A warning—this may not be the only post on this topic.
For the past few years I’ve had a growing awareness of the huge lack of biblical knowledge among most people professing to be Christians, and a growing desire to be part of the solution. Now that there are two sweet stepkids in my life, I’m even more aware of how the Church fails, frankly, at teaching the concepts, stories, and themes of the faith.
Through my friendship with people like Verna Weber, I’ve also been exposed to the growing interest in “all age worship” and “family worship”—the idea that families need to regularly worship together so children can learn and parents can spiritually lead. (If you are at all interested in these subjects, visit the Facebook group Verna’s started on the topic and/or connect with her as a consultant for your ministry. She’s whatever the step is after awesome.)
So for those of you pushing back against that first paragraph because it’s not primarily the church’s job to spiritually educate our children, I agree with you completely. But it is the church’s job to equip and empower the parents, and I don’t see most congregations doing that very effectively, either, or even structuring programming with this as a goal. The result is what I do see in church after church: a Sunday school program divided into narrow age groups, using some curriculum that focuses on the same ten stories as all the others, and a worship center full of adults who don’t know much more than the kids they left downstairs and aren’t receiving the knowledge or tools to do better.
As usual, I’ve negatively articulated the problem. What is the solution?
I saw one idea in action this past Sunday when Matt started a four-week “Old Testament 101” class in what used to be the “Sunday school hour.” More than 20% of our adults showed up for it—can you say “felt need”? Anyway, he did a great job explaining the big-picture story of the Bible, why the Old Testament is important to understand, how it’s structured as a library of books grouped by genre, and how some of the themes fit together.
I could see comprehension dawning in some faces as the class went on. I’m thrilled to think they may start to understand the Bible for the first time and feel confident about studying it for themselves. But as positive as the experience was, the need for it brings us back to the other big issue—we’re not teaching our kids this stuff, either.
It’s interesting that we will pour time, money and effort into tutors, private schools, extracurriculars, enrichment and gifted programs, and all the other aspects of our kids’ secular education but put little effort into their religious education. This is especially true in the Christian churches; other denominations have catechism classes or confirmation but we tend to rely on whatever they get one or two Sunday mornings a month, with maybe a VBS thrown in.
This past spring I was fortunate to hear Greg Nettle speak about the radical changes his church is making in how they think about church and discipleship. (Which really wouldn’t seem that radical if the Church had been doing things right for the last 2,000 years, but that’s another series of posts.) During the presentation he observed that few people came to Christ because they heard a great sermon; most people make significant faith decisions because of experiences and relationships.
I agree—I’m not suggesting that information alone is the answer. But people cannot accept a Savior or a salvation they don’t understand, much less disciple others.
Part two of this already-too-long post may be brainstorming more solutions for both churches and parents. I know some resources like The Story curriculum are being used across age groups at some churches, and I’m loving what Harbor of Hope is doing with Garden to City. This weekend I talked with my sister-in-law about the Gotham Fellowship she’s part of in New York and last summer I learned about “equipegration” at a church in Cincinnati.
Solutions exist, but first the church must realize it has a problem. What good is a rocking worship band if most worshippers don’t understand the lyrics they’re singing? Why push personal “quiet times” if most people are intimidated by the Bible or unsure how to approach it? How can you preach effectively on Jesus’ sacrifice without an audience that understands the Old Testament sacrificial system….on His fulfillment of the law to people who haven’t read the law….on living as a believer to a church that’s not sure what it believes?
Rant over……for now.