Sharon Cress General Conference, Shepherdess and Pastoral Families

The survival of the church depends on our children. I They may justly be recognized as our greatest I resource. Yet too often we give them only token support. Often they seem to come last in our thinking as we plan evangelistic outreach, church nurture, and programs.

From the perspective of children's ministry in the local congregation, I am often grieved at our lack of passion for our youngsters. Once they become teenagers we suddenly panic, throwing at them all the money, time, resources, and imagination we can muster in an urgent attempt to hold them as they suddenly strike puberty, fearing that during the teenage years they will exit church fellowship. Perhaps some of the pressure we feel during the teen years and some of the tendency to exit that they show is due to the fact that little was done for them when they were younger. What about showing the same degree of urgency when children are small as we often do when they reach their teen years?

A vibrant church will build children's ministries into a strong, attracive presence. An alert hurch organization, corporate and local, will provide innovative resources and ideas that can be implemented in the local congregation.

In addition to allocation of resources, the most telling influence comes from the members themselves. How adult members relate to youngsters will forever imprint upon children's brains their interpretation of the character of Jesus. Their weekly or daily interaction with church members will give the children an impression of "church" that will carry into adulthood.

Recently, I watched a National Geographic documentary about zebras. One fascinating observation was about the foals. When a mare is about to give birth, she moves to the edge of the herd not too far because there is safety in numbers but far enough to make sure she is in charge of the situation. After the baby is born, it must immediately get up and walk. Its survival depends upon this. But survival also depends upon another equally important factor. When the baby stands, the mother makes sure that it sees no other zebra's stripes but hers for the first fifteen minutes.

Apparently, baby zebra brains imprint the stripes of the mother into their brain's "hard drive." Since every zebra has different stripes, it is vital that the baby have the imprint of its mother's pattern. If it looks at another zebra and imprints those stripe patterns, the baby could die because it will be confused as to where to look for food and protection. Imprinting the correct stripes in the first minutes of life makes the difference between survival and disaster. The mother circles and shields the baby from other curious zebras who want to look over the newborn because she knows that her baby must see no stripes but hers.

As church members we need to learn from the zebras making sure our children receive the right imprints early so that they will remember these throughout their lives. Spiritual survival during the turmoil of the teenage years may depend upon the correct imprinting when they are young.

Sharon Cress is Associate Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference ofSevent-dayAdventists and director of Shepherdess International.