OK. The title may not be the best, at first. But stick around, I think it fits.
Every generation should make attempts to capture the next generation. But what happens when the attempt becomes the error?
For several years I’ve been looking at this God ordained duty to the church to remain pure so that when the current generation is no longer around, they have successfully passed on to the next generation the same gospel that was preached to the Apostle Paul to give to Timothy to give to trustworthy men so that this duty of capturing the next generation gets the gospel.
A blog post that usually reflects on the day is likely an unsuccessful venue to attempt to solve the complexity of this matter, but I will offer a few more reflections on why I feel so strongly as I do about the duty of the church and the duty of fathers (parents).
The church has on obligation to God. This obligation has humanity in mind, but it is first and always an obligation to obey God and not to please men with anything but God.
About three years ago we (Eastside Baptist Church) took a long hard look at what we were attempting to do to reach the next generation that is in as grave a danger as mine was years ago. The examination was uncomfortable because it began to show a trend in our history that we were quick to turn to the ‘industry’ we had created to do what Scripture clearly showed us was the duty of family.
The complication in all of this is clear, the church does have a responsibility to reach every generation, even the generations that are yet to gather here. But the methodology we had been employing was a methodology that is similar to the governments attempt to rescue children. This is likely born with good intention. This is not to diminish the help that has been offered or negate the ones who are generous with their homes to help. I mostly bring this methodology into light because it is birthed with a similar desire to the methodology that churches have employed.
If we are going to be a people of the book then shouldn’t it be said that we submit all ideas, methods, plans and programs to the authority of Scripture in our lives. This is the kind of examination Eastside was doing when we decided to abandon the methodology of our church culture to the biblical model of family leadership for our children.
I found the error in the methodology was not Sunday School, per say, it was the segregating of children from their parents. This is what foster care does; there is arguably good reason to remove a child from his/her parents (this is not to argue for or against that). However, this idea of removing a child from the jurisdiction ordered by God to fathers and mothers and the training up of their children.
The bible teaches that fathers and mothers should teach these things (things about God) to their children. These things should include everything and more that happens in a typical children’s Sunday School class, Scripture memory, history, morality, right and wrong, respect, relating to others, on and on… It’s not that children should not be in Sunday School or even be around other children. It’s that the parent should be doing what the church has called out volunteers to do. We wouldn’t say that they are doing it for parents, we normally say we are doing it to give support to what parents are doing.
Over time, we begin to see that a Sunday School teacher can articulate things so much better than a father because she’s been trained to do this by the people we buy the curriculum from. (this should begin to tip us that we are now living in an industry that now begins to operate outside of us and needs to build a dependence upon a consumer base to fund what was started and then to stay on top of the trending behaviors of people.)
The reason segregated ministries aren’t producing the end product we expect is not because they are doing a bad thing, how can Scripture memory be a bad thing? It’s just that fostering out our children to do what God designed family to do is saying that our way is better than God’s because, after all, parents aren’t doing this. We convince ourselves with good intentions that we can’t let this be. So we design an industry that spits out data that shows us we know what we are doing, trust us to do for your children what you are apparently not qualified to do.
No one would actually say this. But it is actually what gets communicated.
The problem is, we really believe that we are doing a good thing by taking children away from their parents when they arrive at church. We actually think that we can do this better than parents. Meaning we don’t think God’s plan is really working out so well.
After all, it feels good to be loved by kids.
Be honest, there is something that feeds a craving many people have, to be liked by children is golden. To be liked by parents of children feeds our desire to help them by doing something they are better equipped to do. That’s likely the reason most teachers start teaching; They actually want to help. Their desire to help is strong. The problem is when we begin to think that another way is better for everyone.
If helping others feels this good how can it be wrong?
Look, I know that this kind of talk irritates those who are in the industry. I know that we call it the ministry, but look around you… now be honest, it’s an industry that has created it’s own ecosystem and now has to protect that ecosystem to survive. There are hundreds, more like thousands, who get paid when someone buys the product, attends the seminar, sends their child the concert that was promoted on their website who wrote a theme song for the study. The product gets bought and the parent thinks he’s done his duty. At this point, we are all the way in. But wait, now the industry needs to have college and seminary degrees to continue proving that they are qualified to do this work.
After all, who better to tell your church what you need to do to reach the next generation than the experts that industry created.
The industry is committed to this… Think about it… The industry now has researchers, buildings, trainers, qualified teachers, professors, product fairs, book sales and clothing attire to continue keeping their product in front of their target audience, your children. It has to do this to survive. People depend on this industry.
In order for this industry to survive, it needs other peoples children.
I don’t think this is intentional, it’s just the nature of the beast. I imagine that the overwhelming number of employees who work within the ‘industry’ started because they wanted to do something to reach the next generation. They looked around and saw a great need. Unfortunately, the one telling them how to help didn’t know about the ancient path (the sufficiency of Scripture.)
Watch a child, especially a young child, interact with his dad or mom. It is spectacular. He trusts them, he believes them, he listens (most of the time) to them. He’s created to want to learn from his parents. There are a lot of factors at play here, but spiritually speaking, there is an uncanny loyalty of the child-to-parent parent-to-child relationship.
The church, if she’s not careful, creates an uncanny loyalty to an industry that is systematically dismantling what God designed as best for children.
You don’t believe me do you? I’m not on a mission to persuade you. It’s likely we would add to the unemployment problem facing our country if the industry folded up. I’m not against the industry. God has already created a finely tuned machine to do what we had to create an industry to do, this is the family. It is equipped by God to do all that we are trying to replace. What if the industry heard, once again, from the church and produced for the church what the church told it to produce? What if the best children’s ministry and youth ministry the publishing house produced was actually a product that helped dads teach their children the sufficiency of Scripture.
Church, what do you say we do our duty… train up the saints. Remember we are to train up men who will in turn train up faithful men who will be faithful to God with the gospel that was first preached and received.
There are a lot of things the well meaning industry has done that is a real help to the church. Families have benefited from some great training and children have been reached in the next generation that didn’t have believing parents. There is a right thing that the church can do and should to to reach them, but our target in the children’s ministry arena is children without believing parents and/or believing men and women with children.
May the Lord strengthen his people and cause the hearts of children and parents be turned to each other as the Lord draws them to himself. And my the next generation find strength in the same.