Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Children's Christian Education: a Job Poorly Done

When it comes to teaching our children in church, we’re not getting the job done.

O, some churches are popular with the kids, where plenty of money is spent on safe, fun activities. But are we preparing our children? Are we making them strong so they can stand up to the trials that will come their way?

Not that I can tell. And I’m more than frustrated. I’m outraged

For one thing, we’re not teaching the right things in the right way.

Any professional educator will tell you that little children don’t think in metaphors and analogies. Their brains are not developed to handle that stuff yet. We start with information and rules because that’s what they can process. When they get a little older in middle school and high school they can perform some of the higher processing. So perhaps we should lighten up on the cute stories that illustrate a point and focus on actual scriptural content, where there are plenty of cool stories.

Children are at the time in their lives when they can hear the spectacular stories of the Bible and memorize powerful verses.

Don’t want them to see the Bible as superstitious? Want them to think responsibly? Fine. But let’s give them something to think about. We can’t teach children how to sift through the Bible and apply the appropriate material to their lives if they don’t first know their Bibles. AND THEY DON’T.

For nearly three decades I have worked with children who are growing up in church but are not being taught basic material from the scriptures. They don’t know the stories of David and Goliath, Noah and the flood, the plagues of Egypt, the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Daniel in the Lion’s den, the life of Jesus, and Paul’s missionary journeys.

One Christmas during children’s moment in the worship service, I asked them about the Christmas story and they told me about the poem “The Night before Christmas.” They also knew about the North Pole, the red-nosed reindeer, and the elves that work in the toy factory. But they didn’t know the name of the town where Jesus was born, or about the shepherds who first heard the angels’ announcement. At the end of our time, while the church listened in, I told them that while we had been talking, I was actually teaching a lesson to the adults who needed to do a better job teaching the important stuff.

I first started writing this to complain about children’s curriculum. Some of it (a lot of it) is truly horrible, but if I look, I can find some reasonably competent material out there. The blame for our children’s ignorance lies mostly with the adults of any church.

Which brings me to this point: parents are extremely erratic about getting their kids to Sunday School. We get them to regular school every day. We get them to every extracurricular event on God’s earth because it’s important. But when it comes to Christian education, it’s too much trouble.

I’ve checked the rolls in my own churches and a majority of the children attend only once a month.

There’s the problem with finding volunteer teachers. My goodness what a bunch of chickens we are about facing a group of children. For God’s sake, as well as theirs, these kids need us to teach them.

They need us to prepare ahead of time with study and meditation, They need us to show up early on Sunday, have our materials in order, and share information with them.

Is that a lot of trouble? Sure, but aren’t they worth it?

Then there’s Vacation Bible School. For years, I’ve watched teachers wrestle to make sense out of the lame songs, silly themes, clever crafts, and O yeah, maybe a story from the Bible thrown in if there's time. These are materials we pay money for. To borrow a phrase from Philippians, “I consider them as rubbish.”

I know I’m not alone in my opinions. I also know I’m not alone in my efforts to change things. But I feel alone, like a prophet standing on a hill shouting to a sleeping city.

Since I’m yelling, I will shout as loud as I can that I have not and I never will sit idly by. One by one, in every church I have ever served I have taught the children as well as the adults. I will never stop. I will hound the parents to do their duties. When I can’t find good material, I will write it myself.

So who’s with me out there?


  1. Good post, Pastor.

    I happen to be one that agrees. My wife teaches the little ones at church and she has noticed that the kids often don't know the basic Bible stories. For a while, she taught the Westminister Catechism as her curriculum. Heavy stuff, but cool.

    My daughter has been in Bible Study Fellowship since she was six. She's studied Matthew, Romans, and the life of Moses in detail. It's the best thing going out there at the moment.

    Perhaps you should design a curriculum and put it up on the net. Maybe it's your calling.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    I've known about Bible Study Fellowship, but I hadn't heard about it in several years. Glad it's still out there.

    Thanks for the input.