Children’s Ministry and a Rotting Cow
Good is the Enemy of Best
I have a weakness for videos on YouTube where the guy goes out into the wild and builds a cabin. What took months to do is reduced to a two-hour compilation of all the steps it took for him to go into the wild and carve out a place to live. It fascinates me to see so much skill on display. These guys don’t waste time on the needless things, they spend their energy doing only what is necessary. This is because they still need to hunt, gather and preserve food in addition to building the place that will keep them warm in the winter months.
Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine what it would be like to watch the snow fall outside while you sat comfortably next to your wood-stove eating the food you gathered. How satisfying to confidently face the winter knowing you have all the provisions necessary. You have plenty of food, a fresh mountain stream flowing nearby, and plenty of fire-wood. Now imagine that after a big drink of water from that stream, you start to feel a little sick. The stream never gave you any trouble before, but now you’re certain there is something wrong with the water. There are two ways of dealing with the problem.
You could start taking the time to boil the water before using it. Then water would be potable again! Unfortunately, this solution would take more time and resources. More wood will be needed, more wood will need to be gathered. This will take more energy and more energy will require more food consumption. More food consumption means more hunting in an environment that will take more energy to accomplish. More time hunting means less time to gather wood. Less wood means it will be more difficult to boil more water. So, what’s the other way of dealing with the problem?
Find the reason the water is bad. If on investigating the cause of contamination, you discover a dead cow rotting up-stream, you’ll have discovered the root of the issue. Instead of treating a secondary problem with a perpetual solution, you could eliminate the primary problem with a permanent solution. Both these options were good options because they both solved the immediate problem. But only one option was the best option. Good is the enemy of best.
Our church doesn’t have to imagine having a minimal children’s ministry, we have one. If a child is old enough to be in the first grade, they are expected to sit in the worship service with their parents. All ages younger than that are welcomed to either the nursery or to a pre-school-level program during the service. We have plenty of volunteers for the program we have, so like that man in his cabin, this pastor felt content with what we were offering. But recently, I was informed that there was concern about how the older kids in our church may be spiritually-malnourished.
The concern is that the kids who are too old to be downstairs are not able to comprehend the sermons. So, although the babies and toddlers are being ministered to and the adults are being ministered to, the children have no one to teach them the Bible. Now that is a concern that is worth finding a solution to! Making the Bible known to children ought to be a top priority.
We could start by taking the time to develop a new Sunday School program for multiple grades so that kids can get an age-appropriate Bible education. Unfortunately, this solution would take more time and resources. More volunteers would be needed in addition to the ones who already volunteer for the current children’s ministry. A new coordinator would be needed to get volunteers all lined-out on expectations, security background checks, and time commitments. There would need to be a consensus on a quality curriculum that all the parents could agree on. This means curriculum would need to be reviewed and approved before implementation. This paragraph is exhausting.
Let me tell you about a little boy named Manasseh. He was a boy who began to reign as king in Jerusalem at age 12. He was a naughty boy who grew into a naughty man. Manasseh clearly did not have a Sunday-school program. Perhaps if he had, he would know that idols were bad and would not have built them back up (2Kings 21:3). He would have known not to set up pagan alters in the Temple (2Kings 21:4). He would have learned that burning your own children alive was a sin (2Kings 21:6) and, who knows, perhaps that Sunday-school program could have prevented Jerusalem’s worst moral decline to date (2Kings 21:9). Manasseh was a problem.
We get a clue to why a Manasseh can happen by reading the preceding chapter to this story. In 2Kings 20:12-15, we learn that Two years before he was born, his father Hezekiah got a knock on the door one day and in walks a whole envoy of Babylonians with get-well cards because they heard he was sick. He is so flattered that he decides to show the Babylonians all the spices and riches of his kingdom (it’s the least he could do). Sometimes flattery gets the best of us.
It didn’t take a prophet to predict what happens when you show-off your riches to a nation of thieves, but God sends Isaiah to spell it out for him anyway. Isaiah delivers God’s message to Hezekiah that all the wealth of all of his fathers and all Israel was going to be carried into Babylon and his own children would be castrated and forced into slavery (2Kings 20:16-18). Now here is Hezekiah’s response: “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good” (2Kings 20:19, ESV).
So, let’s get this straight: Hezekiah has been informed by God’s prophet that his foolish act would make him responsible for losing everything and the babies he bounced on his knee would one day be slaves in another kingdom and he calls that news “good”? Something’s starting to smell like a rotten cow and you get the full picture when you read the rest of the verse: “For he thought ‘Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?’”. In other words, Hezekiah cared more about his own comfort than he did about the future of his own children. Manasseh’s come from apathetic Hezekiah’s.
Here comes the Boom
Sunday school programs are a good way of dealing with the issue of grade-schoolers not being taught the Word, but if there were a dead cow up-stream, we might want to address that first. Here it is: children are Biblically illiterate because their parents are apathetic. Children are like streams of water. They come from somewhere, and they carry the environment of the place they come from: “Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt-water… neither can a salt pond yield fresh water” (James 3:11-12).
I know this comes across pretty strong and I truly hope that it does: if you have children and they do not know the Bible, you should know that this is entirely your fault. If you say “well Sam, I can’t teach my kids the Bible, because no one ever taught me”; let’s get real: You own a Bible. you have an adult brain. You know people who can answer your questions. The only reason you don’t teach your kids is because you think someone else should do it for you. If someone neglects the responsibility of feeding their children, they might say it’s because they cannot cook, but if you can feed yourself, you can feed your kid. The same goes with the Word of God.
Now if after reading this blog, you’re hard-headed enough to persist in your apathy, and you still insist churches should do it for you, then I have to at least appreciate that you want the water boiled, but please don’t mistake me for thinking you wise. Wise and responsible parents teach their children about the Bible because that is what is best because it is what God expects. (Proverbs 22:6, Ephesians 6:4, Deuteronomy 6:6-7, 2 Timothy 3:14-15, Psalm 127:3-5, Proverbs 1:8-9, Deuteronomy 4:9, Matthew 19:14).
How Now Dead Cow?
So, who’s ready to pull out the rotten cow of apathy? If you value the truth and truly care about your child learning God’s Word, let’s do this! Instead of saying things like “I feel bad for the generations after me” let’s start doing something about it! Let’s arm our kids and our grandkids! If you have adult children, it’s never too late to spend time talking with them about the Word. I still talk to my dad about it! You may even have grandchildren who would love hearing a great Bible story from their grandparents over the phone! It’s never too late! It’s also never too little.
Sometimes people just need to know how to start. Start small. Pick one day a week where after dinner you simply read the Bible out-loud with your kids. Maybe you just read a verse. Even if it starts small, what’s important is that it starts. If you’re unsure of how to get started with teaching the Bible, read the blog I wrote before this one. Talk to your pastor and pick up a commentary he would recommend. Parents, teaching the Word to our children is our responsibility. Let’s take that on for the glory of God!