Saturday, October 13, 2007

What about the children?

Today on Five Live the pre-match build up was about securing the future of football - with stern warnings that if we didn't get childrens football right then there would be no England vs. Estonia in 15 years. Matches will of course still happen, the standard might just be lower... It's a good thing to ask about the future of English Football. Likewise we ought to ask about the future of the church.

The pyromaniacs just started talking about children and church. Including the exciting story of a youth worker teaching church history to teens! Bring that on... But, that's not really my point in posting. We were talking the other night about the place of children in church - and particularly the line between church being free parenting and childcare and parents themselves being responsible for teaching their children the gospel as part of the church.

You should know that I became a Christian when I was 18 having been part of a liberal church sunday school up to the age of 11 and with some involvement in a loosely evangelical youth group. My wife, with whom I was talking about this, became a Christian at the age of three. I accept that this means I've not seem any great example of evangelical youthwork first-hand, but I'm still not convinced that the best youthwork does anything that being part of a congregation with excellent preaching for 18 years wouldn't achieve...

The normal model in the UK seems to be that children are kept out of all or most of the sunday morning meetings of churches to attend a sunday school. It'd probably not fair comment on the quality of that kids teaching, though I'm sure much of it is excellent. That's also supplemented by midweek youth meetings. I remember listening to an Al Mohler interview sometime back that suggested that this really isn't the norm in the US (is that true?).

My concerns with this are:

1. The church meeting is then an adults only thing rather than a multi-generational gathering which would look more like church seems to in the Bible. Didn't Jesus say let the children come to me, rather than let them go out to the church hall?
2. Parents teaching their own children the gospel is delegated. If in the old covenant it was the parents job to raise their children in the gospel shouldn't that be all the more important now? Which isn't to say it doesn't happen - but when did your church last run a course to equip parents to teach the gospel to their children?
3. Youth leaders miss out on preaching - whilst being 'employed' to teach each week. If preaching, and indeed the rest of corporate worship, is of any value surely that's going to strip them of life.
4. When the kids are kept in the preaching tends to disappear only to be replaced by something aimed at five years olds, which implies very low confidence in preaching. I know the counter argument is that the kids need to understand it - but I'm not sure I care if the kids don't get everything in the sermon - hopefully they'll notice the high value of Christ is what is said. And since when did the adults understand everything in the meeting?
5. When the youth work ceases and sunday school kid arrives at university he still expects to find a youth group to belong to and struggles to find his place in a church because up to that point it's all been made entirely consumer friendly rather than being something he belongs to. There are without doubt other reasons why there is a big drop off from church at age 18 but I'd bet on this being part of it.
What's the alternative?

1. Keep the church together on a Sunday morning so that everyone worships together but don't patronise the adults with dumbed down preaching. Talk about Christ and some how make it accessible enough for kids to pick up the gist. I know of one (blogging) pastor who seems to do this well (Ahem - comment please when you read this).
2. Keep the church together on a Sunday so that half the congregation don't have to spend the week preparing for Sunday school (or a stressful Saturday evening). I'm not saying that youth groups are unhelpful or should be scrapped altogether but think of the great gain of the Sunday meeting. And, in those other meetings teach the Bible don't just play games!! I remember talking with my Dad a while back about how it'd be great to have whole families in homegroups and not just the adults - there are some logistical hurdles to get over there but why not?!
3. Keep the church together so that the preaching of the word and it's power to gather young and old together is evident to everyone. Help young people to love the church by being included in it. Why shouldn't a seven year old understand the message of Ephesians or Judges or Genesis? Why shouldn't a teenager add church history to the history they're learning at school? Taking this approach must mean helping parents to teach their children - setting up occasional meetings for this though has got to be less work than the effort required to run several simultaneous age-divided meetings every sunday.

I'm not yet a parent though God-willing I'd like to be one day (the prospect of it scares me a lot) but if I'm going to add the ministry of being a parent to the ministry of being a husband then I really want to teach any children I have about the LORD. At the very least that makes me think I need to get into the word and get them on my heart.
"And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."
Deuteronomy 6v6-9
The good thing is that God has already secured the future of his church. It will prevail. Jesus wins! What's not so secure, like the future of football, is whether it'll be secure here and how sound, faithful, dynamic and effectively advancing the church will be here in the future...
Those were some of my sketchy thinking, what do you think?