Imagine two families, both have a child interested in baseball. Both families believe that they are the primary influencers in the child’s interest in baseball, the fathers regularly teach their child the basics of the game, both fathers play baseball and they take their child to the games so they can observe how the parent plays and/or watches the game. But there is one difference: one father takes his child to play on a team of other children about the same age with a similar knowledge of the game, working with the coaches to help their child grow to know, love, and play the game.
If you had to speculate which one would grow up to continue to love the game, which one would it be?
If you had to speculate which one might walk away from the game when they got older, which one would it be?
I would presume that most would say that the family that also had their child participate in the organized sport on a team that was age appropriate would most likely grow to love, know, and play the game as they grew into adulthood.
So how does this relate to the church?
It seems that some churches today are discouraging parents from having their child “participate in the organized, age appropriate, sport” and encouraging them just to watch their parents “in the game” by eliminating Sunday morning Sunday School and Children’s Church and having the young children sit with their parents in the worship service.
How do you think sports teams would perform if they embraced the model the church is embracing of minimizing age appropriate “training” and participation, relying primarily on the influence of parents? The future of sports would not be so bright, would it? So why do churches think this model will work well to make disciples who make disciples?
I can hear people beginning to recite Deuteronomy 6:5-6
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (HCSB)
We see these as words spoken to parents, but let’s go back a little bit to verses 3-5:
Listen, Israel, and be careful to follow them, so that you may prosper and multiply greatly, because Yahweh, the God of your fathers, has promised you a land flowing with milk and honey.
“Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
Moses does not say that God said “parents”, but for all of Israel to listen and to talk about the things of God in all aspects of their life with their children and those around them.
What if we viewed children’s ministry differently? Just as a parent works with their child to teach the fundamentals of a sport, an instrument, or whatever and then compliments that with a coach, instructor, etc. – what if parents taught the basics of the things of God and the children’s ministry in the church were the coaches helping them improve their skills? The children’s pastor as the head coach along with his coaching staff, meeting them with their level of understanding, helping them rise to the next level, teaching them to know, love, and play (serve).
One should not go to extremes. I believe that children should be in a worship service with their parents as a family, just not all the time in a service that is not geared to them. Yes, I grew up attending a small church with my parents. We all sat together on a wooden pew with no padding. I survived, but I can tell you that as a child I wasn’t engaged until I was older and given opportunities to serve. Even now, it is difficult for me to sit in a service and be attentive. Maybe my childhood experience taught me to find things to occupy my mind during that time.
Let me share one of my experiences:
I helped plant a church that wanted a strong children’s ministry. Once a month they held a family service where the children remained in the service for the entire service (the children would generally be dismissed before the sermon for their own lesson). Parents began to dread that service, some chose not to attend. I noticed that children were not engaged in any part of the service. Yes I tried children’s bulletins, etc but they were of little or no impact to engage the children in the service. The service was geared to adults, children were just present. From my perspective, we were “throwing away” a Sunday of discipling the children.
After much prayer, I proposed a new type of family service where children helped lead the “worship” (songs) and I presented the message with a skit, object lessons, and a message geared to reach multi-generations. It was well received and families, and others, began to look forward to these services.
I sought to find a way to engage multi-generations in a service once a month, while still working to partner with parents in providing an age appropriate lesson during the other weeks.
Each church needs to check their culture and how they can best minister to the children in their care. There is not one method, there are many.
Let us not forsake reaching the children. Let us rethink children’s ministry where those leading are coaches, working with the parents to disciple their children so they can come to know, love, and play (serve) in the game as they grow into adulthood and begin their own families.