It’s the question we get in The City Church more than nearly any other. It’s a conundrum asked in both frustration and good humor. It’s one of the biggest enigmas in the missional community world. You’ve heard it; you’ve made up answers on the spot; you may have even developed a strong system for it.
But the question remains:
“What do we do with the kids?”
A survey of the Bible’s teaching on how children were raised and trained in the community of God’s people reveals four overarching principles:
- Parents are the primary disciplers of their children
- Children are found in gatherings of God’s people throughout the Bible
- Jesus valued children, even – or especially! – if they were distracting/unwanted
- There are things about God that only children can teach us
Each of these four principles helps answer the “big kid question”; I’m explaining each over the course of four brief articles; this is the first.
Parents are the primary disciplers of their children… So our communities must equip and come alongside parents in raising their kids.
Focusing on the right things
The focus of a “kids ministry” shouldn’t actually be kids; it should be parents. Whether preschool or high school, the same principle applies: churches and leaders who put time, effort, money, resources, and intentionality into equipping parents instead of merely entertaining children accomplish two significant things:
- They help develop the whole-life spiritual maturity of the children
- They put parents back in the place the Bible places them.
Churches with Sunday-focused kids ministries spend 50-100 hours per year (of the 8,760 hours in any given year) with your kids. Minus vacations, sickness, and other reasons to miss, trained workers teach kids biblical concepts for an hour or two on Sundays. And even the most intentional churches might host a second age-specific gathering sometime during the week.
In those few hours, trained leaders must cram in entertainment, music, a snack, and often a Bible story that immediately transfers into a life lesson. “Discipleship and spiritual growth” become limited to a few hours a month, and generally limited to one “style”: in a group, with lots of energy, listening to a teacher teach a broad lesson.
What about the rest of the week?
But what happens in the rest of a child’s week when the teacher isn’t there? Who hears about getting made fun of on the playground? Who’s there to encourage the student in the midst of a specific high school struggle? If a child is in school until 4pm and goes to bed at 8pm, parents interact with their kids 1460 hours a year!
Parents see the daily struggles. Parents have conversations in the car. Parents are asked the hard questions. Parents deal with the specifics, the scenarios, the struggles, the sins. Parents meet their child – every single day – where the real-life rubber hits the road.
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Those are the moments where faith is tested and proven. That’s the idea of developing a child’s whole-life: kid ministry leaders and missional community facilitators don’t see a kid’s whole-life, so they can’t develop a kid’s whole-life.
Putting Parents in Their Place
The fact that parents are with their kids more than church leaders isn’t scary, and the fact that church leaders can’t develop a child’s whole-life isn’t a bad reality: it’s biblical! It’s most clearly seen in Deuteronomy 6, as God gives one of the most well-known and beloved commands in the entire Hebrew scriptures:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 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. – Deuteronomy 6:4-7
God doesn’t tell his people to farm spiritual instruction out to “experts.” And he doesn’t command them to limit it to a few hours, in a controlled setting, as parents often do today. “YOU shall teach them diligently to your children…” Who should? “YOU! Any reader of this passage. Every parent is instructed to teach God’s Law to your children!”
And the venue for this spiritual instruction is in the midst of everyday life and activity: when you sit, when you travel, when you go to bed, when you get up. In the midst of normal activity, a child’s whole-life spiritual development occurs.
Bottom line: parents, disciple your kids; leaders, equip parents to do so.
Parents, you’re the primary discipler of your child
This principle isn’t isolated in the Old Testament – it’s echoed throughout the Bible. Giving that responsibility to “the church” is to abdicate your biblical role. That’s a dangerous place to be.
Church leaders, train parents
When you focus on entertaining children instead of training their parents, you potentially prevent parents from fulfilling their biblical command, and you unintentionally limit children’s spiritual development. That, too, is a dangerous place to be.
Here’s one way this can work:
(NOTE: The City Church has tried various methods over the past three years, but here’s the one that seems to fit our church family best – we’re no experts, but I offer it in case it helps)
Every week our kid ministry leader sends a Bible story, memory verse, and questions (answers included) to parents, to read and discuss with their kids before our communities gather. In this way, our leaders equip parents, and parents are the first to introduce biblical concepts to their children. Later in the week, the community comes alongside parents in reinforcing the same scriptures – with new questions and activities – as young kids have their own discussion in weekly community meetings. We also host quarterly trainings and help parents disciple their children in various ways.