Children's Ministry: From Entertainment to Biblical Teaching

January 24, 2023

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Does the children's ministry at your church feel superficial and entertainment-based? If you want to make a change, then this episode is for you! Join Elizabeth Urbanowicz as she explores how to transform your church's Sunday school program by incorporating sound biblical teaching.


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children that God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode today. Today's question says, "How do you start weaving sound, biblical teaching into a kid's Sunday school program that for quite a few years has focused more on morality and entertaining kids?" And this is such a good question because this is a problem that so many churches are facing. For so long, so many churches have made Sunday school and kids' ministry time focused on teaching moral lessons and being more about entertaining than actually instructing in biblical truth. And now we know morality is important.

The Bible is clear about morality, but the Bible isn't just a book to change our behavior. The Bible is a book that is God's self-revelation. And in that self-revelation, he's revealing to us that we cannot be good without him, that we are inherently sinful and that we need to be redeemed. We need to be reconciled in our relationship to God through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. And then the entertainment piece really has come over the past 30-ish years where somehow we've bought into this idea that we have to make Jesus cool and we have to make church fun. Where nowhere throughout scripture do we find that Jesus is cool or that church is just about fun. In fact, we find in scripture that it tells us that Jesus is a man of sorrows, that there was nothing about his physical appearance to draw us to him, that Jesus was not someone that everyone was just following because they thought he was so cool.

And as we're going to discuss later on in this podcast, Jesus did not try to build up his ministry by gaining more followers. He actually sought to thin out his ministry and make sure that his disciples were true disciples. So I'm so glad that this question was asked today, and I think there's actually two different ways in which to answer this because I don't know if the person who wrote this question is a member of a church or is actually a member who's on staff at a church. So I'm going to address this question in two different ways. First, if we're talking about a church member who sees this as an issue within the church, and then if we see this from someone who's on staff at a church. So first, if you're a church member and you see this issue in the kids' ministry at your church that it's focused more just on teaching moral lessons and entertaining kids, what I would encourage you to do... don't talk to others in your church about that. Because if you're talking to others who can't do anything about it, there's a very clear word for that.

And that word is gossip. And we are commanded in scripture not to gossip. We've also been commanded not to grumble. So if we're taking our complaints to someone who can't make any changes, all we're doing is grumbling. No matter what our justification behind it, we should not be gossiping and we should not be grumbling. So my encouragement would be that you set up a time to meet with the leaders at your church, to meet with the elders at your church, the pastoral staff, and to enter the meeting with a spirit of humility. The leaders at a church, especially the elders, have a lot on their plate and they're doing very difficult work that God has called them to. So I would encourage you in that meeting, don't accuse, don't lay out a lot of accusations, but just ask a lot of good questions.

How long has kids' ministry been set up like this? What is the purpose of kids' ministry? What are we hoping for the children who eventually graduate from our kids' ministry? How are we seeking to meet these goals? And then, humbly ask, "Can I share with you what I've noticed? Can I share with you what I've noticed either as your children have gone through the kids' ministry or as you have been just a volunteer in the ministry... Then, determine whether or not the leadership team or the elders sees an issue because they may already see this and they may be saying, "Yes, we know that we need some change. We're seeking to make this change. Here's what we're going to do." Or they may say, "We see this as an issue. We're looking for help. Would you be willing to help us out with this?" And if that happens, if they see an issue and they actually are looking for help or they're just some guidance, what I would encourage you to do is start researching curriculums that are focused on teaching scripture. Research curriculums that are focused on teaching scripture.

I know The Gospel Project put out by Lifeway does a great job of taking kids all the way through the entire narrative of scripture. I've also heard good things about the kids' ministry curriculum that's coming out of Bethlehem Baptist, John Piper's Church, up in Minnesota at Foundation Worldview. We don't have curriculum for every single grade level, but we do have our studying the Bible curriculum, which teaches kids how to read, interpret, and apply scripture on their own. So research good curriculum that would be a good fit and that would help guide your church as you're seeking to guide the kids. Then I would encourage you, if you're not already volunteering, volunteer in the kids' ministry. There's always a shortage of volunteers in kids' ministry and then help others in your church see value in what the leadership team is trying to do.

