Tags

, , , , ,

This article is by Pastor Greg Stiekes (bio below) in response to Aaron Blumer’s recent Sharperiron.org article, “Why Churches Should Have ‘Kid Times’.”“Biblical Kid Times”: A Response to Aaron Blumer

* * * * * * * 

Foreword

When the FBFI published their resolution denouncing the Integrated Church Movement (ICM), I e-mailed Pastor David Smith, who drafted the document, to express my concern. It seems to me that the FBFI resolution, while criticizing the ICM, unduly censures the ministry paradigm itself which seeks to organize church ministry primarily to the family as a whole, rather than segregating various age groups into programs. But there is a distinct difference between a movement, with which we may or may not disagree, as opposed to a concept which may have beneficial merit for the church. While I do not necessarily endorse the Integrated Church paradigm as a movement, I nevertheless have been helped by listening with discernment to dialogue within the movement. My concern about David Smith’s document was the very fact that the FBFI thought this movement so damaging to the church that they were actually compelled to write an official resolution against it. Some Fundamental pastors and church members will read this document and unconsciously conclude, because they were told by the FBFI, that there must be something inherently wrong with a father’s decision to keep his children out of the church youth group or with a pastor’s decision to do away with Children’s church. My concerns were not unfounded. This summer I heard of a Sunday School series being taught at a Fundamental church explaining what is wrong with integrating families in church ministry. And later in the summer I heard that a pastor had mentioned keeping families together during public worship, followed by the words, “Of course, we know this is wrong.” What is “wrong”? Did this pastor really believe that there is something erroneous about a family worshipping together in church? No, I suspect that the idea this was somehow “wrong” would have never occurred to him had he not read this resolution.

David Smith’s response to my e-mail was very gracious. He took time to explain the problems some churches are having with families wanting to force this ministry paradigm on the pastors of their churches, and that is unfortunate, I agree. As a pastor myself, I appreciate the difficulty of shepherding a congregation when there are those who will not follow. However, I maintain that there is much about the concept behind this movement that commends itself. Having stumbled upon Aaron Blumer’s recent article, “Why Churches Should Have ‘Kid Times,’” I feel burdened to respond.

Response

Pastor Blumer is surprised when he encounters Christian parents who are disappointed that his church provides “kid times.” These parents are against the practice of separating the children from the adults for specialized teaching times because it is “unbiblical” and “bad for the family.” Pastor Blumer, however, believes that this practice is indeed biblical and claims that the Scriptures provide at least four reasons for including “kid times” in the ministry of a local church.

I submit, however, that these four reasons do not prove his case. A careful reader of his article will note that he has, in fact, offered not even one “biblical” reason for having “kid times” in church.

This is not to say that there is not a valid argument to be made for some kind of specialized teaching for children in the course of church body life, only that his article fails to advance the argument for such a model using the Bible.

To begin with, the reader should note that Pastor Blumer is actually advancing five arguments for his position, not four, although the first he would not consider a “biblical” argument. His first reason for having “kid times” is personal experience. He frankly admits his prejudice toward this ministry model because it seems to have worked successfully for him and his three siblings, for his parents and for theirs. I would like to respond to that by saying that I also have three siblings and was reared, as my father before me, with the same ministry model, including Sunday School, Junior Church, Awana, and youth group. Today, I and my sisters and brother are walking with the Lord and are, by His grace, seeking to nurture our own children in the Christian faith. In spite of this, however, I would not venture to base any ministry paradigm on my experience, whatever I may think of its apparent “success.” I think that we have all seen in contemporary evangelicalism examples of ministry that appeared to be “used” by God; and yet we would not endeavor to participate in those ministries or emulate them in our churches. Furthermore, if we argue that the way we have come to organize our church ministry is solid and biblical, we are left to explain why it is universally acknowledged that young people and adults in our North American evangelical churches, even Fundamental churches, are less devotional in their walk with God, less committed to Christ, and less likely to enter into Christian ministry than their predecessors. We dare not blame this quandary on our increasingly godless culture, for the church of Jesus Christ in centuries past has flourished in far worse cultures than ours. Besides, if we point to society to explain what is happening in the church, we hold the church hostage to the world, when Jesus declared that He had overcome the world. If the church has become worldly it is only the fault of the church. And if there are a surprising number of believing adults who are beginning to wonder if the emphasis on children’s clubs and programs and youth groups, which aspire to make eternal truth more palatable to younger believers, has ended up actually trivializing the Person of God and has worked against their spiritual maturity, then we ought at least to give them a fair hearing.

