Looking for Leaders
A Theology of Children's Church
by Elizabeth Hill
Youth ministry is one of the main areas of
focus for the modern Christian Church.
Countless programs and resources have been created to
reach children and teens for Christ. Every year, students
graduate with degrees in youth ministry, ready to
evangelize and train the next generation of students.
With so many resources available, the Church has made many reforms in how they teach children and adolescents about Christ and His Word. But are these methods effective? Are we following what Scripture teaches about the instruction of the younger generation? How does this affect the spiritual growth and worship of children and teenagers?
Since the early years of life are crucial in a child’s development, children should begin to learn about Christ and the Bible at an young age. Scripture repeatedly advocates for Christ-centered instruction of youth. Passages such as Proverbs 22:6 and Deuteronomy 6 clearly command believers to invest their time in training younger generations. Jesus taught children during His ministry on earth and encouraged them to come to Him.
Because Scripture clearly advocates biblical education of children, the Church, as the body of Christ, should certainly play a part in that instruction. In fact, many churches implement a children’s church model to provide biblical education in a way each age group will understand. From its establishment, however, the concept of children’s church has been controversial among evangelical churches.
Proponents emphasize the importance of a child’s need for direct, relevant instruction. Children’s church provides them with an opportunity to worship and learn among their peers while receiving age-appropriate biblical instruction. Children’s church also provides an appropriate place to grow, to learn more about who God is, and to understand how important He is in every aspect of their lives.
With all of these benefits of the children’s church model, it would seem to be the perfect means of theological instruction for children and teenagers. After looking deeper into the issue, however, critics point out several negative factors regarding children’s church. The separation of children and teens from adults sometimes causes young people to become disconnected from both their biological family and the collective church family. Could this disconnect possibly be directly linked to the exodus of young adults from the church after they leave home?
Those who argue against the concept of children’s church “believe that the presence of children in worship is necessary for becoming the whole people of God.” Although it is vitally important for children and teens to receive biblical instruction among their peers and at their level of understanding, it is also important to be assimilated into the church family as a whole, worshiping with fellow believers of all ages. After all, it is in the church that “children, observing and participating with their parents in worship, learn about trust, discipleship, stewardship, and the gospel of Christ.”
While the Bible instructs the church to teach children about Him, it does not necessarily teach that this instruction should take place in a setting separated from the rest of God’s people.
Though some individuals do not see a need for a separate children’s church, they still believe that both children and adults greatly benefit from instruction geared toward their level of understanding. These individuals often view Sunday School as the primary source of age-appropriate instruction. They understand the benefits of learning and growing with others at similar stages of life who encounter familiar struggles and challenges.
These classes also still meet collectively for worship. No one would assume that a certain group of adults or a Sunday School class should worship separately from the rest of the congregation. The same should be true for children. By making Sunday School the time for graded instruction, children can participate in a corporate congregational service rather than separating for children’s church.
Teaching at Home
No matter what one believes about children’s church, Scripture makes it clear that the largest portion of biblical instruction should come from the home. God designed the family to be the foundation of the Church. What children (and parents) learn at home should overflow into the church as they collectively search the Scriptures and worship the Lord.
Sadly, in many cases Christian education at home has been neglected. Perhaps this is why so many churches rely heavily upon children and teen services. Young people are not receiving foundational Christian principles in the home.
A healthy church will not only emphasize instruction of youth at church but also help parents train their children in the home.
What’s at Stake?
Theologically, the purpose of children’s church—to carry out the biblical commands of instructing children—is sound. However, the method by which we carry out this command could be modified. Young people who attend children’s church extensively sometimes do not know how to act in a collective church setting, and they feel out of place when they encounter a service not catered to them. Eventually, children must get beyond the milk of the Word and start receiving the meat of the Word.
In contrast to modern church practices, children need to think through the tough questions of faith while in their formative years.
Although the practice of children’s church seems to exemplify God’s love and intimate care, children’s church also presents a conflict between what the church teaches and what it is doing through this practice. The Body of Christ (the Church) is urged to worship in unity, yet they segment themselves in the name of age-appropriate learning.
In modern American church culture, children have been pushed aside to make church and worship services centered upon adults. In too many cases, biblical instruction for children and teens has devolved into entertainment times that appease the desires of the upcoming generation.
Biblical teaching strongly opposes “church as entertainment,” yet we allow children to avoid the preaching of the Word of God to keep them from “bothering” their parents and other adults in the service. These discrepancies are confusing, not only to the child but also to individuals outside of the church family.
Children play an influential role in the work of the Church. Jesus instructed His followers to have faith as a child. If adult believers should model their faith after the simple faith of children, is it not logical to assume that corporate interaction with children is vital to the work and function of the church? Children are not merely the “church of the future.” They are the church of today!
A Simple Conclusion
Although children’s church provides a good opportunity to instruct young children in the faith, it should not take the place of the collective worship service for older children and teens in the church. While beneficial for younger children who are not ready for the structure of a congregational service, older children have much to gain from the examples and instruction in the service. Not only will they benefit from congregational worship themselves, they will bring youth, excitement, and energy to worship—guaranteed to encourage veterans of the faith.
By learning the deeper truths of Scripture and associating with their church family while still young, children and teenagers will not only be more likely to remain faithful to church but also become better equipped to fulfill God’s ultimate call on their lives: to love and serve Him with everything they are.
About the Writer: Norton, Virginia, native Elizabeth Hill is a junior Elementary Education major at Welch College. Learn more about the college at www.Welch.edu.