I am concerned about the declining standards in our nation, the shaky economy, the disturbing moral trends. Violence, immorality and perversion fill the airwaves. The family is breaking down, our schools are a mess; the moral foundations of our nation are crumbling. What is going to happen to my grandchild growing up in this moral cesspool?
But I have a more serious concern today. I am bothered by the effects of a pagan society on the next generation, but I am more concerned about what the church of Jesus Christ is doing to our children. Permit me to share my concerns. This is an edited and updated version of a blog I wrote several years ago. My concerns have not changed.
A prominent church developed a children’s ministry center. The designer had worked for Disney and built a visual wonderland to amaze and attract. In the hopes that many children would come to Christ, the church put in a baptistery; one especially designed for children. It was shaped like a fire truck and equipped with a confetti canon that would fire every time a child was baptized.
The preceding paragraph is NOT fiction. I have talked to people who have been there. That church may be extreme, but it is indicative of what is going on in children’s ministries across America. Children’s ministries are competing with fast-paced children’s television programs and exciting video games. So, we compete. If Disney can entertain our children, we will do it better. We will out-Hollywood Hollywood and out-rock-and-roll the music industry.
This is all done with the most noble of motives. The bright lights of our culture attract children, so we use the bright lights to attract them to Christ. If the kids watch TV, let’s give them VeggieTales. If they are going to play games, they might as well have a Christian theme. Their music might as well have vaguely Christian words. Whatever we have to do to get them into the church and keep them there, we will do.
But there may be a problem with all this. I am afraid that in our noble desire to make the church more palatable and entertaining, we are in danger of raising a generation which has no concept of what Christianity really is. My generation is narcissistic and self-indulgent. What will this generation of entertainment-jaded youth be when they have all grown up?
Jesus described the essential nature of Christianity. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Nothing about entertainment there. Paul told the Philippians, “It has been granted to you on behalf of Jesus not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” I thought Christianity was supposed to be fun! But Jesus promised his disciples that in this world they would have tribulation.
We work very hard to make the church-experience fun, exciting and entertaining. We cater to children and youth. But following Jesus is self-denial, not entertainment. We are called to serve him; not just to enjoy him. How are kids going to learn this lesson if children spend their lives being catered to and entertained? When is the last time an American child was asked to sacrifice for cause of Christ?
For several years I led a ministry at my former church called Bible Drill. It is hard work. Every week I had a dozen or so wonderful Christian fourth through sixth graders in my office whining about Bible Drill. “This isn’t fun. Can we go outside?” Every week I gave them the same response. “Nothing of real value in life is fun. The things that really matter require hard work, sacrifice and faithfulness.” The message never seemed to get through. These kids were not juvenile delinquents. These were good kids – church kids. In fact, one of them went home with me at the end of the evening. But they had an idea ingrained into their pre-adolescent minds. Church is supposed to be fun. If it isn’t fun, they shouldn’t have to do it. Where would they have gotten such an idea?
I am raising an issue for which I do not have an answer. I do not want to make church dull. Howard Hendricks said that it is a sin to bore people with the Word of God. I agree. I see no real problem with using technology to create interest. But I do think that we have to be careful not to let kids grow up in the church enjoying the show without being challenged to sacrifice for the cause. Jesus did not say, “If anyone – except the children – would come after me…” We cannot give children a watered down gospel or ignore the call of Christ to sacrificial living.
In our effort to keep kids coming to church, have we compromised the reason why they should come? Is the goal to get them into the church or to see them passionately devoted to the Savior? Is this why the church is losing the vast majority of its children when they hit college? Is it that we have bought into the “bigger is better” ethic and sacrificed quality for quantity in ministry?
Anyone remember what Pleasure Island did to children? It turned them into, well, donkeys (because this is a Baptist blog). Maybe that isn’t the model we want for the church?
I hope we can steer my grandchild in a different direction.