I have much to say on the topic of church. There is a great falling-out in our church day, and I would love to address some of the issues. The one that I want to look at today is the topic children's church. Although I am a very talented children's and youth worker, I totally disagree with the concept of children's church and I will not help with it.
I was at a church once that wanted to take all of the kids out of the sanctuary at the very beginning. I was opposed to the idea, so I wrote a detailed letter on the importance of modeling in the church. It was many years ago, and a very well done letter, so I thought it would be nice to replicate it here. Enjoy, it is full of nuggets to help you with your kids and teens. The letter is slightly abridged.
We are the ministers to our own children. The Search Institute (www.search-institute.org) has identified 40 developmental assets for children to grow up to be healthy, caring, and responsible. The top two items on this list are family support and family communication. The 14th item on the list is modeling itself (both parents and other adults). Modeling has a particularly important role in the Church. How is one to learn the love of Christ without a model to share what that love of Christ is? The answer is that someone teaches them; but who? There are two good answers to this question: One is the children’s ministry staff, and the other is the parents. Luke 6:40 tells us: A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. The modeling aspect is shown here as the teacher / student role. What the teacher does, the student will learn.
In America today, many people live very compartmentalized lives. A time exists for work, play, being home, and for God (often Sunday morning). Although the faith of many people is genuine, for better or worse, we do tend to compartmentalize and as a result, our kids often do not see us in the pursuit of God. There is one time in the life of this church that does occur: During the praise and worship time. We, as adults, tend to think that when the kids are sitting on the floor using the chairs to color on is wasted time, and that there could be a better use of that time. I would submit that is not really the case, and for several reasons. One I will mention here, and I will refer back to this at a later time. The one I am concerned about here is the modeling aspect. When the kids look up (as they often will because their eyes are not yet fully developed for long periods of concentration on the children’s bulletin) they see mom and dad, with a (hopefully) genuine love in their eyes praising and worshiping our Lord and Savior. When we remove them from this seemingly insignificant sight, we remove them from yet another critical modeling opportunity.
“In addition to cooperate among the institutions that serve youth is a critical need for a new sense of shared responsibility with families. Too often, people point to the family as the source of problems, yet little is done to support families. On the other hand, families too often turn over their children to schools or congregations or others, expecting those programs to provide young people with whatever they need in a particular area, such as spiritual development or education” (Youth Development in Congregations page 32, Search Institute)
Structure vs. Non-structure
There are some points were we lose our grips between structure and control. Structure is having a whole plan of design, while control is having a situation under containment. These are two very separate concepts. There is a misconception that non-structured time leads to problems with sin and unrighteousness, but that is not the case. Lack of control is what leads to sin and unrighteousness. It is entirely possible to have a non-structured, but controlled time. This time is actually good for kids because they do not feel herded around. The time during praise and worship (assuming they are not participating) is a non-structured, but controlled activity. Often times, it is a relaxing time which adds to their available attention span during the service. On the other hand, if you add more structure (even with breaks), the attention span will decrease greatly and they will be lost during the critical teaching times. The times sitting on the floor is a time to “do whatever” without getting into trouble. This is not a waste of time, but a time to see the parents worship, a time to gather and build friends (when they do activities together), and again, a time to relax before the time they are required to pay attention.
Unity vs. Segregation
I recall the last day I was an atheist. I was under the solid implication that the family structure of America had totally collapsed. This, of course, is the driving force behind a most controversial and appalling book called Birthrights, by Richard Farson. The background of this book is a psychologist who looks into the society and sees a total segregation of adults and children. The answer he comes up with is to offer total freedom to children, a move that has the most devastating of consequences. As I read though this book, I notice that healthy people from healthy families have seemed to solve the problem. The solution is family unity. You must understand that in my background, I have seen my father less than ten times in my life, my mother divorced my first stepfather when I was a young child, and she married the next when I was 16 years old. The majority of my life has been lived in isolation. I did not have many friends at all and my mother was either at work, her boyfriends house, or the neighbors house for hours on end. You can understand how I perceive of the total breakdown of the family unit.
