Friday, July 1, 2011

Thoughts on Children's Ministry - Part 1

To those of you who felt obligated to make sarcastic remarks about sending your kids to me for VBS, I say “Let the torture begin!”

Seriously, when I reread my last post I thought maybe I would expound a little bit on the topic of children’s ministry (and try not to be cynical). It’s a deviation from my "God Help Me In The Alaskan Wilderness" theme, but it’s on my mind.

First, as an adult I can look back and see that the First Baptist VBS I attended (and disliked) as a child was not very child centered. I don’t know if it was representative of the day or not. I doubt if the spiritual formation of children was a hot topic in small town southern churches in the 60’s. Adults were front and center in the learning environment and didn’t pay much attention to how the children were responding. “Data driven” meant your dad drove you and JimBob to the movies (“Wuz yew and yore date a’driven to the show last night by yore paw?”) If children were orderly, then things were going well.

And, to be honest, I was a handful as a young child. My best old friend Louise says I was a bully (I think she was just a cry baby : ). I do remember being a good-time girl, a rule breaker and sneaker-arounder. I have probably suppressed memories of being chased and beaten by frustrated VBS workers who knew their own children would never behave like that.

But I do think it’s unfortunate that a great many adults who work in children’s ministries in churches today (mostly mommies) are untrained and naïve. Having been a classroom teacher for hundreds of years, I see how children interact and work at school in contrast to how they behave at church. It’s like night and day.

Church, in all it’s manifestations, is often condescending and patronizing to children. We want every child to feel happy, successful and to come back next week. So we focus on entertainment and foolproof activities (like the crafts I described in my earlier post). God forbid a child should leave church feeling introspective or uneasy.

But statistics show (I can’t believe I’m talking about statistics in my blog. What’s happened to me!!?)….Anyway, I’ve been told that the majority of children and teens who are involved in church end up leaving church (and the faith) as adults. This is not good!

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the dangers of “cheap faith”. Nowhere is that more evident than in children’s ministry. It’s as cheap as it gets! I really believe it insults the intelligence of many children. They know their school teachers require so much more effort, discipline and creativity. They lose respect for the church and all it stands for.

Maybe a rich and lasting faith has to come slowly and painfully, like…..reading, writing and math. Not always fun, but well worth the effort, don’t you think?

1 comment:

  1. The statistics are scary, indeed...we are our own worst enemy to make them so, too. Amen and amen to your post! We underestimate children all the time in church and church activities. Our expectations are so low for them that we almost ask them to find other, more real, things to do with their time and minds.