by Aaron Blumer
As a pastor, I’ve been surprised by how often I encounter Christian parents who are disappointed that our church provides “kid times.” Regularly, our church gathers children, separates them from their families, and focuses on their needs. Many see this practice as unbiblical and bad for the family. Are they right?
I’m prejudiced against this way of thinking. My parents successfully reared all four children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord with the aid of churches that provided kid times, as did their parents before them. Both my mother and my grandmother turned to Christ and believed the gospel during Sunday school.
The idea that ministries like Sunday school, children’s church, and youth groups are recent inventions spawned by the godless thinking of anti-Christian philosophers finds a strongly skeptical audience in some of us. And the idea that these kid times are causing more young people to leave the faith is contrary to everything we’ve personally observed.
But the charge that these methods are unbiblical is the most serious one. Is there any basis in Scripture for separating children from their parents and siblings and teaching them? Should these kid times be a feature of our local church ministries?
Scripture provides at least four reasons for including kid times in the ministry of a local church.
1. Christians need the ministry of believers who are not members of their families.
If God had intended the family to be sufficient for worship and growth in the faith, He would not have invented the church. And in the church, individuals minister to one another across family lines.
There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all (1 Cor. 12:4-7, NKJV).
These verses do not picture a few men (the pastoral staff) ministering only to gathered families. Rather, each believer is using his gifts for the benefit of other individual believers, resulting in the growth of the whole body. Ephesians 4 reflects the same design.
Speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (Eph. 4:15-16).
Because each believer is gifted and because these gifts include teaching abilities (Rom.12:7), a properly functioning church must provide multiple teaching opportunities. How? The most obvious way is to organize smaller groups on a regular basis in the life of the church. May these be age-based groups? As we’ll see later, Scripture is far from hostile to that option.
God has provided gifted teachers for the edification of believers, and some are specially gifted for teaching children. A parent who is not gifted in teaching is unwise to keep his children from sitting at the feet of someone who is. Churches that stifle the exercise of these gifts by insisting that families stay together all the time are neglecting a powerful resource God has provided for their benefit.
2. Scripture directs churches to provide age-specialized teaching.
Paul dispatched Titus to Crete with a mandate to properly organize (1:5, “set in order”) the churches. His task included organizing the teaching life of the churches according to a model described in 2:1-10. This model reveals that long before humanism, John Dewey, or progressive education, God identified age groups with differing needs within the church and commanded us to specialize.
The section begins with instructions to provide the Cretans with “sound doctrine” (“doctrine” is didaskalia, teaching). The content of that sound teaching is summarized in the table below.
sober; reverent; temperate; sound faith, love, and patience
reverent; not slandering; not given to much wine; teachers of good things, admonishing the younger women
loving husbands and children; being discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, and obedient to their own husbands
sober-minded; following Titus’ example
The passage goes on to identify yet another subgroup within the church that also needed specialized teaching (“bondservants,” vv. 9-10), but most of these groups were distinguished from one another by age and gender.
Did Paul intend that all of this specialized teaching occur in one room with each family seated together? The passage doesn’t say so. In fact, the older women, not Titus, were supposed to teach the younger women. It’s difficult to see how they could have accomplished that teaching without separating the younger women into something approximating a “young women’s class.”
Though Titus 2 doesn’t constitute a biblical mandate to have children’s classes, it does require that churches recognize special needs of different age groups and provide ways to deliver specialized teaching. Kid times are a way to partially fulfill that mandate.
3. Children have special needs.
The groups described in Titus are not the only people in the church with unique needs requiring specialized teaching. Kids are also a special group. Though some “childhood experts” claim that the concept of childhood is a modern invention (e.g., Niel Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood, 1982, 1994), the Bible affirms what is obvious to most of us: Children are different from adults and require special handling.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things (1 Cor. 13:11).
Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him (Prov. 22:15).
Scripture also suggests that common sense is correct on another point: Children change gradually as they move toward adulthood.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:52).
Opponents of kid times often claim that the concept of stages of development (and age-grouped teaching) derives from the philosophies of Jean Jacques Rousseau, John Dewey, and Charles Darwin. (See http://www.thedanielschool.com/philosophy.htm, http://www.visionforum.com/hottopics/blogs/dwp/2006/10/ (search for “Dewey”), and http://www.visionforumministries.org/events/ucf/008/.) In their view, age grouping derives from the corrupt Greek system of education and should be rejected in favor of the superior “Hebrew” model. But, in reality, recognizing that kids are different and in the process of becoming adults is both obvious and consistent with Scripture.
Bible-believing ministries that provide “age-segregated” kid times do not believe in evolution; they believe in growth. They are not pursuing “modern individualism,” but they are recognizing the biblical uniqueness of children.
Churches should provide children with opportunities to receive teaching in words they understand, in “chunks” that fit their attention spans, and in groups small enough to allow them to interact. These times are not a substitute for the equally vital gathering of whole families for worship and teaching. But they are an important supplement to these times.
I thank God often for the many gifted adults who took part in teaching and encouraging me in the faith as I was growing up!
4. The best gift parents can give their children is a well-taught, growing mom and dad.
It ought to be obvious that the spiritual vitality and doctrinal soundness of mom and dad are priority one for nurturing faith in children. But I have seen couples try to pursue the latter at the expense of the former. Sadly, when these parents deny themselves the quality learning and worship time they need at church, they are spiritually weaker as a result and have less to offer their children.
On the other hand, churches that employ kid times effectively also create mom-and-dad times in the same stroke. When we send the little ones out to enjoy the gifts of other teachers for a while, mom and dad gain the opportunity to focus entirely on what God has for them in church. For one hour each week, they’re able to listen with full attention to teachers God has called and gifted for their edification without having to constantly monitor the behavior of the children sitting with them.
When airlines instruct passengers on the use of oxygen masks, they always tell parents to don the mask themselves before helping their children. There’s a reason for that. Mom and dad can’t help the little ones if they themselves are passing out due to a lack of air.
Every church with adequate resources should include kid times in its ministry because these times help parents. And whatever helps moms and dads also helps the kids.
|Aaron Blumer, a native of lower Michigan, is a graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He, his wife, and their two children live in a small town in western Wisconsin, where he has pastored Grace Baptist Church (Boyceville, WI) since 2000. Prior to serving as a pastor, Aaron taught school in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and served in customer service and technical support for Unisys Corporation (Eagan, MN). He enjoys science fiction, music, and dabbling in software engineering.|