Furthermore, there are two points of clarification that need to be addressed as we examine Pastor Blumer’s four reasons. First, the term “biblical” needs to be defined. From his fourth paragraph, he appears to define “biblical” as “that which has a basis in Scripture.” “Kid times,” are therefore biblical if it is able to be demonstrated that these times have their basis in Scripture. Conversely, “kid times” are unbiblical if it can be demonstrated that they do not find their basis in Scripture. Second, the issue of whether or not to have “kid times” itself needs to be refined. Pastor Blumer does not appear to be arguing that children should be separated from their parents in every phase of church body life; nor do many of those who are sympathetic with a “family-integrated” approach necessarily argue that there is never a time when it would be appropriate for children to be separated from their parents when the body gathers. The issue that Pastor Blumer is raising is whether or not there is a command or principle in the word of God that would clearly direct churches to have separate “kid times.”

His first reason is, “Christians need the ministry of believers who are not members of their families.” I agree with Pastor Blumer that the Scriptures appear to support this observation. In fact, my heart resonates with his desire to see the body of Christ minister to each other according to their individual gifts through the Spirit and so flourish. He also cites Ephesians 4 which, in my estimation, is the key note passage in the New Testament regarding the nature and purpose of a local church.

Pastor Blumer does not succeed to show, however, how the principles in these passages necessarily mandate “kid times” in church. He simply reasons that, since believers who are variously gifted must minister to each other as taught in the New Testament, “the most obvious way [to conduct church ministry] is to organize smaller groups on a regular basis in the life of the church.” I would not, however, say that this is “obvious,” but merely “traditional” in our culture. We do not truly “observe,” i.e. by process of responsible analysis come to an opinion, any specific reference to a format in the texts of Scripture that Pastor Blumer has cited. A “kid times” approach to ministry only seems “obvious” because it is the prevailing world-view in western evangelicalism. These texts articulate the goal of church ministry, but they are virtually silent on the organization of church ministry. There are certainly other approaches to church ministry which can accomplish the goals of Romans 12 and Ephesians 4 that do not depend on separating young people or children into specialized teaching times.

Most likely, the Christian parents Pastor Blumer encounters who are disappointed with his “kid times” model are not against the idea of other members of the body interacting with and discipling their children. They are probably concerned with their children’s being drawn into and influenced by a peer group, a social setting in which children learn how to behave and think about life primarily from each other, rather than from the responsible adult who may or may not be present. Those parents who insist that these types of groups are “recent inventions spawned by the godless thinking of anti-Christian philosophers” have a valid point that should be investigated further. It is true that the peer group is a relatively recent development in western culture, introduced, in fact, through the educational philosophies of men such as Horace Mann, G. S. Hall, and John Dewey, respectively. Whether or not we should use these models is not my subject here. I only wish to make the observation that a case cannot be made based on Romans 12 or Ephesians 4 arguing for “kid times” in church.

Pastor Blumer’s second reason is this: “Scripture directs churches to provide age-specialized teaching.” He then appeals to Paul’s management of Titus’s ministry in Crete, where the apostle recognizes older men, older women, younger men, younger women, and even the slaves as being in need of discipleship that speaks specifically to their personal needs.

He is correct to look to the Pastoral epistles for direction on organizing ministry in churches. He has put his finger on a key text that helps us to understand that Paul has the entire Greco-Roman household in mind when he speaks of the community of faith. But does it necessarily follow that, because there are different ages with needs in the church that Paul envisions breaking up the group into age-specialized classes? Pastor Blumer is ambivalent on this point, even admitting that the passage “doesn’t constitute a biblical mandate to have children’s classes,” but only that “churches recognize special needs of different age groups.” By his own admission, therefore, we can view his second reason for “kid times” to be no “biblical” reason at all. It only appears to be a reason because, as he says, it is difficult for him to envision another model.

I would go a step further and suggest that Paul indeed would not have envisioned “kid times” because it would not have been in his world-view to even consider this option. Social historians speak of the ancient Mediterranean mindset as being “strong-group” oriented rather than “weak-group” oriented, or “whole-group” oriented rather than “specialized-group” oriented. The first-century church was birthed in a “strong-group” culture where families naturally stayed together, finding their identity and solidarity among each other. This is opposed to the “weak-group” culture, primarily a modern western phenomenon, where, due to a high degree of mobility and major upheaval in the traditional social structure, people have come to identify themselves with specialized groups outside the family unit. Pastor Blumer’s suggestion that the early church may have had something of a “young women’s class” is humorously anachronistic.