Three places exist for a segregation of adults and children. The first is that they will be alone. This is the area that I moved to. First described by Wegscheider and Cruise, it is characterized by dealing with patterns of dysfunction through escape. The aloneness is not a healthy alone, but a very unhealthy alone (Adult Children – The secrets of Dysfunctional Families). The second is group isolation. This is when a series of kids gets together in an unorganized group in the case of some, or organized gangs in the case of others. They gather together in such groups as a response to the God-made desire for relationships. They find comfort in one another. These two groups have little to no adult supervision and are lead into the sinful desires beyond imagination because without any supervision, anything imaginable is done, mostly, it would seem, for attention. This is what has lead to the radical views of the Goth culture. The third way to deal with the separation is to have groups with adult supervision. This more or less is what occurs with the public education sector, for better or for worse. I do not argue that there is an intrinsic problem with this, but only that when the segregation is not required. The advantage to this segregation is to provide age-appropriate materials where relevant and further, if done correctly, can create or reinforce friendships among peer groups. The disadvantage to this segregation is that it removes role modeling from the most important people in the child’s life: the parents. Role modeling is addressed above, so I will not go further here, but “age-appropriate materials” needs some serious consideration.
What is age-appropriate? I would submit that in the Church of Jesus Christ, about everything. We live in a culture where kids are exposed to too many messages of objectionable content far too early. Here is why: in 2004, 21.6% of 8th graders have used some kind of illegal drug. One can make two assumptions that are pretty good. The first being that this statistic, like many other, is low. The other is that not every kid who has seen drugs will use them. If almost a quarter of the kids in America by 8th grade have used an illegal drug, how many have seen them? That same statistic for 12th graders in 2004 is 51.1%. The sad thing is that the stats are showing that drug use in 2004 was LOWER than other years reported (High school and youth Drug trend, National Institute on Drug Abuse, http://www.nida.nih.gov/Infofax/HSYouthtrends.html). Considering Sexual Activity, in 2003, 46.7% of adolescents experienced sexual activity in all grades reported from 9-12. The breakdown is as follows: 9th grade – 32.8%, 10th grade – 44.1%, 11th grade – 53.3%, 12th grade – 61.6%. (National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Teen Sexual Activity in United States, http://www.teenpregnancy.org/resources/data/pdf/TeenSexActivityOnePager.pdf - As of now, this link is not active, but the site is still there and they have lots of research)
I must ask a question: With trends as they are, are we concerned with children hearing a message at church that says that premarital sex is wrong?
In a conversation with one of my mentors not too long ago, they said it was appalling how many teenagers in middle school and high school are coming out and saying they are gay? Why are they doing this? I can only wager that it is for attention. There is material in the school system today that doesn’t just promote tolerance, it teaches that such behavior is OK. This was the controversy over a speech by James Dobson not long ago. The media misquoted his statements, but his point was that material is being introduced into the public school system today actually promotes homosexual activity (Focus on the Family February 2005 Newsletter, Setting the Record Straight).
According to Neil Postman, there are only two institutions with enough interest to help prevent the decline of children. One is the school system and the other is the family. I will focus here on the family, since it is the backbone of the church. In his book , The Disappearance of Childhood, Postman observes that a major decline in childhood as a whole and the blurring of adult / child boundaries and attitudes has to do with media entertainment. He explains in another book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, that even under the heading of ‘education’ such media is still entertainment and leads to several false assumptions. The first of these being that entertainment is the core of life, the second that anything that is educational is best done with entertainment. In addition, viewing media entertainment under the guise of education leads to a desire to more entertainment, which is the cornerstone to instant gratification. According to Postman:
“Almost all of the characteristics we associate with adulthood are those that are (and were) either generated or amplified by the requirements of a fully literate culture: the capacity of self-restraint, a tolerance for delayed gratification, a sophisticated ability to think conceptually and sequentially, a preoccupation with both historical continuity and the future, a high valuation of reason and hierarchical order.” (Page 99, Dis).
Postman tells us later in this book that some parents have lost the confidence to parent (I would, however, submit that this is true, but the loss of confidence has to do with culture as a whole, not just media). In response, Postman says: “Thus psychologists, social workers, guidance counselors, teachers, and other representing an institutional point of view invade large areas of parental authority, mostly by invitation. What this means is that there is a loss in the intimacy, dependence, and loyalty that traditionally characterize the parent-child relationship. Indeed, it is now believed by some that the parent-child relationship is essentially neurotic, and that children are better served by institutions than by their families.” (Page 150-1, Dis) This final statement is at the core of being detrimental to the church. Giving kids educational and fun programming does not encourage them to love the subject matter of the program, it teaches them to loved the means of delivery, i.e. television. Further notes, I know that some people in the church do not allow their kids to watch more than an hour of TV or movies a day (which I believe is a VERY good trait), this is the same with both of my mentors. Adding extra media to the curriculum may do little more than add to the desire to see more.
That concludes the remarks in my letter. I was very pleased by a church leadership that took this letter very seriously and modified their plan to allow for more modeling in the church.
Peace in Christ,