Next Sunday, the regulars at church will give up their seats. I'll notice it as I look around the room before the service starts. Familiar faces in unfamiliar places. Our kids will serve as worship leaders, as they always do one Sunday a year during the holiday season. They'll be dressed in their Sunday best. Nay, more than their Sunday best because our church dresses casual. They'll wear their VERY best. Friends and family of these children come to our church on this special day. Some miss attending their own regular church to see their loved ones in the program. Others don’t normally attend church at all - but for the kids.
We roll out the red carpet. Pray the guests feel welcome, because this is God’s house. We are the church - all should feel welcome. Cameras flashing. Parents sitting momentarily on the floor to get the best shot. Here’s an insider’s take on what to watch for when you’re fortunate enough to sit in on a kid’s Christmas program.
The newest participants.
Our church invites children to start participating in the program at four years old. Whether these kids are yours or not, watch them. Once, we had a little diva front row left. I asked her at practice what color her dress would be for the play.
She replied, “Pink!” - as in - "Duh, what other color would a princess wear? Red and green are totally not my colors."
Also, the young boys! Actually, one surprised me a few years back. He stood still and knew almost all the motions. Then, a handful of the others did not disappoint. One wore his Happy Birthday Jesus hat on his face. A couple rarely took their hands out of their pockets. And one little boy, there is always at least one, fled off the stage after just a couple songs. His sister quickly rushed after him, until mom and dad assured her he’d be fine.
These youngsters will likely be the restless children as well. Look for them to leave the stage only to come back a few songs later. Or maybe they just need to sit and rest for a song or two...
The oldest participants.
Hats off to them. They’ve been performing this gig a long time. In our church, fourth and fifth graders are rewarded with solos and speaking parts if they want them. Special recognition for all their years of service. For the most part, the girls embrace this honor. Although a bit nervous (because they are after all just months away from middle school awkwardness) they enjoy the bigger role they’ve waited for all these years. But again, watch the boys. With only a few exceptions, the boys have either gone missing because they convinced their parents to let them sit this one out or they cannot make themselves do all the motions. They kind of halfway participate. Also, every year, our church seems to have those few kids who’ve had major growth spurts. Always a child or two who stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Your own participant.
Who are we kidding? After a quick glance over the whole group, we hone in on our own. And you better believe they are looking for you. The very first thing these kids do is scan the crowd for mom and dad. Who, remember, have conceded their regular seat to either 1) get a closer one for photo opps, 2) find a row with enough empty seats to accommodate all their guests or 3) show kindness to the parents of younger children who need a spot up front should their little one be the child who makes a run for it. I'll record one of the songs for my mom, who lives out of town, focused in on our cutie most of the time.
God at work.
These kids sing their heart out. For Jesus. Every year, the church shows itself healthy and full of hope for the future. But we will lose some of them. The world has a mighty voice and it can quickly squelch the quiet whisperings of the Holy Spirit. Pray that some of what we’re teaching these kids helps them develop their own relationship with our Father. Pray also for those in the crowd who just came for the kids. Many a wandering soul has been touched in a church service. Or by the innocent faith of a child.
Once, I felt led to minister to a young lady sitting behind me who chose not to participate, even though she'd attended the practices. She had a solo and several speaking parts in the program. The Saturday before, she had performed with confidence and dramatic flair, but panic set in on Sunday. There are a lot of faces in that crowd! I gave her a one-sided hug (she wasn’t sure she was ready to hug back) and told her I’d seen her deliver her best. I assured her God had too!
Finally, a gal in our church will stand up at the end of the service to give us a few updates. One of the ladies who gives up her regular “assigned” seat on this particular Sunday because her kids have graduated from performing in the kids’ program. A few years back, she told us about the family in the row in front of her who had looked for their children on stage. The children also looked for them. She got to witness the moment of connection, and the love shared in that moment. This sister of ours, in Christ, shared with us she’d never had the opportunity to be in a church Christmas program as a child. They didn’t attend church. Isn’t it just like God to give her the blessing of seeing her church family enjoy these moments together for years to come?