Both of my kids are highly intelligent. I don’t say that to boast, because there are just as many issues as there are benefits to intelligence. Raising “smart kids” has its own set of challenges, as well, including educational. My wife and I have learned to be advocates for our children in their schools. Without turning this into a rant on No Child Left Behind or Common Core or any of the other educational evils of the day, I’ll just say that too often public schools are designed to raise students to a minimum level of education and are ill-equipped to go beyond that minimum.
I fear we are doing the same thing to our children in youth groups and children’s ministries, and I’m not the only one. Alvin Reid said recently, “If youth can learn trigonometry in high school they can learn theology in church.” How can we expect to grow mature adult disciples without a solid foundation when they are younger?
That foundation has to be more than fun or exciting Bible stories, wacky skits, hand motions and messy games. It has to be more than virtues, morals and life lessons. And I firmly believe that kids can handle more, and they would love it if we gave them the opportunity! What does that look like? Paul gives us the answer in 1 Corinthians.
“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” - 1 Corinthians 3:10-11
The foundation is, and should always be, Christ. In the midst of diaper changes and rocking chairs, we should be telling babies how Jesus loves them. We should be reminding our preschoolers that God made the world and everything in it and sent His Son to live as a man so one day His children will be able to live with Him. We should show our children the depth and breadth of God’s love every time we see them. And we should show our teens how much better God is than the approval of their peers or the temporary happiness they may get from selfish sin. When we teach the Gospel to our kids, we end up with Gospel-centered adults.
Paul goes on to say that when we build on the foundation of Christ, our work will be tested. “Each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” (v. 13). We can choose to build with straw or hay, or we can build something substantial. We can teach our kids to be good, or we can teach them how good God is. We can show them all of the reasons they should want to worship the One True God. Show them God’s glory and majesty, His power and love and grace. When we do that, we will not only end up with “good Christians,” but we will raise disciples who do all things for the glory of God.
I am encouraged with the trend toward Gospel-centered discipleship, missional living and more, not less, theology in churches. Ed Stetzer, discussing the latest Pew Research study, noted that while nominal Christians are in decline, what is left is stronger and more committed. I fear that without some fundamental changes in out children and youth ministries, we are just raising more nominal Christians.
To be fair, there are churches and curriculum groups that are doing great work in steering these ministries on the right course (I have a curriculum crush on The Gospel Project). I’ve seen them at work and it is exciting!
It is possible to teach young people the Gospel, to show them the mystery of God’s grace and to develop in them an awe and appreciation for His glory. I challenge you to examine your children and your youth. What are those ministries producing? Is the foundation Christ and will your building materials withstand the fire?