Recently The State of Theology survey was published by Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research. Ligonier says the every-two-years survey is designed to “… take the theological temperature of the United States to help Christians better understand today’s culture and equip the church with better insights for discipleship.” The title may sound academic, but the report is essential, sober reading for every believer. For all its discouraging news, it is full of insights that have the potential, by God’s grace, to awaken American believers to the need for theological clarity. Ligonier concludes,
These results show the urgent need for sound biblical teaching and the bold preaching of the gospel. Millions of people do not understand the holiness of God, the reality of sin, and the one way of salvation in Jesus Christ. There is much work to be done, but it is our hope that these findings will serve the church in its efforts to reach more people with the faithful proclamation of the truth of God’s Word.
Note that the “millions of people” referenced above include professing evangelicals. I can personally attest to my own theological confusion as a young believer. I did not experience the regular faithful proclamation and teaching of the whole counsel of God until I was in my twenties. At that point, it was like a huge recalibration for my mind, heart, and will. I had to “unlearn” so many skewed notions I had of God and the gospel – it was mind-boggling and difficult, but ultimately wonderfully transformative.
What does all this have to do with the state of theology in children’s ministries? Simply this: What we do in children’s ministries will either serve to foster theological confusion or serve to bring gospel clarity. What we begin teaching about the Bible, God, sin, Christ, salvation, and the Christian life from preschool on, is informing and shaping our children’s theology both now and into their adult lives.
Here are a few implications for the church:
- Sunday school and similar programs that offer formal biblical instruction should be a high priority in the church. How many weeks per year does your church offer formal Bible instruction for children? In a typical Sunday school hour, how much time is spent in actual Bible instruction? In recent years, an increasing number of churches are reducing the amount of time designated to formal Bible instruction. Will our children be well served by this? You can read here about this scandal in our midst.
- Serious and careful thought should be given to the content of biblical instruction. It’s not just the amount of time given to biblical instruction that matters, but also the quality of that instruction. How does your church choose its curricula? Is there an overarching plan to present the whole counsel of God as children mature from the nursery into adulthood? What doctrines are taught? How are they taught? Are children simply “talked to” or are they being taught toactually read, study, and rightly interpret the Scriptures? That is why Truth78 has developed curricula that are undergirded and shaped by clear theological and philosophical distinctions.
- Sunday school teachers and children’s ministry volunteers need to be properly equipped and trained. Would you take your sick child to an ill-equipped and poorly trained doctor? Of course not. There are many eager classroom teachers and volunteers who long to be better equipped and trained. Yet, too often, once recruited, they are left on their own. Some thrive but many others struggle. Some teach well and communicate sound biblical doctrine, but some do not ever rise to this. We’re committed to improving teaching by widely distributing free training resources through our website.
- Pastors and elders should enthusiastically herald a God-centered, Christ-exalting vision for the faith of the next generation and carefully oversee children’s discipleship in the church. Decades ago, I met with our senior pastor to discuss the concerns I had about the curriculum I had been asked to teach in the kindergarten class. It was eye-opening for him. He had no idea that what he was preaching from the pulpit was being undermined in the Sunday school classroom. From that point on, he got involved and got the leadership involved, and everything changed. A vision for the faith of the next generation became a serious endeavor for the whole church.
- Churches need to partner with parents and equip and train them to disciple their children. As young parents, my husband and I didn’t have a good grasp of biblical parenting. Our backgrounds hadn’t prepared us nor were we in a church at the time that addressed this. We needed help! Does your church provide parents with resources, guidance, and training so they feel well equipped and encouraged in their role as Christian parents? Partnering with Parents, a free PDF offers practical suggestions for doing this.
- Catechisms should again be promoted in the home and church.For centuries, the church educated the next generation using catechisms. Pastor Joel Beeke explains why,
Creeds and catechisms are other valuable tools or methods by which we may communicate the truths of the Word of God to our children. These documents provide clear, concise definitions of basic doctrines and key words in easily memorized form so our children can hide them in their hearts. Bible references (“proof texts”) anchor these definitions in Scripture. The catechisms not only teach basic Christian doctrine, but also show us how to live according to God’s law and how to pray. When we catechize our children, they learn the basic truths of Christian faith and living, and we reinforce and deepen our own knowledge of them. (“The Blessing of Catechizing Our Children” at Ligonier.org)
Implementing the above points in our churches may feel like a daunting task. It will require a long-term commitment by the entire church. It will require us to be on our knees in humble prayer. We may need to have difficult discussions about our current programs and priorities. But the stakes are simply too high to ignore the issue. By God’s grace, as our children enter into adulthood, may we confidently be able to say to them,
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14-15.)