In many people’s minds, Sunday school or the Sunday morning children’s program is the standard for the spiritual development of children. When a child doesn’t like their class, parents are often greatly concerned. I’ve had many ask me to help persuade their child to give into the parent’s pleading and go to the class.
My response to the parent is that if your child is comfortable in the service with you, let them come. Children’s ministry is a good option for many children, but it isn’t the supreme way of discipling them. Here are 3 things that parents and churches can do to help children grow in their faith that are just as good, or better, than sending children to an age-graded church alternative program.
1. Take them with you to the worship service.
Children’s church and youth worship alternatives were started in the 1970s and 1980s, as developmental theory became the guiding rational for our spiritual development programs. Developmental theory comes from the world of education. Education (gaining knowledge of a subject matter) is a part of spiritual development, but it isn’t the whole, or even the main, aspect of spiritual formation. Along with understanding the Bible better, people grow as disciples when they (1) experience God’s hand moving through the church in action, (2) pray in a community, (3) see mature believers in action, and (4) when they humble themselves by giving up something special to them in order to benefit another person.
Many churches write these sorts of things into their children and youth curriculum, but they don’t have to come through those avenues. These things are happening already in the church, in worship service gatherings, and through opportunities to interact with different people within the church body.
2. Teach them to serve.
Faith is not a spectator event. Children learn a lot from watching their parents and others involved in spiritual exercise, but children will learn more by participation. Churches and parents should be looking for ways to get children involved – collecting offering, handing out bulletins, helping disabled people participate, pouring coffee, reading prayers, cleaning the building, or whatever other opportunities people can dream up. When children are an active part of the worship services, and they aren’t the only ones who will benefit. Older people will be blessed by their energy and involvement.
I do not encourage junior preachers. Children and youth many want to give testimonies from time to time, but preaching is a complicated art that come with excellent knowledge and understanding of the scriptures. There are many other places where a child can find their calling.
3. Allow them to participate in spiritual exercises with other spiritually mature adults.
If parents don’t think they can sit with their children for a worship service, there are others who can. Perhaps parents don’t feel that they are emotionally strong enough to sit next to a squirming child. Perhaps parents are active in the service and cannot keep a close eye on their child. These parents need not expect that they have to send their child to a separate class; these children can sit with someone else through the service. Many teens like sitting with younger children. Senior adults might like an opportunity to be close to youth too. There is no special training necessary, and the children will learn how broad the family of God can be.