One of the things I’ve noticed about children’s and youth ministry in the past few years is a renewed and increased evangelistic impulse—an urgency to teach children about Jesus and the Gospel so that they might be saved. This is a wonderful change from the all-too-common emphasis on Gospel-less moralism of the past. My concern, however, is that sometimes for the sake of urgency—wanting our children to get saved as soon as possible (a really good desire)—we may be minimizing the very foundation on which that salvation depends. I found this illustration, from an article over at 9Marks, to be really helpful:
Let’s say, for the sake of illustration, that you are on a ship sailing to a faraway town to warn the people of impending doom. If you don’t get there in time, everyone dies. Needless to say, you want your ship to sail as fast as possible. You avoid any excess cargo that might slow your progress. You don’t waste time worrying about clean decks or polished brass. The urgency of the task requires you to operate with efficiency and leanness.
People…argue that the urgency of the Christian mission requires us to trim our theological sails and jettison the heavy freight of doctrinal precision.
…Doctrine is not freight on the ship. It’s the hull and mast.
A church’s doctrine determines the character and quality of its witness. Its theology shapes its goals and the way it tries to achieve those goals.
So the question is this: does disciple-making require churches to know and teach doctrine?
Critics of doctrinal necessity sometimes snidely remark that surely God is not going to open up people’s heads on the last day to ensure the right doctrinal formulas are inside. No, probably not. But he will ask them something like, “Were you trusting me? The real and true me, and not a made-up version of me?” In other words, God is very much interested in whether we are trusting in certain truths, because with God doctrinal truth is personal truth.
To experience Christ’s salvation, a person must believe and trust real truths about the real God. If someone has not turned with his or her whole heart to God and trusted him, he or she cannot be saved (Rom. 10:13–17). Doctrine is required for salvation!
So, along with a renewed evangelistic impulse in our ministry to children and youth, let us also have a renewed discipleship impulse that must concern itself with a slow, progressive, precept-by-precept teaching of doctrinal truth. These essential truths are the hull and mast of the ship!