There’s been a lot of talk, and writing, and blogging lately about the whole idea of missional church. I am one of those that believes that while the church in North America is not the great whore of Babylon, it may have drifted a little from what it was initially called to be. For that reason, I have been wrestling, as a pastor, and church leader, with some of the missional concepts and also with some of the questions that need to help us understand how we got here in the first place. As I’ve been reading, and talking with others on the missional journey, I have noticed a disturbing gap in the thinking and theorizing that’s been done so far. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of talk about what children’s ministry might look like in this missional paradigm. In fact, it seems to me that a lot of the churches that might be considered to be missional are actually undermining themselves in their children’s ministry. While the adult congregation is coming to see church as something that you are, their children are still being trained to see church as somewhere that you go. So last night we decided to tackle this issue in a little brainstorming session.
What I’m about to write is in no way cohesive, or even that well thought out. It is the genesis thinking that came about from an hour and a half discussion about the problem. The reason I’m sharing it with you, is that I think the more people thinking about it the better. There’s a ton of material I could post, so I will be posting bits and pieces of it over the next couple of days, so check back to see what’s new. You can also subscribe to the feed of this blog if you’d like. So without much further ado, and in no particular order, here’s a few things that came to the surface.
The Didactic Model:
- In trying to classify the current state of children’s ministry this is the term we came up with. Basically, contemporary children’s ministry seems to be a quest to convey information to the children. There are various schools of thought in how this is best accomplished, but the general goal seems to be coming up with better and more creative ways of conveying and transferring as much knowledge as possible to the children in the time we have them for on Sunday mornings.
- I want to be clear. I don’t think this is a bad thing. Obviously, there is a huge need and value in conveying the truths of scripture to our children in a way that makes sense and helps them to learn and understand these truths. The scriptures even command this to us, (Deut 4:9) The question that we were struggling with is, “is this the whole point?”
The Discipleship Question:
- When we backed up from the problem a little and revisited it from a different perspective we started wrestling with the best way to create disciples, including looking a little at how Jesus did it.
- Here’s some of what got suggested:
- Perhaps the biggest way that Jesus taught his disciples was through modeling the life of a servant of Yahweh, even to the point of death. They watched him live life and deal with all that life threw at him. This was perhaps the most powerful part of their training. We noticed that when you look at the gospels, the reality is that Jesus doesn’t actually formally preach that often, rather he informally instructs them as situations arise.
- It was also noted that encouraging relationships is crucial in the discipleship process
- A relationship with God first and foremost – again accomplished primarily through modeling this behavior.
- A relationship with ourselves as the disciple-maker/parent
- A relationship with other followers of Christ, across generational gaps.
- One of the things we noted about relationships was how powerful a teacher they are, especially when there is someone there to walk through the relationship process with the disciple. Think about it. Relationships teach us about love, about connection, about patience and about what healthy conflict, resolution and unity look like. They teach us these things in a way that no class room ever could.
- What kept coming up over and over was that the responsibility for creating disciples of our children is primarily ours as parents and not the children’s ministry at all. What was also frighteningly apparent, was that the didactic approach didn’t address any of these issues we raised when discussing discipleship. So, if children’s ministry isn’t creating disciples, than what is it creating?
- How would children’s ministry change if we approached it from the perspective of making disciples that want to think, live and be just like their Rabbi Jesus, rather than simply educating them in the tenants of Christianity?
- In the denomination I’m a part of their is still a fairly strong bible quizzing program running. Personally, I think this illustrates the problem with this approach. I have known so many “quizzers” who had memorized multiple books of the bible and yet rapidly drifted away from faith, and from any relationship with the one the scriptures they had memorized are about. Why is this the case so often?
The Question Questions:
- As we were discussing what an ideal disciple-making environment would look like, one of the phrases that came up, was a “nutrient rich, questioning environment.”
- There is a huge need for our children to learn and understand the scriptures, but this learning has to take place in an environment of exploration, rather than an environment of absorption if it’s ever going to make a difference. too many of us could recount stories of Sunday School teachers who shot down our questions and encouraged us to simply swallow the answers we were being given. Even worse than that, we could all remember times when we were lied to by teachers who clearly didn’t know the answers to the questions we were asking.
- We decided that a missional children’s ministry teacher would have some of these qualities. Even if they are a little idealistic.
- A Disciple’s Heart: I think this is of the utmost importance. They’re first and most powerful desire has to be to be like their Rabbi. This means that they are still on a quest to learn and understand the life of a disciple better and more fully themselves. I think this is the inoculation against the danger of giving pat answers to powerful questions. A disciples heart is excited about the new questions and problems and is inspired to seek out new answers to achieve a richer understanding.
- A Humble Spirit: This goes hand in hand with the disciple’s heart. They have to not only be humble enough to admit when they don’t have the answer, but excited to go on a search for the answer. This is the spirit that needs to be modeled to our children today: a spirit of learning.
- An Inspiring Vision: The saying goes, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” While it is a powerful statement, I think it’s missing something. You see, unless you inspire him to use his new-found knowledge, he’s still going to starve. This is the problem in the church today. We are all educated far beyond the level of our own obedience, we just aren’t inspired to use the knowledge we have. As a preacher, I’ve been wrestling a lot with this lately. I still see my role as a conveyor of information, but I’m starting to believe more strongly that what is really needed is inspiration rather than education. We’ve already had too much education. But, please take that with a grain of salt.
- Courage and Understanding: I can still remember one of the apprentices at Redwood saying, “I’m still so scared every time I have to preach.” I could tell that he was looking to me for some comfort and maybe some advice on how to get rid of that feeling, but I responded by saying, “Good. I’m glad. I’ve been preaching for over twelve years, and I’m still scared every time.” The responsibility we have when we take on the role of teacher is huge, and we had better always understand that.
Well, there’s some stuff to think about for now. As I said earlier, I’ll be posting more from this and another brainstorming session over the next couple of days.