Rationale and Biblical Foundation
God loves people. In the beginning God created a universe to display his greatness. Then he created people to share and revel in it. When those people sinned, the intimacy they shared with God was forever broken. But God had an even bigger plan to show off even more greatness so people could share and revel in even more of it…if they would trust him.
When God created people, he said, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). This imperative instituted families and stirred in them the desire to go into all the world exploring, creating and delighting in the Creator together. However, because of sin, families were also broken and children would grow up not having known of the original intimacy their parents had with the Creator. Parents would then have to pass on this firsthand knowledge which would become second hand and so on.
Even though the relationship people had with God was broken, God was still working and present and very active. His aim was and is to mend what was broken, to heal what was wounded and to restore what was ruined. He chose throughout history to speak and to share promises of redemption. Whenever he spoke or demonstrated his power it was intended to be shared. In fact, how could such powerful demonstrations not be made known? Inevitably, stories would be written and told in community and within families. Significant rituals and marker events would be instituted as powerful reminders of God’s faithfulness. People would hear portions of God’s greatness and glory again and again even though it could no longer be seen in all its fullness here on Earth.
Eventually a great poet would pen the words, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (Ps 145:4). Another would write in Psalm 78:5-8,
He established a testimony…which he commanded our fathers to teach their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.
I believe the key word in that passage is ‘hope.’ The whole reason God acts and speaks and establishes a testimony is so we can have hope of a renewed relationship again. This happens in the context of communities and families teaching the next generation. In the book, Children Matter, the authors state it this way, “…the children are also to learn of God’s power and saving acts so that they remember his covenant to them.”
The Hebrew education system was taken very seriously and demonstrated with powerful reminders of God’s deliverance and covenant along with warnings of sin’s consequences.
God then fully reveals his rescue plan in Jesus who ushers in the era of the church filled with people who have received the free gift of eternal life. History shows us that the church is weak and flawed, but that through it the message of hope is going out to the whole world. For thousands of years God’s message has not run dry and has not been utterly forgotten. It is still being talked about around the world. It is being shared and passed on from parents to children and from church leaders to the next generation over and over again.
Therefore, today we minister to children and families because God brings life and hope by the means of one generation teaching the next about his greatness and glory. Unless the older teach the younger, God’s message of love and hope would stop if that were possible.
In addition to the compelling force of the Gospel passing from one generation to another, we also have a historically altering moment in time when Jesus displays the great value of a child. A chapter in Dr. WessStafford’s book, Too Small to Ignore, is entitled The Children’s Champion: A Righteous Rage.
In it he describes the fierce indignation Jesus had when his own followers were turning children away from him. This anger Jesus had should also drive the church toward ministry to children. No child should be unwelcome. Christians everywhere should rise up to be champions for children.
Goal: Church Plus Home
If the spread of the Gospel is the rationale for ministry to children, it is also the goal. Specifically, the goal for the church is to give families the boost they need to train children to build their lives on the rock solid foundation of the teachings of Jesus. We can break that statement down into its parts.
Families are called to train and teach their children well. But they shouldn’t do it alone. Therefore, the church working together with the home provides a practical boost. This boost can come from a variety of means such as Sunday services for kids, mentoring, serving ministries, classes and gatherings. The church provides unique and transformative opportunities where families can come for a special lift of encouragement for their daily journey. Training and teaching is a key component of any children’s ministry. Patrick D. Miller in his essay entitled That the Children May Know: Children in Deuteronomy, discusses the complex and vital role that teaching has in training children to know God’s Word. He writes, “Teaching is a complex endeavor that involves far more than “learning the rules,” though that is a part of it. Coming to know the faith involves, questioning, knowing the story behind the rules, and engaging in a range of familial and communal rituals and activities.”
Training children to know, love and follow Jesus calls for a complete team effort shared by the church and the home.
The boost is for training. Children need training and this doesn’t happen by accident. Training is reminiscent of athletics. Athletes undergo strict training to achieve greatness. The best place for this training of children happens in the home. The church provides leadership and teaching, but best training practices happen in a very regular and consistent environment. The normal reward for this is plain as it is written in the book of Proverbs, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6).
Then comes what the training is for. It’s for building lives. Each life is a wonderful creation and placed by God in a strategic time in history, in a strategic location in the world and with a strategic family. Lives are like a house waiting to be built, but the pieces are scattered everywhere. When a builder builds, he looks for a suitable place, crafts a plan, gathers appropriate materials and works the plan until the job is complete. Each young life needs people for guidance so they can learn how to build their own life. They need teaching and training to help them navigate life’s difficulties. Then, if built well, lives will be strong and able to fulfill their purpose.
More clearly, lives need to be built on a strong foundation. That foundation is Jesus. He told a story from which I’ve gathered this metaphor for building lives. In Matthew 7:24-27, we find that the foundation is the teachings of Jesus. Therefore, teaching is an essential element of children’s and family ministry. We teach what Jesus taught so that each child can have many opportunities to respond to him with trust. We also teach in the way that he taught. For example, he embodied the truth, he knew the Scriptures well, he served, he used a variety of methods such as metaphors, parables and questions, and he addressed different audiences appropriately. This will lead them into a life filled with right choices so that even when figurative storms come, they can withstand them and hold tightly to their faith in Jesus. Children will be able stand up and resist any temptation that comes their way and not fall into disaster.
So the goal restated is that the church will be a place where families can come to receive the teaching of Jesus so that they can together be equipped to handle whatever comes their way with the wisdom of God.
(Bibliography at end of part 2).