Two Raging Battles

Here is a SNEAK PEEK at the next Kidology Online Training Leadership Lab which is titled, “Partnering with Parents.”

There are two battles raging today in children’ ministry. The first battle is for the hearts and minds of our children. It is a battle that we are losing on many fronts. While in many places children’s ministry has “arrived” with it’s kid-friendly facilities and multi-media “edutainment” style of teaching, there is little evidence that all this “fun” and “excitement” is automatically translating into young, fully devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. This is a battle that we are all aware of for the most part, and are trying our best to engage and win.

However, there is a second battle I see raging in the Church that I’m not sure many recognize. It is a battle of the “Blame Game.” As parents and church leaders are waking up to the fact that, despite all the high-tech gadgets and endless resources, we are losing the first battle, they shift to this second one, turning on each other. Parents, who feel they are doing their best, are looking to the church for help and answers, and are feeling they aren’t getting enough. And the church, sensing the finger of blame pointing toward them, is trying to turn the finger back at parents. When I talk to children’s ministry leaders about the critical issues facing our children today, the word “parents” is often uttered with frustration or even disgust. Recently, at a national children’s pastor’s conference, a ballroom filled with hundreds of children’s ministry leaders cheered when a speaker spoke negatively about parents. As a father, daily doing my best for my own son, the laughter hurt. We, as children’s ministry leaders, are supposed to be supporting and encouraging parents, not blaming them or looking down on them as though they are somehow at fault for the negative stats we keep reading. The mantra is ringing loud and clear in churches around our country, “It’s the parents responsibility to raise and nurture children in the Lord,” as though that gets the church off the hook. And yet, while we toss the responsibility squarely at them, we still insist they bring their kids to church for us to take the lead in the spiritual input in their lives. We ask for Sunday School, Kids Church and often weekday clubs and other special events and teams. If it was truly all the parents’ job, then cancel the children’s ministry! No, it IS OUR JOB TOO.

While children’s ministry leaders can rattle off all the biblical passages that “prove” it is the parents’ job – that is too easy. I’m in agreement with all those passages and the primary role of parents, but a core component of the spiritual education of Jewish children was learning in the synagogue in the Old and New Testament. And don’t forget, Jesus’ command to “Go and make disciples of all nations” was not given exclusively to parents – it was given to the Church, to every believer whether they are a parent or not.

Yes, parents need to do a better job of owning up to their God-given responsibility to be intentional and strategic in the spiritual formation of their children, but we as church leaders need to own up to ours as well. We have in large part taken the job from parents, and then turned around and blamed them for not doing it. While we can be very pleased at the many advances in ministry tools and techniques, it is healthy to be reminded (or informed if you didn’t know) that the birth of the Sunday School movement, the predecessor of “children’s ministry,” had as one of it’s purposes to take from parents the primary role of the spiritual education of children because it was believed that the church could do a better job.

Note this quote from a leaflet published in 1818, titled Circular letter regarding the establishing of Sunday Schools:

“All parents are not qualified to instruct; and if they were, still the emulation excited by the organization of the respective classes, and by the rewards bestowed on merit, have animated children to commit to memory larger portions of scripture and a greater number of hymns, and also induced them to regard with more attention the instructions of the pious teachers than those of their parents (however capable) in private.”1

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(Click image for larger viewing)

Granted, 1818 is a while ago! But how often do we quickly assume the roles that truly belong to parents? Pastor Kenny Conley wrote on his blog about how many times parents would come to him and say, “My child would like to accept Christ, would you pray with him?” Kenny admits that often he would, until he realized that instead he ought to simple coach the parent how to lead his or her own child through that important decision. I’m guilty too! For years in our “kids bulletin” I had a contest designed to help kids pay attention during the sermon during the summer when we took a break from children’s church. It was called the “Key Word Contest.” Quite simply, as kids listened to the sermon, they were to choose ten words that they thought were the “key words” of the message. I did the same. When the kids turned in the bulletins, I graded them and awarded points for a variety of the activities, but bonus points for any of their key words that matched mine. After doing this for several years I heard a challenge from a speaker somewhere: “What are you doing that parents should be, or could be, doing if you weren’t doing it for them?” (Ouch!) The next summer I added a box in the adult’s bulletin asking parents to write down ten key words from the sermon and then, over lunch, to compare theirs to their children’s and discuss them and reward them somehow for words that match. Not only did I not have to grade a hundred kids bulletins every week, but also parent after parent came to me and thanked me for helping create a Sunday afternoon discussion of the sermon. I got one of my first tastes of what it meant to partner with parents.

It has been reported by some researchers that in the very best case scenarios, most of our kids will spend a maximum of 40 hours at church each year. (They’ll spend over 400 playing video games alone.) Responding to the statistic, Kenny Conley notes, “Churches (Children’s Ministries) typically spend 100% (or close to it) of their time and resources on the 40 hours we’ll have with these kids. Wouldn’t it make sense to invest more time in the people who are truly influencing these kids? We won’t always be their pastors, but these adults will always be their parents. It’s just too simple, really.”

I sense that both sides know they need each other. Both parents and church leaders know they can’t do it alone. Both sides even know they shouldn’t feel like they are on opposing “sides.” They should be on the same side! But they’re not sure how to do it. They want to be partners, but right now it feels too contentious. They both want the same thing, and are desperate for answers – quickly! But they also don’t want to be blamed for the poor results so far. The church is desperate for parents to wake up and realize they are losing the battle – and parents are desperate for help, not blame.

In the next Kidology Online Training Leadership Lab, the topic is Partnering with Parents. While there have been many great books to come out in recent years on the topic, I believe there is a critical oversight that may just transform the way you do ministry to parents and families. I’m not talking about another program or special event. I’m not suggesting another resource to buy or technique to attempt. I will be presenting a radical new approach to partnering with parents that once you read it will make perfect sense – though it may be something you’ve never even considered before!

It’s time to stop “business as usual,” and it’s time to stop blaming parents for the alarming results we are seeing in the children who out-grow Christianity as soon as they out-grow church. There IS a way to partner with parents that may just turn your children’ ministry upside down. Begin praying now for God to open your mind and heart to a new way to partner with parents – and keep an eye out for a thought-provoking Leadership Lab, due out in just weeks.

Discussion of this article available on Kidology.org

1Circular letter regarding the establishing of Sunday Schools. Leaflet. Printed Epherma Collection, Portfolio 52, Folder 4. Boston, 1818. [http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.rbc/rbpe.05200400] Much thanks to Lois Darboone for the research help.

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One Comment:

  1. I’ve been meaning to get back here to comment. Several weeks ago in my Bible reading, I came across this verse that I hadn’t ever really thought about before. Judges 2:10 where it says that a whole generation grew up who “knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel”. I started thinking, how could this happen? Did the adult generation fail to tell the children about God? Did the priests fail in their teachings? So now I am wondering if we have a generation that is growing up who will “neither know the Lord nor what he had done for us through the gift of salvation”? Are the adults failing to teach and lead? Are parents themselves, a generation who does not know? I am troubled by this. Thank you for advancing this discussion.

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