Anytime change is made, there's always going to be people that are resistant. There's always going to be people who are complaining. So you can be actually a positive Christ-centered change agent in this, helping others see the value of what is going on. Now, if you meet with the leadership at your church and they do not see the issue that you are seeing and it's very clear that they're not going to be making any changes in the children's ministry, then I would encourage you as a parent to make changes in the decisions that you make for your child during corporate worship at church. I'd recommend that rather than sending your kids to kids' ministry, you have them stay in the service. In fact, in general, I recommend this for any child ages five on up. I think it's really hard actually to justify the way that we do kids' ministry in general with what we find in scripture.

And so we'd really just encourage you, keep your kids in the service and you might be thinking, oh my goodness, how in the world am I going to do this? Well, there's a lot to engage them. Okay? There's lots of standing and sitting with the singing, sitting down to pray, standing up... if your church recites scripture together, if they recite creeds together, there's lots of standing and sitting. And then during the part that's longer during the sermon, their attention span might not allow them to sit there quietly and listen attentively for 30 to 40 minutes. Although most churches today, sadly, the sermon is only about 20 minutes long. But you can actually do some things to have them engage. You can bring a plain piece of paper and some crayons. You can allow them to color. But then also say, you know what?

When we're done, when pastor (whoever) is done preaching, I want you to have one picture about something that you heard him say and then talk about that picture after the service. If you have older kids, you can have them take notes. I have a friend who she requires that her sons, she has three sons that are over the age of their teenagers but she requires that they actually take notes and they actually have to give the notes to her and her husband and they have to have three points, and then they discuss them at lunch after church to make sure that they're actually paying attention. And the same can be done with kids. They don't have to be teens. By the time a child is eight years old, they should be able to write down three things that they hear the pastor say.

Now, I did answer a question similar to this in a webinar, and in that webinar, I actually recommended that if a church is not going to be making changes in their children's ministry and their philosophy of that, maybe that might not be the right church to be a member of.

And the more I thought and prayed about that, the more that I actually thought, you know what? I don't think I gave sound counsel there because I really don't believe, upon further thoughts, that a difference in philosophy of kids' ministry is a reason to leave a church. The reason to leave a church is because of biblical unfaithfulness. So if our church is starting to teach something that is antithetical to scripture, something that actually contradicts the biblical worldview, and we humbly confront the elders at our church and they make it clear that this is what they believe and they have no intention of changing that, then for biblical unfaithfulness... that is a reason to leave a local body of Christ. But especially in the West where we just have such an individualistic mindset, we tend to look for a church more as if we're shopping for a car or even for a house and think, okay, what fits best for me?

What works for me? Do I like this? Does this fit my philosophy where I think it'd be really hard to justify that mindset biblically. So I would say if you disagree in the philosophy of kids' ministry with your church and your leadership team is not going to change, model biblical faithfulness for your kids. Model faithfulness to the body of Christ. You don't have to send your kids to the kids' ministry there. And you know what research has shown that actually the kids who stay in the service and listen to the sermon and are actually part of corporate worship as the body of Christ and aren't just shoved off to kids' ministry, those are the kids that stay in church after high school. So I would really encourage you: don't leave your church just because of a difference in philosophy over kids' ministry. So that's the first part of the answer to this question... if you were a church member who's seeing this issue in the kids' ministry at your church.

Now if you're someone on staff like you are actually employed at the church, then you probably have a little bit more sway in what takes place in the kids' ministry, especially if you're the kids' ministry director. And so what I would encourage you to do is, again, go to the entire staff and present what you're seeing, what you found, and to talk through, okay, what do we need to do to change this? You could even just ask, "We're doing a lot of things to get the kids pumped up and energized. Where do we find this model in scripture?" And the answer is, we don't. We don't see anywhere in scripture where people are getting pumped up and energized for the purpose of entertaining. Now, we see places in scripture, especially in the New Testament, where Peter or Paul passionately gives a speech about something because they're so passionate about who Jesus is and what he's done for us.

But they're not doing that to try to entertain people or to draw more people in. So I would just encourage you to talk through with the leadership team, with the staff at your church. Okay, why do we do kids' ministry? Why do we do it the way that we do it? Does it align with scripture? Because scripture's clear that parents are the primary disciplers of their children. Nowhere in scripture do we see the command that the church as an organization is supposed to take over that job of discipling children. We do see the command multiple times for older women to teach younger women, older men, to teach younger men. So we do want older people in the church pouring into the younger people, not for the purpose of convincing them to stay, not for the purpose of entertaining them, but for the purpose of teaching them how to live godly lives in Christ Jesus.

