Kill it with Fire

Editors Note: This is the first in a two part series, the second of which can be found here.


I’ll admit it, as a children’s missionary, I hate children’s church. Even as a child I hated children’s church. And now, as a professional in children’s ministry, if I had my way I would kill children’s church; I would kill it with fire. 

My reasons are not new or original they are just plain common horse sense. Children’s church does not deliver on what it promises. What we are lead to believe is that children can not follow a sermon, they need fun, and that there are professionals who can better disciple children, on their level, so that they grow up to be solid christians. Now all of that is a lie. We have children’s church because we are lazy. We were lied to by the seeker sensitive movement. It said that statistically if you could get mom to church with programs* they will eventually drag their husband and you can fix him up. They called that ministry, lying, leading to nagging, leading to guilting a man, and then lying to him that he was saved when really he was neutered. Brilliant ministry strategy that. But hey the numbers looked fantastic, and the new buildings were big, if not soulless. However, I have strayed, from my point. The way you get the “families” in the church was to give them a break from their kids, and the way you get them to come back (and incidentally, help pay for that big new building) is to make sure the kids have a blast, and can say something simple that sounds Godly. And that is the problem, it divides the body of a church, it fails in the mission of the church, it lies to the people of the church, and it kneecaps the future of that church. The kids ministry numbers may look great today, but the college ministry numbers tell you where the church is going tomorrow.

The Problems Explored and Expounded

A church divided is no church at all. Usually when you hear about a church divided it is assumed that it is splitting, typically over something ridiculous, music style, do we let lesbians preach, which brand of vacuum cleaner should the church buy (I have seen all of these). But we don’t think of our churches being divided along generational lines. This can be as simple as age, but it also can be by life stage, e.g. young marrieds, singles, married with kids, single moms, young professionals, college age, retired, etc. And cracks pretty quickly show up because people don’t always fit into our nice categories. Inevitably though the kids are easiest: grade school. But the problem with all of this splitting into groups is that lines are drawn, and they become firm. Now this is one knock against the typical Sunday School model. And would seem to be solved by simply broadening those things into nursery, children’s church, Whatever cool name you have given to the high school church, and big people church. But it is still divisions, and I would say is even worse. For all of the failures of the Sunday School class organization scheme it had one major advantage: Everyone gathered together for the worship service. Sunday School was supplemental. But the whole church gathered together regardless of where they were in life and worshiped as one.** The worst possible idea would be to do what is the norm and send out a portion of the body, or portions, to their own “church.” It communicates that 1. You are a nuisance 2. You are not really a part of us 3. You do not belong here in “real church.” go be entertained until you are like us. These are all subtile, but they are reinforced every week.

The mission of the church is to worship God. The Lords Day is a glorious day in that during one 24 hour period, believers across the globe gather to worship God in an overlapping manner. Part of our worship is The Word preached, God gives pastors and elders as good gifts to us who expound the Word of God to us. They encourage, edify, rebuke, correct, and train us in righteousness. They are responsible for the care of our souls, and will receive an extra measure of judgement for how they did that. And yet under so many there are these little ones that have been pushed to the side because, well they make things harder. Learning how to teach children is a skill. Catechizing children, is not glamorous. Or more importantly, helping parents catechize their children, and teach them self control so that they can grow up into the body is super hard. What is easier is to move all those kids off to another place, throw up a screen with silly songs, and a reductive Bible Story that has a moral tacked on, and call it teaching. The problem is what happens when those kids get older, well they still don’t know how to be in “church” they get bored because the sermon can not be, and should not be as lively as a singing cucumber. So we created Higher Elevation, or the Teen Zone, or Trendy Youth Pastor Sermonette Time to ship them back off so they aren’t bringing down their parents worshipful mood with all that heavy sighing, phone scrolling, sulking, glaring, sleeping, just being a teenager with no self control or understanding of what church is. And so the church is divided, into smaller churches meeting at the same time, in the same building, and most likely only one is worshiping God. We also could go into the problem of false assurance of salvation simply because someone moved their way up through the churches, and were just accepted into big church. Or that these Frankenstein churches pave the way for women to be pastors because typically these are lead by women and in all honesty they are doing all the work of a pastor or elder overseeing a church within a church…

The lies of children’s church are manifest, but let me limit this critique to two. 

