Sunday, July 4, 2010

Thoughts Upon Teaching Children and Entertaining Adults

I believe it was Harry Wendt who said that Jesus taught the adults and blessed the children, but we in the Church today teach the children (Sunday school, catechism class, VBS, etc.) and bless the adults (I would say entertain).  I am not certain when it was the the role of children in worship became one of entertaining adults.  It could not have been that long ago (there was a time when children really were seen but not heard).  At some point, however, it is true that the Church's ministry shifted to a child oriented ministry.  Sunday school is a little more than 200 years old and still going (perhaps not as strong as it once was).  We take the children into rooms and teach them about Scripture, teach them about Jesus, and acquaint them with the main Bible stories of both Old and New Testaments.  We take time out near middle school and devote a couple of years (more or less) to teaching the catechism and the faith in a topical way (the Six Chief Parts -- at least most Lutherans do).  Then we decided that it would be nice to have a children's sermon -- something cute and on their level that made us all warm and fuzzy.  Some places have children's church which is not so much a scaled down Divine Service as it is a weekly VBS fun, craft, music, and lesson time.  We have children's ministers and DCE's whose job description is largely built around child and youth ministry.  We do a lot for kids, alright.

But... when it comes to adults, we often let them be.  If they come to Church on Sunday morning, we offer them some variation on the Divine Service (although it is often difficult to include much of contemporary worship in this category).  We often have a Bible class or classes scheduled but in few parishes do the majority of people stay.  So somewhere along the way we figured that immersing kids in Church will keep them active, knowledgeable, faithful adults.  Well, that last part has not panned out so well... some of those who like statistics suggest that Lutherans tend to lose half of those confirmed.  I don't know how accurate it is or not but sounds close to the truth.

Maybe we need to rethink all the attention given to the kids and the lack of attention given to forming the faith in adults.  About the only real record of Jesus' dealing with children is His blessing of children and touching them.  He raised a few, healed a few, but mostly blessed them.  In contrast to that we have a great wealth of information on Jesus' conversations with, encounters with, sermons/classes to adults on adult subjects. 

We are told by so many well meaning folks that children are the Church of tomorrow.  Baloney.  They are part of the Church today and we can and must deal with them as part of today's Church.  That said, we must do something about the expectation that the Church's primary ministry is to children.  Perhaps if we spent a bit more time with the adults, raised our expectations of the adults, we might find that what we do with children carries on better as they grow up in adults.  Clearly what we are doing with adults is not working throughout the Synod.  Even giving them music they would listen to on the radio has done little real good except shifting around the same mostly churched people.  Statistics tell us that the rate of adult conversion is not substantially higher for congregations who have sold their souls to the culture of the day than it is for those hopelessly stuck in the past (with respect to worship, anyway).

Maybe we ought to do better than teaching the children so that they can bless the adults with cute, sweet, adorable moments and music.  Maybe we ought to listen to Harry and teach more and expect more from the adults in the pews -- and just maybe there might be more of them and they might see their relationship to the children of the Church differently....   just maybe....


Ted Badje said...

I am not 'missional' but I believe the Church needs to do more to reach adults in society. This includes people suffering from addictions, the divorced, people living in apartments, single mothers, and the poor. The main message of the Church is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who came to seek out the lost, which is all mankind. Laypeople should be encouraged to say more than 'Hello' to people visiting the church, and that they are concerned about people's lives and problems. This needs to be a point of pastor's sermons from time to time. Lutherans should emphasize outreach as much as the Divine Service and day schools. Oftentimes, the latter two get the most attention. If there is genuine concern about people's lives, people will come to church for the right reasons, and not to be entertained.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Badje,

Grace Lutheran is not missional, either. If you follow this blog, please take time to read Fr. Peters' sermon from today (4th July). It is a sample of the type sermon you say we need, but it also includes the Gospel. You can have both.

Ted Badje said...

To Anonymous,

If outreach is presented as a Law thing, then it has missed it's purpose. Christians should want to reach out to other people as part of the sanctified life of obedience to God for what he has done for through Christ.

I was wrong to say that the Divine Service should not take precedence. The Divine Service points to the presence of Christ in our lives. I stated what I did because I perceive from outsiders that all Lutherans care about is the Service. We need to show we are not an insular group.

Philip Hoppe said...

I couldn't agree more that we need to focus on adult education more. Our Kansas District, although not always the model to be followed, has started a committee to focus solely on this area. As far as we know we are the only such group of our kind at the district level. We as a committee try hard to not be a bureaucracy but to truly encourage congregations and their pastors to stress the importance of this area.
Here is the sermon I wrote for the committee: