On Sunday afternoons, our family piles onto the couch and the kids begin to tell me what they learned at church in the morning. Each child is able to tell me what they learned about God and His Word as a result of their time worshipping with our family at Bethany Community Church. I find these times with the kids encouraging for several reasons, one of which is the joy of having others in the church re-enforce the things that we are trying to teach our children about God and His Word.
Some believers argue that age-segregated Sunday School classes are—at best—detrimental to the family or—at worst—unbiblical and contrary to Scripture’s design for the church and family. Many argue for what they call a “Family Integrated Church (FIC),” which they define as the entire family staying together for times of teaching and instruction.
My purpose in this article is not to attack the FIC model. Indeed, there are several strengths to that philosophy of ministry. It rightly recognizes the importance of parents—especially fathers—shepherding their children. It also draws attention to the failure of many youth ministries to fulfill the purpose for which they were intended. Youth ministries sometimes degenerate into a playground for adolescents. Instead of fostering deeper maturity they exacerbate the immaturity.
At the same time, age-segregated ministries like children’s Sunday School are not unbiblical. On the contrary, there are some very biblical, God-glorifying aspects of ministries that allow for a period of time of age-based instruction. Here are a few of the reasons I rejoice that we offer special ministries for children.
1. Children have a special need for instruction.
Broad, generalizing statements like “modern youth ministry is contrary to Scripture” are problematic because Scripture does seem very much concerned that children receive special instruction. Moses in Deuteronomy, the psalmist, Solomon in the book of Proverbs, all understand that children have a special need for instruction. Paul refers to the understanding he had as a child and how he put it away as he became a man (1 Cor 13:11).
A good youth ministry recognizes that children have a special need for instruction to help them gain wisdom. A more accurate statement than the one above is “many modern youth ministries are failing to fulfill the Biblical mandate for the church to disciple its younger members.” This does not invalidate the concept of having times of age-targeted instruction.
2. Children need a proper theological understanding of the family of God.
While parents are to be the primary tool God uses to disciple children, they are not the only tool. In the Old Testament, the entire community punished the wayward and rebellious child (Deut 21:18-21). The New Testament expands the idea of family and teaches us that every believer is part of the family of God (Eph 2:19). A Sunday School system that encourages other adults to speak into the spiritual development of my children helps them see that the church body is larger than just our family.
3. Children must learn not to idolize their nuclear family.
The way we center our lives around the nuclear family is a recent cultural phenomenon. A far more prevalent understanding of “family” throughout human history includes uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, and crazy fourth-cousins.
It is important to teach children not to idolize the nuclear family. This means training them that the family exists not just to spend time with itself but to be engaged in ministry in the lives of others outside the family. This means that families will have to do difficult and inconvenient things for the health of the church.
This improves the ability of the church to minister to individuals who do not have a spouse or children. It also helps provide a structure for children who do not have the nuclear family that may be the cultural norm in the church.
4. Children should be innocent of that which is evil.
It is important for adults to be innocent of evil (Rom 16:9). How much more should we strive to protect the innocence of our children! Allowing some times of age-segregated ministry allows adults to discuss concepts that children amy not be prepared to consider. It also allows them display transparency about issues in their lives—such as parenting—that children might not understand.
I applaud much of the motivation behind the family integrated church movement. I pray that our church is able to offer additional ministries that provide for the integration of the family into the church. I encourage us at BCC to take the lead in discipling our children. At the same time, I praise God that He has provided other men and women to disciple my boys and girls.