Also, I know for churches it's a big temptation to focus on numbers. How many people did we have in service this week? How many kids did we have in kids' ministry? And then when those numbers go down, it's a very human response to get disappointed over that, to wonder, okay, what's going to happen? And especially for churches, because a lot of times, budgets are based on how many people you have attending the church. It can be a scary thing to think like, okay, are we going to make it financially? But nowhere in scripture do we see any justification for wanting to grow a church numerically in order to be able to keep people on staff? Okay? We do see throughout scripture that God consistently provides for the needs of his people and that we can trust that. Yes, we have to work hard. Yes, we have to do certain things. Yes, we sometimes have to ask, remind people to give, but we can trust that God is going to provide whether or not we have the numbers.

I've seen this at the church I used to attend in Chicago. It's a very small church plant, numbers wise, very small. But you know what? God has consistently provided for that church's financial needs. They're not focused on getting more people so that their financial needs can be met. They're focused on how can we share the gospel in this city and faithfully minister to the people that God has placed in our care. As I mentioned earlier in this podcast, in Jesus' ministry, we see him doing just the opposite of what so many churches do nowadays. Rather than trying to bolster numbers, Jesus... he thinned the herd sometimes. He said hard things where many disciples left. And you know what?

He even chastised people who followed him for the sake of receiving some benefit or some pleasure or some entertainment without really wanting him, without really seeking him. In John 6:25-27, it says, when they found him, that is Jesus, on the other side of the sea, they said to him, rabbi, when did you come here? Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me. Not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give you. For on him, God the Father has set his seal." So Jesus is saying that these people weren't paying attention to all the signs that he was showing to show that he was the Messiah, that he was the son of God.

They were just thinking, oh, I had my physical needs met yesterday. Let me go back there. And so what are we doing in our kids' ministries? Are we helping them see who Jesus is and that He's God and that they feel the weight of their sin and their need for redemption? Or are we trying to entertain them to just make them feel full and happy so that they want to come back? Because that is exactly what Jesus condemns in this passage. So I would encourage you, if you're in church leadership, to have your leadership team and your elders set a philosophy of kids' ministry that's based on scripture, and then every decision that you make in your kids' ministry weigh that decision against that philosophy that is rooted in scripture. And it's okay if parents do not agree. It's okay if they don't agree.

You want to patiently explain to them, be kind and compassionate, but to be able to explain why you're doing kids' ministry in the way that you're doing kids' ministry. And you know what? It's okay if you lose families to churches with more entertaining programs. It's okay. It's not that you want everyone to leave your church, but it's okay if families choose to leave because they want more entertainment for your kids. You should try to help them to see why that isn't the best thing for them or for their children. But you shouldn't base your church ministry philosophy on what's going to get the most families in your church. As I mentioned before, God will sustain and then intentionally seek to help parents understand this philosophy of kids' ministry. It's important to help set the stage for them because most of what families are used to is this entertainment model.

And there's some parents, praise God, who are going to intentionally look for churches that are not just seeking to entertain kids, but for those who are, set the stage. Actually in the church I'm part of right now where I live now, and then the church I was part of back in Chicago, in both of those churches during meetings for the kids' ministry volunteers and the parents, leaders at the church have asked me to come and share just a little bit of the history of kids' ministry and Sunday school and how we got to the point where we got today and why the philosophy of our church is different than most of the churches in our area. Because even though, praise God, the elders at my church now and at the church I was in part of Chicago, they all got this. They all understood this biblical philosophy of kids' ministry.

Many of the parents did not. And it wasn't that the parents were trying to be difficult or obstinate, but they just needed the vision set for them. So set that vision for the families. And you know what? As you begin to bolster up the kids' ministry in your church and really have the kids learning deep truths and not just be sought to entertain, I think you'll find that the kids are actually hungry for this, that this is what the kids want. I've shared this story before about a girls' discipleship group that I was leading last year, and one of the girls in the discipleship group... our church doesn't have youth group that's just not part of our church philosophy, and she was attending a youth group from another church, and several weeks into the Bible study, she decided to stop going to this youth group.

And when I asked her why, she said, because you're actually teaching me how to study scripture. The youth group just wants me to have fun and talk about my feelings, and I don't need that. And when we give kids meat, they're no longer going to crave the fluff.

Well, that's a wrap for today's episode. But as always, if this content has benefited you and your family or your ministry in some way, I would just encourage you to like this episode to consider subscribing because doing those things helps more people find our content and helps us equip more adults to get the kids in their care carefully thinking through every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. As we leave our time together today, my prayer as always is that God would richly bless you as you continue to faithfully disciple the children He's placed in your care. I'll see you next time.
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