It was over the perceived value that parents put on their children's spiritual and moral growth that a recent internet brouhaha bubbled up. A popular, mega-church pastor appeared to chide families who attend small churches because of the latters' inabilities to provide the atmosphere, the crowds or the programs that teens and children "need". (The pastor has since apologized for the offense, and many others have commented on the fracas, but that discussion is not for this post. If you wish to learn more, I recommend Trevin Wax's article, "Small vs. Big Churches: The Family Feud We All Lose".)
For smaller churches, especially ones like Three Rivers Grace where so many of our members and regular attenders must travel from the outlying counties or across the city to get to church events, what can we do to serve our families and our young people? What about understanding the dynamics of the neighborhood, where many of the children are disenfranchised and unable to identify what a healthy family unit looks like, much less that God's plan for the church flows through a Gospel-minded family?
How much thought goes into whether the children and youth who attend the Sunday School classes and participate in the activities are being evangelized and confronted with the gospel, or charmed into complacency by the moral lessons that John Wells refers to above? Our church's mission statement is the same as this blog's: to delight in the beauty of God's greatness, to proclaim the truth of God's Word, and to ignite a joyful passion for the Gospel of Jesus among all the people [little and big] of Pittsburgh and the world. How does that manifest itself in Youth and Children's Ministries?
The mission statement plays out most effectively through the Sunday School classes, undergirded with prayer that the Lord will use the work to His glory and grant mercy with eternal consequences. If you wonder what is being taught the children at Three Rivers Grace, I invite you to sit in on the instruction going on during the 9:30-10:30 hour. I believe you will be challenged and delighted to find that careful preparation, prayer, planning and attention goes into making sure the lessons are faithful to the redemptive narrative. In addition, they endeavor to provide a taste of the treasures that a child will encounter if they pursue further understanding of God's Word. This all takes place under the Christlike sacrifice and diligent servitude of our teachers and leaders, committed to a Gospel focus in all their teaching.
I encourage you to take me up on my invitation. Join in the conversation about Jesus as He is made known in the Scriptures and presented by our Sunday School staff. As I highlighted in this post from last summer, the depth of teaching might surprise you!
The following 4 Things to Avoid and 5 Things to Embrace come from John Wells' article at The Gospel Coalition, enumerated here but explained in depth at the original post. It's an excellent exhortation to parents and church leaders alike to keep the focus of ministry on the gospel and not on morality lessons that could just as easily be found in Saturday morning TV programming. "Taught by those great heroes of the faith: He-Man, G.I. Joe, and the Ninja Turtles, these were children’s stories designed to teach good behavior," writes Wells. "Essentially, I was teaching them there is little difference between the power of the gospel and the power of Grayskull. I needed to make changes. My children needed to learn to read and understand the Bible on its own terms."
As parents and leaders, we need to make sure we are teaching our kids that while the Good Guys have good stuff to say, their good-ness isn't good enough to save. Only Jesus's blood is powerful and sufficient to divert the punishment that is due sinners, and that's a Gospel lesson you're not going to find in a cartoon nor, sadly, most Children's Bibles.
From the post . . .
4 Things to Avoid
Though cheap gospel substitutes take many forms, they often revolve around misinterpreting narratives in four ways:
- Teaching narratives as moralistic fables.
- Using excessive extrapolation and subtext.
- Implying prosperity theology.
- Excluding epistolary, poetic, and prophetic genres.
5 Things to Embrace
So what’s the alternative? As Christian parents we’re responsible for raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). It’s our responsibility to teach them how to study his Word. We want them to see the Bible not as a collection of moral fables, but as the epic story of redemption.
Here five brief tips for accomplishing that goal:
- Read and talk with your children about the Bible.
- Don’t rely on children’s Bibles alone.
- Teach them to think through paragraphs in the Epistles.
- When reading narratives, read the whole story and then ask questions.
- Don’t assume you need all the answers.
. . . Click here for the full article at The Gospel Coalition website.