Children and the Church

As word gets out that our family is working with the Evangelical Free Church to plant a church of missional communities in the upstate of South Carolina, I find myself fielding a myriad of questions usually regarding the typical “why”, “when” and “where” questions about church planting. I do my best to explain that our church planting model is much more focused on building relationships than buildings and is driven by mission more than programs but I’m confident that I’ve done nothing but confuse those I’m talking to. In my attempt to give sense to our endeavor, I have been met with some resistance from one certain category of people: parents. It has been very sobering to listen to some of the rationale why parents would not consider participating in a missional community and I feel the need to challenge some of the parental thinking that seems to prevail regarding children and the church in general but may also shape a parent’s thinking toward participating in a church plant in particular.

The response that I often hear goes something like this. “We need to be in a church where our children’s needs are met. We want a church that offers wonderful programs which our children love and which fosters in them a desire to participate and enjoy the church experience. We desire a church that offers great programs, great teaching and fun activities which leaves our children wanting to return the following Sunday.” Now let me be perfectly clear. I don’t believe that everyone who is uninterested in launching out and planting a new church is wrong for not being willing to do so. I do however, think that parents need to rethink what they are teaching their children about the church and then take radical steps to reorient their families to the gospel and gospel driven mission.

The problems:

  1. We are likely teaching an entire generation of children that “having fun” and being catered to is the main objective of the church. Instead, children should be taught by their parents that nothing is more important than living in obedience to God’s word and leading others to know Christ by serving others and laying their lives down for the sake of the gospel.
  2. We are reinforcing a sinful nature in our children who already are made to think that the world revolves are them rather than teaching them that God is the center of His universe and He has invited us to join Him in His mission and that should be the very core of our existence.
  3. Parents think more like consumers than “saints striving to build up the body of Christ” while growing up into maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:12).
  4. We think the church is an organization that exist for us. Generally speaking, our culture has little biblical understanding of the church and the mission for which it was founded. We “join” churches using much the same criteria that we would use in searching for a gym, daycare or school. We ask, “Does the church teach the things I believe. Do they play the music I enjoy? Do they provide the programs for my children that attract and keep their attention? Are there plenty of activities for my children to be involved? Are our needs met here?

The Solution:

  1. Realize that Christ created, lived and died for his church and we must become much more diligent about understanding what the role of the church is in our generation and every generation that follows. The church exists in order to fulfill the mission of God to bring about the very reconciliation and redemption of all of God’s creation (2 Cor.5:20).
  2. Realize that the church does not exist to serve, entertain or satisfy your children (Mat 28:19). You have Disney World for that.
  3. Pray, repent of self-worship and look for ways to engage culture as a family. Raise your children to be selfless heralds of the gospel and not those who put their needs above those of others. Parents should model a love of Christ that drives them into the world and culture. Children should be raised to function within culture rather than insulating them against it.
  4. Make it a priority to cultivate Christian community in your family. Our children need nothing more than to belong to an intimate fellowship of believers of every age and culture. More than entertainment, our children need to see their parents interacting and living within the body of Christ AND the world. How will our children grow up to love the church and how will they know how to function within the community of saints if they do not see it modeled in their parents?

In Deuteronomy 6:7 the Bible explicitly articulates what every page of the Bible affirms regarding a parent’s responsibility to their children and that is, “You shall teach them (God’s law) 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.” Our children don’t need us to teach them how to “go to church.” They need their parents to teach and model for them what a life and family saturated with the gospel and consumed with the mission of God looks like and the only way to do this is in Christian community. Is it any wonder that so many young adults abandoned the church when they are own their own? It’s not enough to show our children that church is a big part of our lives. We must pray and help them develop a deep, abiding love for Christ and all of his creation and train them to be faithful “ambassadors for Christ” who are servant minded rather than consumers looking to have their needs met.

There may be many reasons why we would not subject our family to the trials and troubles of church planting (though I can’t think of a legitimate reason at the moment), but our children’s comfort and social needs should not be one of those reasons.

What is the Church?

What does church mean to you? Oh, I don’t mean to drag you down to some deep philosophical introspection. I just want you to consider what comes to your mind when you hear the word “church”. If you’re like most people, when you think of “church”, you probably think of Sunday, preaching, singing, a particular building and a certain group of people. But do these things accurately mirror what the Bible says the church is to be? What is the purpose of your church, and what is your role in the church, and… (this is a different question) what is the church’s role in your life?

For too many people church is a place that they “go to” but not a family they belong to. Church may be a part of their lives in the same way that school or work may comprise a part of their lives. However, church is nothing more than another compartment that can easily exist independently of the other compartments and has no impact or influence on the other parts of their lives.

Because of our present efforts to start New City Church, the identity, purpose and value of the church is on my mind a lot. In the next few weeks I will attempt to share some brief thoughts with you to possibly deepen your understanding of what the church is and intensify your desire to belong to a healthy church. You will hear this phrase an awful lot as I write, and I trust that the health of the church will become a consuming passion for us all.

So according to the Bible what is the church?

  1. The church is something that Jesus, himself, is responsible for building (Mt. 16:18). The very first time the word “church” is used, Jesus used it to refer to something that he “would build.” You probably can guess that Jesus was not referring to a building here when referring to the church.
  2. The Bible refers to the church in 1 Corinthians 12 as a body. But it is not just any body. It is the body of Christ. Again, much greater attention will be given to this idea later, but for now it is important to understand that the church is the body of Christ. The body of Christ is one body consisting of many members who have been added through saving faith in the finished work of Christ alone. This is far more than mere membership in a club or organization. Entrance into this body comes only as the Holy Spirit awakens in us an awareness that we are separated from our Creator because of sin and deserving of wrath. However, because of his deep love for us, Christ, who is our only hope of reconciliation and restoration, unites us with himself in order that we might reign with him for all eternity.

In the same way that a physical body is made up of many different parts with unique functions and roles to play, the singular, united body of Christ consists of many different people with various gifts and roles to play in the building up of the body (Ephesians 4) and the expansion of Christ’s kingdom. Only as all the different parts work in harmony together is Christ magnified and his mission advanced.

3.   The church is a fellowship. If you grew up in the same culture as I did, you are probably thinking about fried chicken, mashed potatoes and banana pudding right now. In the South a fellowship is not a fellowship without theses essentials. Though there can be a legit argument made  for the presence of each of these delicacies, this is not exactly what the Bible means when it speaks of the fellowship of the church. Here is how Acts 2 describes the early church and its identity and activity.

  1. The people were devoted to the teaching of the Bible.
  2. The people were devoted to “the fellowship” (the community, the body).
  3. The people were eating together.
  4. The people were praying together.
  5. The people were amazed by the evidence of God’s presence among them.
  6. The people were making great financial sacrifices to help meet the basic needs of those who had need.
  7. They worshipped together.
  8. The people were “continually” together.
  9. The people frequented the homes of the other believers and their homes were always opened to hospitality.
  10. The people were glad and generous.
  11. The people praised God together.
  12. The Lord “daily” added to their number.

 

If I were to ask you to describe the church you belong to, would it sound like the above description or would you talk more about a place, event and programs designed to attract and entertain?

More to come…