Four years ago my family did a tour of all the churches within our denomination in our region of New South Wales, Australia. Each Sunday we would conspicuously march our six children into the church, sit down, and look around. Do you know what we saw? A sea of silver heads. Where have all the children gone?
Next Sunday when you go to church look around at those folks in their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, and, if you have the courage, ask them about their children and grandchildren. Are they walking with the Lord and committed members of a church?
Unfortunately, it is far too common a reality that the adult children of our members, elders, and ministers are not. Nevertheless, even if your church does have children and youth attending, it only takes one generation ineffectively training up their children until our churches become barren.
It is a difficult job unpacking the many facetted factors leading to a major exodus of our children and grandchildren. For decades the church has sought to remain relevant by borrowing from the popular features of the surrounding society. They have in vain fought off the rot of secularism with winsome posturing, entertaining worship services, and cool youth groups. Is the battle for the souls of our children to be won with fun youth groups and hip music bands? We have been doing that since the ’80s and that is how we ended up where we are.
The road toward post-Christendom has been paved with the lives of many of our Christian families. If we do not get serious and properly train and equip our children they will not be able to withstand the pressures of our neo-pagan society. “A people without understanding shall come to ruin” (Hosea 4:14). We must show our children through our lives and priorities that what we believe is real, precious, and unquestionably true.
When I was 14 years old I had the privilege of teaching 7-8 year-olds Bible lessons each Sunday. I had spent years watching and helping others teach Sunday school, but this time I was the solo teacher. With my lesson diligently prepared I sat all the children down on a carpet and looked out across their faces and I had a profound thought— these squirming, wiggling, nose-picking kiddos are so much smarter than anyone gives them credit for!
It was at that moment I decided to teach children as if they were smart, intellectual, brimming with potential and looking for a guide. Though my Sunday school class was full of very challenging children, each week they would happily come and sit, listen, and learn. People would ask me, “Eleanor how do you get those kids to be so well-behaved and listen?” My response was, “I expect excellence from each one of them.”
The church needs to expect more from our children and youth than simply sitting still and watching a video of a Bible story, having a snack, and doing a craft. Though these activities have a place in the church we need to be expecting excellence from our covenant kids.
Last week I bumped into a mother of a teenage boy who took part in an eight week youth Bible study group which my husband and I taught. Her son was bemoaning its completion as the youth Bible study program being run at her church was too basic. He was bored and not being intellectually challenged. Many of our youth are being taught the basics and a simple gospel message week in and week out when we have so much more we could be giving them.
The rich stories of the Old and New Testaments are treasure chests of priceless truths to teach young children deep biblical doctrine and the rich theology of our faith. The distilled doctrines found in catechisms teach succinct and accurate theology. My personal experience is that young minds, without baggage, can at times understand and absorb the profound doctrines of the Bible even better than adults.
Our youth are more than capable of learning, understanding, memorising, and applying doctrine, theological terminology, creeds, and confessions. This is their heritage and it is a rich and wonderful one. As tempting as it may be to use our churches’ children and youth programs as child care, entertainment, and outreach to the community, we risk being derelict in our duty to effectively train up our covenant kids.
A solid children and youth program in a church coupled with attendance at a Christian school is not the ultimate solution to the discipleship and training up of our next generation of Christians. That duty lies predominately on the shoulders of parents. We parents are going to stand before the living God on the day of judgment and give an account for what we have done with the souls of our children (Deut. 6:6; Eph. 6:4).
We cannot pawn off to the church or Christian schools our responsibility to teach our children the Bible, theology, doctrines, confessions, morality, and ethics. If we ourselves do not instruct our children the truths of the Scriptures the world will swoop in with its flashy entertainment, satanic-subtleties, social media, and secular education, and we may find that we are left with confused youth and pagan young adults. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6).
Christians have one source of absolute truth–the Bible–and it is our responsibility to impart this truth into our children. A child is born a sinner, an heir of Adam’s sin-DNA, and unable to find truth or God without a guide. Our presupposition of the Bible as authoritative truth must guide how we teach our children.
Deuteronomy 6:6-7 declares, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” The Hebrew word for “teach diligently” in this verse is shanan which is generally translated into English as “impress or teach diligently” but it literally means to “cut or sharpen.”
Sharp words are used to chisel our children into the likeness of Christ Jesus. No Christian should simply give their children an opportunity to choose what they are going to believe! The Bible instructs parents to “cut” the truth into them.
The secular world would try to convince us that we need to give our children “the space to become who they want to be,” believe what they want to believe, and find truth wherever they want to find it. Meanwhile, secular society is aggressively and insidiously indoctrinating our children with their neo-paganism. It’s not just hypocritical, it’s diabolical.
Though the world will on one hand say that there is not one truth, on the other hand they seek to impose their one truth on us. Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ (John 14:6) Jesus is calling us to impart his truth to our children.
Our children are precious and we must not be negligent in taking every effort, without apology, to “make” our children believe what we believe. The stakes are too high. Their souls are depending on our commitment to teach them.