This week, Calvary Baptist Church is hosting its annual Vacation Bible School, so I thought I’d say a word or two about the privilege and challenges of ministering to children. The faith of a child is precious thing, and should be cultivated with the utmost care. It is my hope that my own children and those to whom I minister would be better Christians than I am, by God’s grace. This forces me to look at the long-term consequences of how we minister to children.
It is a standard characteristic of evangelicals to emphasize the importance of conversion, which means that “being a Christian” is not something that you’re born with. It isn’t genetic; it’s a decision. But if it’s a decision, it becomes deeply important for us to teach our children what it is that they’re supposed to be deciding about. There is a difference, we must admit, between teaching and manipulating. Frankly, it is relatively easy to get a child to “pray a prayer,” to ask Jesus into his heart, or something similar. No doubt, some who are reading this post right now can remember a time that they, as a small child, prayed such a prayer. Some of you look back at that decision as a key turning point in your life; you were truly converted and have followed Christ since. Other readers, in all forthrightness, would have to admit that such a childhood decision really hasn’t meant much for the direction of the rest of their life. This is a danger of children’s ministry: pressing for decisions from some who, in Jesus’s words, really aren’t in any position to “count the cost” of being his disciple (Luke 14:25–33, which is a weighty passage indeed).
This leads directly to one more caution in doing children’s ministry. The Bible teaches us that following Christ really is a life-and-death issue: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, one of many passages on the same theme). For that reason, we think it is extremely important that our children be attracted to Christianity, to genuinely like it, so that they want to continue to follow Christ as they mature. And this is as it should be.
That said, we need to be mindful of a real danger: that in our eagerness to have our children like the faith, we change the faith itself into something that they’ll like. This can be done in a variety of ways, but most of them have to do with pressure to make Christianity into something “fun.” Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not opposed to fun, not at all. But while Scripture repeatedly commands us to be joyful and rejoice in the Lord, it gives precious little suggestion that worship is to be fun. And when we rear our children with the expectation of fun in church, we oughtn’t be surprised when, upon reaching adulthood and the reality of mature Christian ministry, they drift from the faith altogether. We’ve given them the sweet tooth that the meat of the Word simply won’t satisfy.