Following up on my post on the “Age-Appropriate” myth, I thought it would be good to continue by citing some voices that are echoing my concerns from a couple different points of the spectrum.
From a Baptist perspective, the Christ Reformed Baptist Church of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, (Pastor Tom Chantry) notes:
Children’s church has become the realm of games, pep-talks, and other amusements. Churches engage in a futile attempt to keep up with a massive and well-funded entertainment industry in order to keep kids plugged in to Christianity. Their priority is clear: church must be fun. Doctrine must be kept very simple; there can be no “dark sayings from of old.” Stories should be juiced up to attract wandering minds. The covenant is a complex subject best left to adults. The law? Kids have enough rules as it is.
If our children’s ministry plan is to meet the goals established by the psalmist, we clearly need a whole new paradigm. The multitude of websites dedicated to CM does not yield an answer. The church that would educate its children as Asaph educated his may need a fresh perspective. Before we pursue new trails, though, one thought merits further consideration. The type of instruction Asaph was talking about does sound an awful lot like church. The very idea of children’s church embodies the assumption that church is not suitable for children. Perhaps that assumption requires reexamination. . . .
Keeping children in the regular worship service is an idea become radical in recent years. Christians have accepted the verdict of the skeptic Samuel Clemens. They assume that any child forced to endure grown-up worship will spend his time like Tom Sawyer: counting requests in the pastoral prayer and playing with flies, waiting for the agony of the service to end. No one could expect a child to benefit from such an experience! Yet for countless generations children did participate in the regular worship of the church, and the perseverance of the church through the ages testifies that some, at least, did benefit.
Yet we must certainly acknowledge that a children’s service focused on the young minds will do a better job of communicating the truths of scripture to them! Must we? An examination of the practice of children’s church tells us that it communicates very little. Emphasis on relational ministry necessarily banishes doctrine. Once children are extricated from the tedium of regular worship, the content of the message must be extracted from children’s church lest the tedium be replicated. If we assume that content such as Asaph prescribes for children is too complicated and not to their liking, then any program we propose for them will necessarily fall short of the scriptural standard.
From a Lutheran perspective, Richard Resch also warns against the dangers of Christian worship custom-made for children’s taste, particularly in the area of music:
Music seems so harmless. Erroneous words dressed up with notes seem possessed of innocence. But it is a deceptive innocence that over the years has often proven an enemy within. The devil is the great deceiver, and it is obvious to anyone who looks carefully that one of his favorite disguises is the “innocence” of the church’s singing. The guardians of doctrine, even if they can spot an error miles away in teaching, preaching, and writing, have not always been watchful of the church’s sung confession. Pastors and parents are part of that guardian group who have heard children singing without listening to their words. These are people who care deeply about what the child grows up believing but do not perceive that song is a teacher of belief. This disjunction is most evident in the double standard exemplified in the usages of the vacation Bible school, the Sunday school and, all too often, even in the parochial school.
What are children learning today about their faith from the songs which they sing? Could it be that most pastors have no idea? With so much on his mind that seems of greater importance, the pastor willingly delegates his responsibility to anyone who will accept it. Music leaders pressed into service without guidance often choose musical material on the basis of these two rules: (1.) Children must be able to learn it and love it immediately. (2.) Parents should see that their children are enjoying themselves. To accomplish these ends leaders turn to sources other than the official hymnals of the church. In this way we miss a pivotal opportunity to teach a true understanding of who we are as Lutherans to the age group most open to learning. The teaching of our ethos does not start as adults, and yet we often wait until our members are adults before we treat the hymnal seriously. We give very young children songs that are mostly irreverent, trivial ditties. We give teenagers different songs based on whatever the informal musical trend is of the decade, which has nothing to do with the Lutheran prayerbook. Because of what we give them, children learn of a church that is quite different from the one which we hope they will call their own as adults.
Catechesis has its beginnings in the sung truths of those members of the flock who are just learning to walk. The greatest minds in church history have told us that this is the case; but the church, especially in recent times, is reluctant to acknowledge this fact. As a result, ecclesiastical song is teaching whatever is easy and popular, with little or no regard for the content and long-term consequences. Also overlooked is the responsibility which we have as pastors, teachers, and parents to make the most of the years when children are most open to learning such matters. It is easier to teach liturgy and hymnody to children before they reach the sixth grade than it is to teach it to any other age-group in the church.**
The point of this post is to demonstrate that I am not alone in my concern that many Christians have bought into the “age-appropriate” doctrine too uncritically. Have we really considered what the underlying assumptions for “age-appropriate” ministry are? Have we really considered the ramifications of a belief that “grown-up church” or “grown-up music” is somehow inappropriate for children?
*For another Baptist perspective, consider Noel Piper words:
A deep moving of the magnificence of God can come to the young, tender heart through certain moments of great hymns or “loud silence” or authoritative preaching. These are of immeasurable value in the cultivation of a heart that fears and loves God.
We do not believe that children who have been in children’s church for several years between the ages of 6 and 12 will be more inclined or better trained to enjoy worship than if they had spent those years at the side of their parents. In fact, the opposite is probably the case.
It will probably be harder to acclimate a 10– or 12-year-old to a new worship service than a 5– or 6-year-old. The cement is much less wet, and vast possibilities of shaping the impulses of the heart are gone.
** Resch, Richard C. “Hymnody as Teacher of the Faith” [online]Concordia Theological Quarterly 57 (1993) no. 3:161-176. Available from <http://www.ctsfw.edu/library/files/pb/1266>