People who profess the Bible as their “sole guide for faith and practice,” often have quite a healthy herd of non-biblical sacred cows grazing on their theological ranch. One of the largest spiritual Herefords lumbering in the minds of most evangelicals is: “Sunday school, children’s and youth ministries.” Come near this sacred cow with a gasoline and a match, and you will get a reaction! Guaranteed!
What scriptural mandate is there for the “church,” the “organization,” to provide children and youth ministry? Of course, there is none, not a single verse in either old or new testaments. It’s just a tradition, perhaps beneficial and more benign than others, but a tradition none-the-less.
The scriptures are clear: The spiritual development of our children is the responsibility of parents, and it is the responsibility of leaders and spiritual fathers and mothers to train parents to do their job, not pawn it off to Sunday School teachers and youth leaders, or God-forbid, government social services.
Well Steve, are you saying doing children’s/youth ministry is biblically forbidden? No. Silence is not necessarily prohibition. But biblical silence should make us proceed with caution.
How children’s ministry is done, the priority it is given, and who does it, is the issue.
When something permissible in Christian liberty (delegating children’s and youth ministry), becomes a defining essential of what is or is not considered a “legitimate expression” of Christianity, we have crossed a line into deception. If my decision-making motivations are based on social and cultural values rather than biblical ones, I am in a common, but very bad state.
When the “socialization needs” of our children and adolescents become the top priority of our spiritual decision making, we are failing Jesus, missing the kingdom, undermining our families, and deceiving ourselves. When children’s ministry enables disengaged parenting, we are in grievous error in our beliefs and practices.
The last traditional church I pastored had a pretty high opinion of itself. There was a bit of a reputation in the city for being a “loving” church. However, the love did not extend to one couple that had been doing “children’s ministry,” for the better part of seven years straight without a break and without any significant support. This couple had not been in a corporate gathering in that whole time, as they “ministered to our children.” The attitude was: “They’re gifted, let them do it!” How convenient for the rest of us!
I pointed out how “unloving” it was to exhaust one couple (regardless of their giftedness) so the rest of us could be indulged every week in either intellectual addiction to teaching/preaching, or emotional addiction to the “presence of the Lord” in the so-called worship service.
I drew a line in the sand, that if our children’s ministry was to go forward, everyone was going to be involved in the training of their own children, and in helping others train theirs. We were going to be a family of functional adults, not a collection of infantile spiritual narcissists. My job as an equipper-leader was to train the parents to train their children, not to oversee surrogate baby-sitting by an institution that ends up facilitating soul-numbing spiritual obesity.
I let it be known that if after six to eight weeks of soul-reflection, parents and grandparents did not step up to live biblically regarding our children, and willingly volunteer to take turns ministering to our children, we were going to shut down the Sunday school and youth ministry (It had been going on for well over a decade.). I refused to let selfishness and indifference masquerade as “love.”
Well, in this supposedly “loving” church, no one volunteered to participate in the training of their own children. I shut down those ministries. This began a steady flow of people out of the fellowship who miraculously began to “feel led” to attend another church. The divinely prescribed exodus peaked at about 20-30% of the families leaving, with the majority going where? You guessed it–the church with the biggest youth ministry in town. Says something doesn’t it? Living in obedience for Jesus and His kingdom will cost you! And this was, alas, considered a thriving, “up and coming,” “successful” church in the community, ready to go to the “next level,” in some people’s minds.
I had one couple, former elders, come into my office and, practically lunge over my desk and in a red-faced, screaming rage said:
We won’t work with our children, there’s nothing you can do to make us work with our children, that’s what we pay you to do! We come to church to get away from our children!
This was typical of the “loving people” in that congregation. As sad as it is, this couple was just revealing what the truth was in their own heart and in the congregation.
Many parents view children’s ministry as little more than church-sponsored baby-sitting so they can get a few moments of mental peace and quiet “for free.” If you need “church” to find peace and quiet for yourself, you have a parenting problem, not a “church need.” If your children are out of control, they are not the problem, you are.
I know scores of people who don’t like where they attend, disagree with leadership protocols, feel stunted, unchallenged, and dead in their walk with the Lord, but who stay in these environments, continuing to fund them with their offerings, with the sole, almighty justification being: “It’s where our children have friends.” Can someone please show me a single verse that would indicate that the social needs of our children should determine our advancement in the purposes of Christ?
One of the constant laments I hear from people who are disillusioned with organizational and institutional Christian religion, but who can’t bring themselves to leave, is: “If we leave, what will we do for our children?” Non-traditional and “organic” church expressions can be very accommodating to children and their needs. There just has to be some resolve to be a real parent and show some creative initiative.
Here are some practical ideas:
- Pick up the phone! Wow! What a radical thought—initiative and personal engagement! Call someone who has a family situation similar to yours and schedule events together on a weekly basis. Yes, instead of expecting the “church” to do the work of event logistics, do them yourself! It can be done. There is no reason for your children to lack socialization, other than your own self-centeredness and lack of personal discipline. If your children lack socialization, it is not because “there’s no Sunday School.” It’s because your parenting is lacking.
- Schedule meetings and gatherings at regular intervals that are kid-specific and kid-friendly! Not every corporate gathering has to be about you getting “spiritually fed” and your need for a “Jesus-buzz” in the song/worship service. How about doing some meetings where you and your needs are not the center of attention for a change, and actually invest in your children and others children? It can be done. It’s not difficult. It’s a matter of will.
- Train your children to control themselves for two hours. Yes, it can be done–without turning your children into robots and without running an authoritarian gulag masquerading as a family!
I once had the great privilege of sharing in an “organic-home-church” environment with over 20 children (it was a large home) present ranging from ages 3 to 17. Every one of them sat still, engaged, and was well behaved (without one bit of parental intervention). THIS WAS NOT COERCIVE AUTHORITARIANISM. I have been in atmospheres where there has been “behavioral compliance” and the children are glassy-eyed, soul-less, expression-less, personality-less Christian zombies. I hate that: the extinguishing of a child’s soul in the name of “behaving right.” I know the difference.
These children and youth, every one, were literally radiant with the Spirit of God. I will never forget the experience. At the end of my time, a child of not more than 7 years old, came up to me, firmly shook my hand and with a degree of social grace and confident articulation often absent in many adults, said: “Dr. Crosby, thank you for coming to minister to us, I really enjoyed your message,” and he proceeded to show me the notes and pictures he drew with crayons during my message. He pictorially took notes on what I said!
Yes folks, this is neither idealism nor theory. These were not a superior race of aliens from perfecto-world in galaxy Glarnak! They were quite human. They were just a community that took the issue of parenting seriously from an inter-generational perspective. These were folks that understood that corporate gatherings are one arena were where the fruit of our child training will come forth, not necessarily the place to do it!
We are a funny people. We get all frothy with the idea that the Spirit of God is going to bring revival and win our cities and all that, but somehow, we can’t come to grips with the idea of the Spirit of God being able to make us effective parents or have children with self-control for two hours.
Spiritual growth always begins with honest self-assessment. There is always hope, resource, power, grace, and life for those who will look in the mirror of Christ and tell it like it is, about themselves, to themselves. Do you need to tell yourself the truth about yourself? I know I did. It’s the gateway to freedom and life.
However, if we want to resolutely cling to ungodly cultural value systems, make excuses for ourselves, and all the reasons that this or that can’t be done, and how somebody else needs to do it for me, and how I am a victim of circumstance, and how others just “don’t understand how hard it is,” “you don’t know my children,” and so forth . . . well, we are on our own for that. We will get the logical fruit of our own idolatry.
Copyright 2013, Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, www.swordofthekingdom.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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