The Child and the Church
TO THE EDITOR:
My January title, “Too Much Children’s Work?” was intended as a question, not as a statement. Possibly the current article will correct any misinterpretations resulting either from the mistaken omission of the question mark or from the editorial description of the article as a “negative approach.”
The Church was established through preaching to adults. Only by inference can we find any mention of children’s work in The Acts of the Apostles. (See “Too Much Children’s Work?”, Food for the Flock, January, 1961, page 13.)
Does this mean that children’s work is superfluous? Most emphatically no! (See “Why Sunday Schools?” Food for the Flock, September, 1959, page 137.)
What, then, is the place of children’s work in the program of the Church? How do we reconcile our emphasis on children’s work with the obvious emphasis on adult work in The Acts?
Before answering, we should examine our objective. What were the apostolic preachers trying to accomplish? What are we trying to do in our ministry?
Briefly, the apostles were trying to glorify God; to live Christ-like before their hearers and converts; to preach the Gospel so that men and women would be saved, gathered into church fellowship, and developed into mature, spiritual believers, capable of functioning themselves as faithful witnesses and godly members of the local church.
We believe that their ministry is a pattern for us today. And we thank God for the extent to which we see the ideal fulfilled in our generation.
But we dare not take anything for granted. We must keep the basic objective before us constantly: we too must aim to glorify God by living Christ-like lives; by witnessing to Christ and preaching the Gospel; by winning men, women, and children to the Lord; and by establishing local churches comprised of Spirit-filled, Christ-like believers with hearts and lives dedicated wholly to the glory of God.
With this objective in mind, we can begin to answer the fore-going questions. Children’s work is an opportunity (1) to bring girls and boys under the influence of Christians who demonstrate the presence and power of the Spirit of God; (2) to teach young people the Word of God, whereby they might come to know the Son of God; (3) to win youngsters to the Lord at an age when their whole lives can be spent for the glory of God and the service of Christ. In this respect, children’s work holds a vital and unique place in the Church.
Nevertheless, there remains the problem of reconciling our emphasis on children’s work with the apostles’ emphasis on adult work. And no doubt the real problem lies, not so much in what we are doing, as in what we are not doing!
What we do is excellent—as far as it goes! It is a splendid thing to teach children the Gospel. Many are saved, to mature later as adult saints whose lives are highly honouring to God. Some are used to win parents and friends. A few are called to full-time service. For all of this blessing, we can be profoundly thankful.
But the glaring facts of the matter are this: most of the girls and boys who are saved through children’s work and who eventually take their places as mature believers in assembly capacity, are children of believers already in the assembly. Evidently only a few assemblies see girls and boys from non-Christian homes being saved, brought into assembly fellowship, and retained within the assembly where they develop into spiritual saints capable of functioning as responsible members of the local church.
While there may be many exceptions, still the majority of children from unsaved homes leave our assembly Sunday schools in their early teens, either through lack of interest, or through forcible removal by parents—particularly at the age of “confirmation” in the family church. Even those who get saved are often “lost” to the assembly through family or church attachments.
The problem then is this: our effort in children’s work makes a definite contribution in reaching our objectives in the lives of some believers’ children. But our effort is largely unsuccessful with respect to adult unbelievers and their children. Remembering that our objective includes the establishment of local churches comprised of spiritually mature believers, we cannot be satisfied with such a sorry state of affairs. It is not enough just to have believers replaced by their children!
The early Church grew mainly because the Gospel was preached to adults. Many were saved, and were soon functioning as responsible leaders in the local churches. Our churches will grow only when we do the same—preach the word to adults!
Does this mean that children’s work is unrelated to the work of the Church as a whole? Far from it! First, if our efforts in children’s work were more vital, scriptural, spiritual, and determined, we would see a far higher percentage of these children coming to Christ—and among the families of unbelievers as well as of believers!
If we fail to see such results, it’s because our efforts are so carnal, lacking in dedication and determination. We devote insufficient time to our spiritual health as Christian workers — too little time for prayer, study of the Word, and dependence on the Lord.
Also, in the vast majority of children’s efforts today, one of the greatest opportunities for reaching adults in this generation is being almost completely ignored or neglected.
For practically every child who comes to a Sunday school or a children’s meeting, there is a home, with parents, and a family — an entire group to be reached with the Gospel. The child who comes in is an incomparable contact — the best open door to adult work that could be found anywhere.
But let’s remember, we’re engaged in building churches, and churches are composed basically of adults. We must see children not only saved, but also brought into assembly fellowship — and not only from believers’ families, but also from the homes of unbelievers.
In addition, we must reach the parents, the adults. And for this work, the children who come into our care are themselves the most fruitful contacts imaginable. Unfortunately, we’re failing to grasp the opportunity.