I said last week that I believed there was a constructive solution to problems posed by the “Age-Appropriate” philosophy embraced by so many evangelicals today. I say this not because I view myself as the ideal parent, churchman, or educator, but I am convinced of the error of the “Age-Appropriate” philosophy. Being so convinced, one is bound to begin working towards a solution.
In working toward a solution, there has to be a basis for hope. It is hopeful thing to realize that the “youth culture,” as some people have called it, is something that is unique to our contemporary situation. In other words, we have seen previous generations who have not acted in this way towards children. We have seen previous generations who have resisted the urge to capitulate to their children. The era of the early church was one such era. Instead of basing the presentation of their instruction on the taste of the children (!), the fathers in the church were instructed by Paul not to “provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Perhaps this is a good place to start. Fathers, take the leadership here. Fathers, train your children, and be careful how they are trained. Pastors too can still determine how the church’s children will be instructed and the songs they will sing, without feeling like they have to subcontract the children’s ministry to someone else. The children are to be brought up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (ESV). Part of discipline means that we do not mold our ministry into the children’s lowest appetite. Instead, we are to be teaching them to deny those very “appetites” for a better alterantive: “holy affections.” Surely this is at least a part of the “instruction of the Lord.” If we merely give them what their meanest appetite desires every year of their life until they graduate from high school, and then irrationally expect them to “grow up” and “get excited about finally attending adult church,” we might as well try to suspend ourselves in mid-air by the mere force of our will.
We should believe that there is something better for our children. We must believe that our children can handle something better–something more mature. Our expectations are often so low for our children. And part of the problem here is that we really do not love the great and beautiful things ourselves. Because we sometimes do not love the great and sober hymns of the faith, we do not want to “inflict” our children with them. Therefore our expectations of what our children can actually grow to love is too low, and our own love for reverent worship is too low, and we easily give over to the entertainment approach to children’s ministry. And make no mistake, if we do not love reverent worship, how much less will our children love it? We must cultivate our own love for beautiful things, and then expose our children to them. Explain to them–show them–why you love it. We should then believe or even expect that they have the capacity to love it. The same way you taught them to love, for example, baseball or Tolkien, will be similar to the way you teach them to love great hymns and reverent worship.
As I write on this, I hope you will take the time to interact with me on this topic. I am a relatively new parent and churchman, and I expect that many of you have even better advice and insight into this topic. I hope that you will share it. Am I overstating my case or misrepresenting those who seek to amuse children in ministry? I look forward to interacting with you on this topic.