How should the Church think about Children’s Ministry?

What principles ought to govern a philosophy for children’s ministry? If one looks out onto the landscape of churches today, you’ll see many things happening in the children’s programs on Sunday mornings. Games, skits, videos, songs, crafts. Every program has principles which govern the decision making process or rationale of a children’s ministry. Some principles have greater say in the decision making process than others. If one were to inquire for every church why they do what they do, at first you might get a few blank looks, but eventually the church will respond with some rationale for their methods. Some churches favor things that work well and have achieved results, or are tailored to the talents or lack there of within the body. Some have been handed down from previous generations of ministry leaders or they have copied the content and material of the big fish in their small pond of church relationships.

Loosely tied to these principles which govern a children’s ministry are the goals for a ministry. Some churches have evangelistic goals, we want to bring kids into our program. Other churches have simpler goals, we just want the kids to be contained so that the parents can enjoy the service without distraction. We want a safe children’s program or top of the line technology. Most Christians would say that a children’s ministry ought to teach children about Jesus and what it means to be a follower of Christ.

One of the goals that I have as the new pastor of children and families at First Baptist Church of Dublin is to continue a ministry to children and families which comes along side parents in the task of raising their children in the fear of the Lord (Eph 6:4), presents a biblical framework for children to understand all of life according to God’s design and revelation, and is unapologetic in transmitting the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints to the next generation (Jude 3). How ought a church like First Baptist Dublin, or any church, approach the goal of ministering to children within their care?

Well, sometimes help comes from the most unexpected places, and this time it came in the form of theologian Herman Bavinck deep within his first volume of his theological work, Reformed Dogmatics. Herman Bavinck is a major Dutch Reformed theologian whose contribution to orthodox theology is found with his ability to present to the modern world a picture of historic Christian orthodox theology that is conversant with the many titanic figures of modern theology and philosophy. While that last statement might not thrill many people today, his four volume work on theology as well as his forthcoming translations of his lectures in ethics are considered some of the best modern works of orthodox evangelical theology one can find.

In the context of the following quote, Bavinck is in the middle of setting up his theological methodology for his work, when he comes to the following reflection about the relationship between the church, theology and the theologian/dogmatician (or the Christian):

There is a difference between the way in which the dogmatician is shaped and the primary principle from which dogmatics receives its material. In every branch of learning, the practitioner begins by living from the tradition. He always gains his first acquaintance of his field from an authority. He must first absorb the history of his discipline and attain a knowledge of the present state of his field; then he can go to work independently and acquire his own insights into the object of his research. But no one in his right mind will, for that reason, view the tradition, which was pedagogically (or relating to the process of teaching) important to him, as the source of his discipline. It is no different from the dogmatician. Pedagogically the church is prior to Scripture. But in the logical order Scripture is the sole foundation (principium unicum) of the church and theology. In case of conflict between them. . . church and confession must yield to Scripture. (86)

Bavinck is making an argument from an observation in the education process. If I wanted to become a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher, I cannot enter into a position and feel my way around as I go. No one would want me to waltz into an operating room, sit down at a Boeing plane, or be the defense attorney at your trial without having learned the discipline. To perform the work of a doctor or lawyer, I am dependent upon the “tradition” or the textbooks, teacher and learning environment to learn the ways of doctoring or lawyering. Having learned from the “tradition” or field of study, then you gain the ability to work independently as a doctor or lawyer.

I wonder how most Christians think the children in the church become Christians. We might buy them a bible for their 8th birthday. We take them to church every Sunday. They participate in the events offered by the church: fall festivals, youth group, Chick-fil-A morning breakfasts. They might seem really connected to the life of the community.

But how do they become Christians?

How do they make the faith of the church their own?

Bavinck’s main argument is that while the authority of the beliefs of the church is grounded in the Scriptures, one actually becomes a Christian, comes to believe the Gospel and hold to the beliefs which have unified centuries, through the intentional teaching and investment of the church. He even argues that initially one does not learn the Christian faith from Scripture but from the church. The church teaches one the stories of Scripture, what one ought to believe concerning, God, man, salvation, Jesus, the church. Once someone learns these things from the church, then they gain the ability to continue to grow in their relationship with God based upon a biblically-informed and historically-tied understanding of the Christian faith.

Think about this as it relates to ministry to children. As children are born to believing parents, they go to church, hear preaching, learn hymns and grow up in an environment which teaches them truths about Christianity. While they are participating and taking in the ministries of the church, they gain knowledge about the Gospel, Scripture and doctrine. While children might take in all of this head knowledge, Scripture also tells us that becoming a Christian is not just an intellectual change but a moral change. These children are born with a spiritual inability to submit to God’s ways and left to themselves will reject God and continue in sin (Romans 1:18-23). But in conjunction with this knowledge of the Gospel deposited into children from the community of faith, the Holy Spirit works to regenerate the hearts of children so that they respond by faith to the Gospel (John 3:5-8).

The goal of any children’s ministry explicitly ought to teach children Christian beliefs, the Scriptures, and theology in order that the fertile soil of Christian belief might come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Interested in Bavinck? Click Below! 

Reformed Dogmatics : Volume 1: Prolegomena

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