Elijah. It was a very quick 48-hour trip, and I wish I could have stayed longer, but I’m glad we live in a time when I can get on a plane that will cover the 1,050 miles from our house in Dallas to yours in about three hours. What an amazing time we live in when we can travel by plane or I can get a video of you taking your first steps on a phone I carry in my pocket. Even though your Ellee and I fret a bit about what is “too much screen time” for you and your brother, Elijah, technology is such a gift.

Buddy, I want to chat with you about how faith is passed on to the next generation. I know you’re a bit young for this talk, and I admit I’m thinking aloud here. So bear with me.

This past spring I had an opportunity to lead a worship and music consultation with the historic First Baptist Church of Columbus, Georgia. Their staff and key music ministry leaders invited me to help them to do some strategic planning for worship and music ministry. A question that emerged while I was there was, “How does a church almost 200 years old pass on faith to the next generation?”

Even though you’re just learning to walk, I don’t want to talk down to you. Let me ask three questions here to get us started that may get at this important idea.

What faith community will shape you?

You have a daddy and mommy who love you. You have an extended family of grandparents and aunts and uncles who are rooting for you. For now your family shapes your life. Family is important, but a church family is important too. I hope one day you will be a part of a church youth choir or student ministry. I hope you will be a part of a safe place where people know your name and love you not for what you do (for academic or athletic or artistic excellence) but for who you are and for whose you are, a child of God. When the church community is at its best, children and students are welcomed and “prepared for and cared for.”[1]

While I pray you will know what you believe and why you believe, I also want you to know how to navigate a world where people believe differently or not at all. What does it mean to be a person whose life is shaped by the story of Christ and how do you live the “life that really is life?”[2] At every family dedication, our pastor, George Mason, prays for the child, “I pray that you will have a good life, not an easy life.” This is my prayer for you. Finding a place to belong especially in your student years is a good thing.

What soundtracks will be in your head?

Throughout my life, sacred music and the words of hymns often have been a source of hope when I was discouraged, a source of help when I was adrift and a way to pray when I ran out of words. Music has given me a way to express my deepest feelings and to articulate what could not be expressed otherwise. Music helps me to feel close to God. Our world is filled with music almost as much as it is inundated with images. I am convinced that what we learn as children or as students stays with us for a lifetime. I pray the music of your early years, the soundtracks in your head, will help you connect with God who loves you. I want you to discover hymns and spiritual songs you love to sing. I promise we will begin to sing some of these songs now and we will sing even more as you get older.

What words will be stored up in your heart?

There are words of faith significant enough to memorize. I hope you will at least know and, yes, memorize some Scriptures and some prayers. It is important to know the names of the books of the Bible. I want you to know the Lord’s Prayer and a table blessing or two. I want you to memorize Psalm 23 and parts of Psalm 139, Luke 2 and Micah 6:8.[3] I hope you will hear all the great stories in the Bible that help us know a God who is gracious and kind and merciful and just.

Wyatt, as I write this, I pray these dreams will come true not only for you but for all the children in all our churches. We adults have work to do, but this is the best kind of work.

 

Love,

Papa

[1] “People go where they know they are prepared for and cared for.” Bo Prosser

[2] 1 Timothy 6:19. For a superb series of sermons that explore this idea, let me recommend “Three Graces of a Good Life” by George Mason, preached September 12, 19 and 26, 2010.

[3] Joel Snider is a CHC consultant who is doing some very innovative work in the area of children’s faith development.  To contact him about doing a consultation email him at JoelS@chchurches.org.

 

Doug Haney
Doug Haney has served as Minister of Music at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas TX since 2004. He previously served at Providence Baptist in Charlotte NC and churches in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. At Wilshire, he directs the choral program and supervises the church-wide music ministry, with major responsibilities for worship. Wilshire’s 90-voice Sanctuary Choir and 60-voice Youth Choir are renowned for their quality and innovative approach to traditional worship.

Haney coordinates a new service from CHC for churches seeking to infuse vitality, quality and vision into their worship and music ministry. The work will allow congregations to assess their current ministry and envision ways to enhance quality and foster innovation and relevance.