Saturday, July 23, 2011

Interview with Stefan about Kid Ministry

Lately, especially since seeing the Family Integrated Church movement's "Divided", I've been involved in an online discussion regarding the pros and cons of Youth and Children's ministry versus the more controversial elements of the FIC agenda. I would not use the word "debate", because I honestly don't have super-strong convictions on this issue one way or the other -- I've seen the ugliness in the extremes of both positions.

We all know about the Peanut Butter Gross-Out games at Youth Group (my church's Youth Group actually does a Bible study, but there's no denying Youth Ministry at large is largely...foolishness). Likewise, it's no secret VBS and children's ministry, with the possible exception of AWANA programs, is watered down and overly-entertainment driven. These facts notwithstanding, my husband and I do not fully embrace a mandatory FIC model - we prefer to use basic biblical wisdom and common sense (which tells us that we, as the parents, have the primary responsibility to teach our children about God and the Gospel).

Pilgrim at Defending Contending has a convincing and well-researched post about VBS and the marketing-tactics that go into them. Now, my four children have grown up on VBS. My youngest two, 8 and 5, still go and love VBS. My oldest (14) is a music assistant. Since my 8-year-old son was walking through the office while I happened to be reading Pilgrim's article, I decided to do a little un-scientific survey and get my son's feedback on what he gets out of it.

Now, two caveats: Stefan is a bright kid. Not rocket-scientist, homeschooled-and-going-to-college-at-12, find-a-cure-for-cancer-at-15 smart, but a pretty sharp monkey all-around. He's grown up in a Christian home; been in Sunday school since he had teeth and knows all the stories. He's gifted at Scripture memorization and enjoys practicing it. He also genuinely loves God and feels a deep sorrow when he sins. Without getting into much detail, I do have reason to believe he's a child of God. I asked:

Me: "Hey Stefan, let me ask you some questions. Do you love God? I mean, really?"

Him: "Yes."

Me: "Do you enjoy learning about Him, and getting to know Him better?"

Him: (nods enthusiastically...he's been asking us for a "real" Bible since he could read).

Me: "Ok. Now, would you say you learn a lot of new things about God at VBS? What do you learn?"

Him: "Well....the only time we really learn anything is in the songs."

Me: "The songs? You mean like "In Christ the Cross"?

Him: "Yeah. The songs are about God. So you learn things about God from the songs. And the stories.....well, they tell us stories, but actually we already knew the stories from before; so I guess we didn't really learn anything new. But I liked the jumpy thing."

Me: "Okay, so you didn't really learn anything at VBS, but it was fun. What about Junior Church - do you learn a lot about God there?"

Him: "Oh, yes. We learn stories and good lessons from the stories!"

Me: "But didn't you already know the stories from before?"

Him: "Some of them, yeah; but not all of them. Like the one about Elijah and Elisha. I'd forgotten about that one."

Me: "Okay, so in what order would you say you learn the most about God: from Junior Church, VBS, from me and Daddy at home - like when Daddy teaches you guys on Sunday afternoon from the Bible - or Pastor Eric when he preaches?"

Him: "I would say from you and Daddy at home, the most. After that...maybe Junior Church; then Pastor Eric - but I don't understand everything he's talking about - and then last, VBS."

No big surprises there....but given that an 8-year-old himself admits he learns more in the modest time we spend on spiritual matters at home than in the weekly, structured "children's church" etc, I think the FICers may have a point, after all. Which doesn't mean I'll be switching churches any time soon. It just means I feel convicted to spend more time and effort, under my husband's leadership, teaching the kids doctrinal truths and how to live these truths out in their lives (orthodoxy and orthopraxy). I had been toying with the idea of finding a Bible study to go through together, each morning before school next year, or maybe we'll just read from the Bible together and discuss it (as my husband does with us after church on Sunday). If anyone has any resources for family devotionals they'd like to share, I'd appreciate that!

1 comment:

Elizabeth Marie said...

That makes me so sad about the VBS. I mean, don't get me wrong, I am SO happy he's learning so much and loves Him because of what he's learned from you and your husband. The thing is, here, children's and youth ministry itself is not the problem -- it's the way it's executed.

I feel a need to brag on my church now, but I'll try my best not to. We do play some games in youth group. Sometimes I participate in them if I'm in the mood, sometimes I have conversations with people in the back instead. Sometimes they're fun, sometimes they relate to the message, sometimes they're dumb. But the core of youth group is ALWAYS the spiritual food. We worship, get a convicting message, and then we have small groups. It is clear that a large majority of the kids in my youth group come because they want to worship and grow in the Lord, not for the games.

Some things that may be considered "entertainment tactics" by some in children's ministry are wonderful when paired with real ways to get God's truths across to them in a way they'll understand. For example. This year our theme for VBS was pandas. No idea why. I thought it was pretty odd myself. A friend of mine, Jen (who is four months pregnant) wore a panda mascot suit and played the part of Pinky the panda. Pretty silly if you ask me. But it engaged the kids, and then she always incorporated some powerful scriptural truths into her little skits with the emcee. I remember one of the nights, I can't remember what the lesson was right now but I remember as the two were explaining it a young girl yelling out "Wow!" She was clearly inspired. In Sunday school and VBS of course they share Bible stories that many of the kids have probably heard before, and if just the story is told and nothing else it won't mean much to the kids except for "oh, that's a cool story." The time they learn the most is after the story is told, when it is explained what it means in THEIR life. I've seen this firsthand leading small groups for Sunday school when I ask the kids what they learned from the lesson and a child says, "I'm so glad that God will help me when I ask Him to."

Children's and youth ministry needs a lot of work -- it does not need to be eliminated. It is very crucial for kids to learn about God... and YES, of course it is primarily the parents' job... for this reason (and again, not trying to brag) we give the parents monthly newsletters to give them some tips and help on how to teach the Word at home.

I don't know if anyone in your family is musically inclined, but one thing I've always known I will do with my family is to have family worship every evening (I'm a singer and can play just about any instrument you put in front of me, and I'm currently in Ohio for worship leading camp). I also know that I want my husband, some of the kids as they get older, and myself to share something each evening from the Word that is on their heart or needs to be addressed. Just an idea. I don't know of any family devotional books (I'm not a mom and haven't been looking for any!) but I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard at all to find some. Let me know how it goes! I'm always interested in children's ministry and learning how to be a godly parent.