What's the Proper Role of Children’s Ministry?

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I will preface this post by saying that this is not a post with a whole lot of answers (to be properly read….none).  Instead, this post focuses on a series of questions that have been bouncing around my head recently when it comes to teaching kids about God.
I recently came across the following quote from Richard Baxter, and I was really struck by the truth of the statement:

I do verily believe that if parents did their duty as they ought, the Word publicly preached would not be the ordinary means of regeneration in the church, but only without the church, among practical heathens and infidels.

With all the buzz surrounding family ministry and the goal of children’s ministry being the leveraging all the time parents have with their kids to support what they are learning at church, this quote got me thinking about the proper role of Christian parents in the life of their kids and what that means for children’s ministry today.  The Bible is clear that the primary responsibility for teaching and passing along spiritual truths from generation to generation falls to the family,  Deuteronomy 6 (which is often cited by those in the “family ministry movement”) says:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. [Deuteronomy 6:6-9]

It is clear from this verse, and others, that the parents bear the primary responsibility for raising their kids in the instruction and admonition of the Lord.  So, I think the question is not, “how do we leverage the time parents have with their kids?” Instead, I think the real question we should be asking as a church is, “Why are we not calling parents to fulfill this responsibility to their kids, and what does that say about the type of Christians our church is producing?”  Is it the place of a Children’s Ministry to try to teach parents how to raise their kids in the things of God, or is that a role that the whole church should be undertaking?  Why has this role seemingly been abdicated to children’s pastors in most churches?  Is it because “they’re the ones who are supposed to deal with the kids?”  Have we, as a church, overlooked the responsibility to call parents to account for how they are raising their kids?  Why is it that we emphasize spiritual disciplines like prayer, time in the word, giving and evangelism and ignore the means of transmission of those disciplines (families) mandated by God?  In short, have we as a church abdicated our responsibility towards children by throwing them in a room by themselves and giving them their own programs rather than teaching parents how to be the spiritual leaders in their homes?
On the other side of the coin, if the primary responsibility for the spiritual guidance lies with parents, what then is the proper role of children’s ministry?  It seems to me that there are three general buckets that the kids we minster to will fall in to:

  1. Christian kids with Christian parents who are trying to follow the Biblical mandate to lead and disciple their kids,
  2. Christian kids with non-Christian parents and/or Christian parents who have abdicated that responsibility; and
  3. What Richard Baxter would call “heathen and infidels” (i.e., non-Christian kids).

How do we reconcile, both theoretically and practically, the needs of each these groups and the Biblical responsibilities we have towards each.  What is the churches role with the first group (Christian kids and Christian parents who are leading biblically)?  What and how should we teach and disciple those kids in our children’s ministry?  What about those kids in the second group whose parents are not leading as they should?  What role does children’s ministry play in those kids’ lives?  Finally, the Bible clearly tells us to go preach the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone.  That would certainly include those kids who have not accepted him as Lord and Savior.  How do we meet the needs of this group while still discipling kids in the first two groups?
As workers’ in children’s ministry we have been called to an position with awesome responsibility and awesome reward.  Our guide in fulfilling that calling must be the Bible and God’s plan for children.  It is easy to “jump right in” and not pause to reflect on what God’s plan really is and what we need to do to be obedient to that plan.
This article does not, as you might have noticed, offer the answers.  Personally, I am in the process of doing a systematic study of everything the Bible has to say about kids, and I intend to write on that as soon as that study is done.  I do hope that this post will spark some though and some discussion.
What do you think?  What is your church doing to meet the needs of these kids?

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