1. Children can not handle “big church.” They can, they have to be trained, they have to be taught, but they can. My own father was a pastor, with a bit of a pride complex, so we as his family were suited and booted and on the front row every week. My sisters and I learned to sit still, and learned how to listen. It is possible it requires discipline and consistency, it can be done. I can remember the Sunday I realized that my father was a gifted speaker, and that I understood what he said. I was maybe eight. There may be some distractions in the early years, but some good things will come out of it. Children will grow up into the body of the church, I can remember (being in a Baptist church) actually being present in member meetings and having a vote by age ten because the body of believers knew me and knew that I followed Jesus and was paying attention. I was a full member, and the only child who was one because I was not in the children’s church. It is possible. But there is also the benefit of parents who have experience of teaching and training their kids who can help new parents do the same for theirs. The body will strengthen itself through relationships in this way. Also it is healthy for the older members to grow in patience, and ability to focus. If you can learn to be patient with children and all of their drama, you can learn to be patient with someone who votes differently from you. Children are the small things that train us for bigger things. We deprive ourselves of sanctification when we remove difficult things that God has given us, instead of learn from them. 

2. Children are learning on their level in children’s church, Or professionals can teach your kids the Bible better than you can. First, let’s begin with the problem that if a pastor can non explain the gospel or the Bible in clear simple terms, that is not a good thing. Yes, there are topics, and points of theology that are difficult. But they are not constant, and God in his common grace has created coloring pages*** for such times as those. But in general children can learn, they are learners, they need to learn. It is also possible for pastors to address the children of the congregation, or the youth of the congregation, or the singles, or married people… Paul does it in his epistles on more than one occasion! And in each of those he specifically addresses the children. As well, the idea that there must be a professional class that handles the christian development of the children is just bull. Doctrinal formation begins at home, anything the church does is supplemental. Children should be making connections in sermons because they are already growing familiar with what we believe daily at home. The reason we have such anemic Christians today is that we had so many who only had once a week instruction, from a “professional” and that teaching was so shallow that they barely grew. Some silly dancing to a Bible verse, and a moralistic Bible story taught by a Pixar knock off space man, for one hour a week, does not grow mature Christians. Church is not about fun or entertainment. It is about the worship of God, and that is serious, raising children is serious work, they will live if they are not entertained at every moment but learn to be sober, mature, self-controlled, Christians. It is a damnable lie to tell parents that a paid staff member can do with a video in one hour what they are commanded to be doing constantly:

“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, 11:18–19)

Lastly, and closely tied to the previous point. The future of the church is made shallow, emotional, ignorant; childish. It has been pretty easy to compare the worship of mainstream evangelical, even some reformed, churches to that of older more stodgy congregations and notice the deep differences. For all the flaws of those older congregations, it is clear when they pray, they are serious, and long, they know God. When they sing, there is deep doctrine, there is an awareness of sin and the value of salvation, the songs are about God and not them which is also why they care so little for what is happening on the stage, they are focused on the pages of their hymnals and the riches therein. And when they listen to the sermons, they listen. There is not a phone in sight, their Bible are open, because they have come to hear from God. All of this over and against the typical happy clappy worship, with prayers that are addressed to the congregation and kept short, songs that South park has effectively shown if you remove the word Jesus and put in baby could be sung at almost any pop concert. Or are just so repetitive and catchy that you don’t have to think to sing along. And sermons that are awkward Ted talks from the Bible or group therapy sessions. All of that is downstream of a mindset curated that church is about me and how I feel about it. It begins in the formative years, If you didn’t have a good time in children’s church or youth group your parent complained and voiced that you might be sent somewhere else you liked better. Now if the music is not your style, the sermon upset you or was boring, someone disagreed with you and it hurt your feelings. It is a self centered, selfish, childish, antichrist mindset. Everything must conform to your and your tastes, you are not to conform to Christ and His commands.


*This also means women’s ministry has to be thing as well. Women are institution friendly and a nice ordered program with feminine touch is easy for women to pull off and for pastors to point to as productive ministry. It looks better on your reports to say you had these many women, in the church building, going through a Beth Moore study, than say; These many men wandered out into the woods for a weekend with shooty sticks, sat in silence for a while, killed some things, and on the way back got around to talking and informally discipled the younger and all came away edified. Or that the same thing happened except there was silence the whole time because it turned out none of them clicked.†

**Another terrible idea is multis service with different music. That is just recreating the age division. People like the culture and music of their prime. Inevitably you have an old people service and a young people service.

***In part two I will get in to screens and why they should not be in church, esp. not in children’s hands during a sermon.

†I deserve so much credit for reaching outside of my comfort zone and not wazing eloquent about men cigars, fire, whiskey, a table groaning under the weight of meats and good cheeses and conversation that does not even get good until after eleven at night or one bottle has been killed, whichever comes first. 

One thought on “Kill it with Fire

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: