Throughout Christian and Secular education, there is a mentality that as long as our children and youth learn, the methods we use to teach them are irrelevant. “The end justifies the means,” seems to be the song of the day. The problem is that the end we are arriving at is not where we want to be. A few weeks ago a young man knocked on my door; he was selling children’s books door-to-door as part of a summer internship. These children’s books were outstanding in that they were the coolest children’s books I had ever seen. His pitch was, ”If children enjoy learning at an early age, then they will enjoy learning and continue learning when they get older.” Does this sound familiar? Does this not describe nearly every Evangelical church’s and, dare I say, Southern Baptist church’s mentalities? If we can simply get children and youth to enjoy learning the word of God, then they will continue in the word of God when they get older. How we get them to learn is really irrelevant. We seek to make learning as enjoyable as possible, not because learning is enjoyable in and of itself, but because fun is enjoyable. Thus, we do what we need to make learning the Scriptures and learning about God “fun.” The problem is that we never teach our children and youth that learning about God is enjoyable because of who He is not because of what He created. The enjoyment in learning about Him is bound up in His identity, not in the same “enjoyable” things we would want to accompany other subjects in order to “keep our attention.” We are actually privileged to learn about and enjoy forever the only God who exists! Therefore, all learning about Him should be enjoyable to those who enjoy Him! Moreover, since this is God’s world, all truth wherever it is found is God’s truth. Learning Science, Math, etc. teaches us truth about God and His world, which helps us “to enjoy Him forevermore.” There should be a holy reverence when studying all subjects, for God’s glory alone!
I’m going to tell you exactly what I told that young male college student who knocked on my door: “At what point do we teach children that they are responsible to use the brains God has given them to the best of their abilities for His glory?” The reality is that making learning fun does not make children enjoy learning, it makes them enjoy fun. Would you brag on your child for loving brussel sprouts if you had to coat them in chocolate before your child would eat them? Of course not, for your child enjoys chocolate instead of brussel sprouts. Then why do we deceive ourselves into believing our children love the word of God when in order to get them to listen, we must coat it in something else? Adding “fun” things to the study of the Bible does not make children love the word of God, and it certainly does not make them love God anymore either. It simply makes them enjoy having fun. When the fun is gone, so is the study of the Scriptures. And, if our methods were really producing the love for God that we longed to produce, then Christians would enjoy learning about and living for the Lord apart from Sunday morning alone.
There is no responsibility anymore for the church’s ears to perk up and listen, for “those who have ears to hear, to let them hear.” The church largely today expects to be entertained, and instead of pastors and Sunday school teachers standing up and trusting the word of God, imploring hearers to listen because of the authority of the book itself, we have watered it down, and have chosen instead to add entertainment to the text in order to feel good about ourselves. Our mentality seems to be that if our children want to come to church on Sunday Morning or Wednesday evening, the reason they want to come is really irrelevant to us; as long as they want to be there. And, we wonder why our children leave the church in college, never to return. We cannot lose what we never had to begin with. We think that if we get children to come to service or to come to Wednesday night, or to memorize Bible verses, etc. then we have succeeded. My question is if we really believe this, then why not carry this out to the extreme? Let’s start paying children, youth, and adults to attend church, memorize Scripture, etc. if the goal is simply to get these truths in their heads. The goal however is to get them to love the Lord, and live for His glory alone, and this cannot be accomplished by bribing children, youth, and adults to enjoy Him. God the Holy Spirit is the only One who can accomplish this, and He determined before the foundation of the world to accomplish this “through the foolishness of the message preached” (1 Cor. 1:21).
Although our children and youth programs are bloated with numbers, these numbers are deceptive, for many of these children and youth will never love Christ because we have given them so many other reasons to attend our churches other than Him. We bring them to church and they love to come, not because they love Jesus, but because they love having fun. And the reality is that many of them will never get to Jesus, because we have placed too many obstacles in their way. In order to get to Him, they will have to learn that He is more valuable than the various fun things we have been feeding them. We are simply killing ourselves, for our children grow up to be adults who wear the name of Christ, but have never lived for His glory, and actually view the church as there to meet their needs, regardless what these needs are from one week to the next. The sad reality is that when the church cannot meet their self-exalting needs, they run to other churches that can, or they simply leave the church altogether.
The bottom line is that many Southern Baptists do not believe the Scriptures are sufficient to bring sinners to repentance at the feet of Jesus. We have failed to realize that children, in order to accept Christ, will actually have to crawl over the fun things we have added, the various garnishes we have used, in order to trust in Christ. Furthermore, in order to understand their responsibility to love God and enjoy Him forever, they will have to understand that God is more valuable than entertainment. They will soon realize that studying the Bible is not fun if you do not enjoy God. And, when they refuse to study the Bible because “it’s boring,” they are simply fleshing out what we have taught them. The value of the Bible is God, not the various garnishes we add to it to make it “relevant.” The bottom line is that we do what we love, and when we use fun in an attempt to get children to love God, we are actually making it harder for them to see God because they are having so much fun focusing on our garnishes or their own sinful desire to be entertained, that they miss the real value of Scripture: it’s God-breathed!
May God have mercy on us…
Until our children and adults understand that they are responsible before God to study, live, and apply His Word, then they will never grow in Christ. Some may be thinking at this point in the article, “You cannot get children to study the Scriptures if you do not make it fun,” or, “they will not listen if you do not make it fun.” My reaction is simply this: if only the early church had our expertise, then maybe they would have baptized thousands more? If children and adults have God the Holy Spirit, not only will they listen, but they will want to listen. Once God the Holy Spirit makes them realize their responsibility to listen, they will make themselves listen, because of Who they are learning about, not because of how they are learning.
In conclusion, children will enjoy and have fun doing what they love to do. If they love God, and know that the Bible is His word, then they will enjoy studying it to “show themselves approved before God” (2 Tim. 2:15). If they understand their responsibility to learn because they live in God’s world, and are stewards of the intellect He has given them, then they will learn for His glory, regardless whether the subject is His Word or His world. If we seek to make them enjoy learning the Word of God or learning about His world for the same reason they enjoy cartoons, then they will grow very little, if at all, in their Christian lives. The only answer to the problem of voluntary Biblical ignorance by Christ’s church, regardless of age, is not in trying to pragmatically get them to like and enjoy what they profess to hate by their actions.
If you want to see if your pragmatism is working, ask your children why they want to go to church. See what they say. Furthermore, ask them if they want to attend the worship service where there will be nothing but the word of God sung, prayed, and preached. If they think the normal, regular worship of God is boring, and Christ is exalted in the service, then they need to be taught their responsibility. The answer to their sinfulness is not in “spicing up” the worship of God so they will enjoy worship, for they will only enjoy the garnishes we’ve added instead of God Himself. The answer for stopping the prolonged suicide of the SBC is to emphasize every Christian’s responsibility to love and enjoy the Lord through studying and applying His Word. We must trust God to bring the increase instead of our garnishes (1 Cor. 3:6-7). The word of God is sufficient.
What are your thoughts?
Part 2 of this brief series can be found here.