Reason three: “Children have special needs.” Once again, this observation must be conceded. No one will argue that children do not have special needs and that this observation is consistent with Scripture. Neither do the parents who are disappointed about “kid times” feel, as Pastor Blumer appears to suggest, that those who propose such programs are Darwinian evolutionists. On both sides of the discussion there is a genuine concern for the spiritual growth of our children. In my experience, the kinds of parents who express the concerns about their child’s involvement in “kid times” are deeply committed to their personal mandate to spiritually nurture their own children. The issue is not whether children have special needs, but whether or not “kid times” is the appropriate model to meet those needs. Nowhere does the Bible mandate that this model must be used to address the special needs of children.

On the other hand, the Bible does mandate to parents in general and fathers in particular the ultimate responsibility to nurture their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). In this one verse, we see a clear command from God as to who must nurture children and what that nurturing involves. Pastor Blumer suggests that children be gathered in a class to receive “chunks” of teaching that they can digest on their level. But if those times are offered to them in place of weightier gatherings in the church, e.g. corporate worship, where children can observe their parents and other adults participating in the worship of God, they grow up lacking necessary appreciation for the atmosphere of responsible, reverent worship from God’s people. They grow older, but their taste for a trivialized version of church on “their level” also grows into older expressions of the same. In many instances, Jr. church kids grow up and leave the assembly for a more upbeat, contemporary worship style that continues to meet those needs which were engendered in them when they were just starting out.

Pastor Blumer’s final reason is stated, “The best gift parents can give their children is a well-taught, growing mom and dad.” I say “Amen” to that! Again, the Bible portrays believing parents as the primary spiritual nurturers of their children. Under this heading, Pastor Blumer raises a valid concern. Parents need to be the right kind of parents if they are going to disciple their children. If they cannot be taught at church because they are too busy managing their small children, how will they grow to be the right kind of parents? But when “kid times” are used, the parents are able to focus on the teaching while the children themselves are being taught in a separate environment.

This seems reasonable enough, although it is not a “biblical” argument for “kid times,” but merely an argument from common sense. Nevertheless, consider the following. What if the difficulty parents have managing children in the pew and their lack of ability to provide spiritual nurturing is the long-term result of the parents themselves having grown up in a peer-group ministry paradigm? I am prepared to argue, though not here, that the current generation of parents are typically less mature and less prepared to enter into marriage and parenthood than the generations before them largely because they themselves were the products of peer groups through which they learned to process life from each other, while the wisdom of those who went before them was marginalized. We may now be reaping the fruit of many years of imitating a peer-group model in our church ministry. This forces us into a type of recovery mode where we must separate children from their parents so that they can focus on learning the Ephesians 4 maturity in Christ that they missed growing up in children’s church and youth group, even though by doing so we continue to perpetuate this cycle that is producing less-mature believers. If there is any reason to suspect that this observation comes near the truth, we ought to encourage dialogue with those parents and Christian leaders who manifest some insight into how we got here and who are interested in correcting the errors of the past.

The only people in our society capable of teaching children to be adults are adults. Whatever ministry paradigm we choose, we dare not excessively imitate a model of development that separates the wisdom-bearers from those in need of wisdom. After all, less-mature young people become less-mature parents. I am not suggesting that Pastor Blumer is arguing for such a paradigm. But I am suggesting that he as well as other pastors take a closer look at the concept of integrating families in church ministry before rejecting it altogether.

Conclusion

Pastor Blumer’s article, in my opinion, has not given us any “biblical” reasons that we should have “kid times” in our churches. This is not surprising, for there are, in fact, no “biblical” arguments for “kid times.” The Bible does not speak to this question; it is a socio-historical issue. Therefore, the concept of “kid times” is unbiblical. This is not to say that it is anti-biblical. It may still be argued that there are appropriate times for children to learn in the setting Pastor Blumer suggests. But the Bible itself does not address the issue. The closest we can get to a biblical model of rearing children in the context of the church is to ask what the Scripture mandates we do in rearing children. Then we must find the cultural model that best allows us to accomplish those goals. I contend that, while the family-integrated paradigm may not answer all of our challenges, it may have more to offer than many in our evangelical churches have been willing to admit.

Greg Stiekes is a graduate of Bob Jones University (B.A., 1990; M.A., 1992) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., 2001). He is currently working on a ThM at Erskine Theological Seminary. He has pastored Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina since 2002. Prior to his ministry in the south, Greg taught Speech at Northland Baptist Bible College (1992-95) and served as an associate pastor at Fourth Baptist Church in Plymouth, MN (1995-2002). Greg and Rena and their five children live in Saluda, NC.

Advertisements