Children's Ministry Matters for the Church
Christian Education in the church is important, but before we can know what it is, we need to know why it exists. That begins by answering the more fundamental question of why the church of Jesus Christ exists at all.
What is the Mission of the Church?
In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus commands his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert succinctly summarize the mission of the church from this text.
The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey his commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father.Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, What is the Mission of the Church? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011) Kindle Loc. 851.
What is the Mission of Christian Education?
The church’s philosophy towards education has to be closely connected with the mission and purpose of the church, as given and defined by Jesus. But of course, this isn’t a mission and purpose only for leaders and pastors in the church. As David Vandrunen says, “All ordinary Christians can also contribute to this evangelistic work in an informal way (1 Pet. 3:15).” The task of disciple-making is for all Christians and brings us head-on to the theme of Christian education.
Disciple-making is essential to the calling Jesus has given to the church. This means, of course, that the church is in the disciple-making business. As Lesslie Newbigin says, “To call men and women into discipleship of Jesus Christ is and must always be central in the life of the Church.” It isn’t all that Christ has given for the church to do, but it’s not optional, either.
Another verse that is often appealed to in elaborating the mission of discipleship that the church has been given is Ephesians 4:11-13, which reads:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
In this passage Paul appears to be describing what might be called a program of discipleship. It contains the persons and the means (equipping and building) of doing that, but especially the goal of discipleship (unity of the faith, knowledge of the Son, maturity, and conformity to Christ).
Christian education does not exist in order to just keep the kids (or adults!) busy or even to create a knowledgeable group of people in the church. Rather, Christian education, with discipleship as its goal, exists to produce spiritual unity, knowledge, and holiness among Christians. Norman Harper said it this way: “The making of disciples is the ultimate purpose of all true education.” Parrett and Kang seem to agree:
It is clear that Paul had made, as one of his chief goals in working with the churches, the very goal that God has established for his people: conformity to the likeness of Jesus Christ. All who engage in the teaching ministry of the church can aspire to nothing less for their labors.
What Drives Our Children’s Ministry?
We have to be purposeful and thoughtful about why we do anything that we do. To simply say “we’ve always done it” doesn’t answer the question of why we ought to do something. I would suggest that there are two major reasons to pursue excellence in our church’s children’s ministry.
1. Baptismal Vows – As a church body we promise to “undertake the responsibility of assisting the parents in the Christian nurture of this child” (BCO 56-5). When church leaders and laypeople in the church make the education of the children in the church a priority, they are keeping their vows before God that they make when any child is baptized in the church. This vow also implies that parents need help. If you have been a parent then you know for yourself that parenting is hard, and parents really do need the help of the whole covenant community to raise their children.
2. The Need – Children have the same fundamental need that adults have: to be evangelized, discipled, and educated. They are the next generation of the church. “The Christian parent should carefully plan for the nurture of their children…” (Norman Harper). Children’s ministry is not an albatross around the neck of the church. It is not a burden or an annoyance that “has to be taken care of.” Instead, it is a privilege that we have, to know that God would meet the needs of these little members of the body of Christ by using fallible and ordinary people like us.
What Can I Do?
To begin with, each of us needs to ask ourselves whether we are doing our part to help make disciples in our church. People often believe that their age is an impediment to being able to teach, but often age can be one of someone’s biggest assets. Many children (my own, for instance) don’t have grandparents in their lives and need the presence of a mature older voice in their lives. They need to see your Christian character and hear you share from your own years of wisdom and experience.
In the coming months there will be opportunities at Pearl Presbyterian Church for all church members to help with disciple-making. There will be training opportunities, Lord-willing. There are teachers needed for VBS.
We have even begun a rotation in the children’s Sunday School so that more teachers will have opportunities to teach the kids over shorter periods of time (8 weeks at a time). All of this is intended to help us to put into practice the goal of making us a church of disciple-makers. Whether you are a man, a woman… young or old… Christ’s command to make disciples of all the world is still true for each of us. Helping teach the children of this church and of the surrounding neighborhood during VBS and in Sunday School is one of the most important ways that God will shape us and them into Christ’s image and promote his own glory in Pearl, Mississippi.