by John Hailes/ January 24, 2019
With the rise of family ministry in recent years, many have advocated transferring the responsibility of discipleship to parents. There are real benefits to parents taking the lead. Yet I can’t help but wonder whether this emphasis has allowed churches to relax in their discipleship endeavors.
As a children’s pastor for the past six years, I have felt increased pressure to provide fun events and an exciting atmosphere for children on Sundays. I have at times focused my energy on ensuring kids enjoy attending church. Unfortunately, I have found that this leads to children who love attending church but don’t know and love Jesus.
This is where the attractional church model and discipleship clash. You can’t always dress discipleship up as fun and enjoyable for a child. There are times it takes focus and discipline. Biblical literacy is not just about knowing the facts of the Bible. It involves knowing how to find passages, how to read the Bible in context, and how to understand Scripture. Mostly though, biblical literacy is being able to interpret Scripture through the power of the Holy Spirit and apply it to your life.
I’ve noticed four trends that I believe are affecting biblical literacy.
It’s not fun and exciting for kids to learn how to find a passage in the Bible, but it is necessary. How can we expect children to open Bibles at home if they never open them at church? Children need to see us read from our Bibles, and they need opportunities to ask questions. Of course, not every child owns a Bible — and those who do aren’t necessarily carrying them to church. However, children’s ministries could keep enough kid-friendly Bibles on hand for every elementary-age child who attends.
Both of the larger churches I have served at used the most expensive and most popular children’s ministry curriculum—and both opted for video-based lessons. At each church, this was one of the first things I changed. We can’t build a generation of biblically literate children if we always put them in front of screens for their lessons. They need to see us read from our Bibles, and they need opportunities to ask questions.
Senior pastors and children’s pastors often select curriculum based on the surface images rather than the substance. If a curriculum for children doesn’t have the best graphics or videos, it may not get a second look.
We need to do a better job of picking children’s curriculum based on the strength of the content. Does our curriculum just focus on Bible memorization? Does it instruct us to read Scripture during the lesson? Does it create space for kids to open Bibles? Does it cover the whole Bible? Does it teach the overarching story of the Bible—using each lesson to point to Jesus—or does it just present random stories from the Bible?
We are not consistently providing time for children to respond to God’s Word. Biblical literacy is not just about knowing Scripture; that is simple head knowledge, or memorization. Biblical literacy involves the application of Scripture, a process that involves heart transformation and spiritual formation.
Children need time to respond to God’s Word. They need a place where they can learn to seek the help of the Holy Spirit in applying Scripture to their lives. If we don’t teach our children to respond to God’s Word at church, how will they know to respond to it when they read it at home?
I certainly don’t believe anyone means to create biblical illiteracy. Churches are well-intentioned in their desire to please children, but I do think we would be foolish to expect different results if we continue these same practices.
This article was originally posted on the Assemblies of God Influence website September 17, 2018, and is being used with permission of the author.