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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Taking Advantage

Backyard Bible Clubs. Youth Camp. Sports ministries. If you do any of these as evangelistic outreach, I've got a question for you: are you taking advantage of children?

Yeah, I know- you came to faith through VBS when you were six years old. If it "worked" for you, it can't be that bad, right?

Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that a group of Muslims come to visit your town. They're prepared with snacks and games and crappy little crafts with Popsicle sticks. They blanket your neighborhood with fliers announcing: Games! Clowns! Snacks! Crafts! Fun!

Or say you don't see the fliers, but you're at the park with your kids. There you are, minding your own business, eating your Chick-fil-a picnic lunch, and said group of Muslims approach your kids with balloons and puppets and invite them to participate in their Backyard Koran Club. You look around and see veiled women hanging around the playground. Young peachfuzz-bearded men picking teams for a game of non-competitive Red-Rover. How would you feel?

My European friends have convinced me: children's "ministries" are a dangerous thing.
The problem is that we put children in a position to be overwhelmingly influenced by us. We orchestrate situations full of "positive" peer pressure. We give gifts and Kool-Aid and ask them to give their hearts to Jesus. Is this fair? What are the long-term affects of child evangelism?

You might disagree, and quote Mark 10 (Where Jesus said, "Let the little children come unto me.") I'm just not sure that meant "Dupe the little kids into saying the Sinner's prayer."

Remember youth camp? We take impressionable 13-17 yr. olds out of their familiar surroundings, and keep them in a controlled, "Christian" environment, where they are taught by super-cool counselors. They get no sleep, they eat trash, and every evening we coax an emotional response out of them through hours upon hours of pep-rallies ("We love Jesus, yes we do, we love Jesus, how 'bout you?!"), guilt-trip sermons ("Come, nail all your sins to this cross."), and endless "Just As I Am" invitations. Is this fair? These are children! We don't want cigarette and beer companies to advertise to them, but it's okay if we do?

You might say, "Yeah, but we're right! Don't you want to see children come to faith?" Of course I do. But I want everyone who comes to faith to do so without coercion. I want a generation of born-again believers, not "I-said-the-prayer" cultural Christians. I want parents to know that we care about them and their children, whether or not they become Christians. I want parents to know what we're teaching their children, and how, and why.

I believe the word should be taught to children. We should be telling Bible stories, sharing difficult truths, and praying with and for our children. But I think child evangelism, and it's commonly practiced, is wrong.

I guess I probably won't be invited to speak at any youth camps when I'm home on furlough next year...

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Geez, you have an uncanny ability to rattle a lot of cages. Thanks for the insight. Yep, I grew up in "this" culture. It seemed normal, but did I like it. As I reflect back I can honestly say, no I didn't. However, it certainly shaped who I am and I appreciate the person I have become because of the caring people that impacted my life during my childhood.

But, a problem comes up every now and then regarding "when I became a Christian." This is my public declaration: I do not know. Yes, I am a believer. I do not question that, but when it happened is a mystery to me. Was I young? Yes. Did I question it many times along the way? Yes. Why did that questioning come up so often though? It always came up when a pastor or teacher would say, "Can you pinpoint that moment when you ask Jesus into your heart. If you can't, then do it now." It always happened at VBS, youth camp or some other emotional church function. I know NOW that I know that I know because of the desire to continue to learn how to be closer to God. By the life I live, I know.

But, the last time it came up was when I completed the paperwork for the IMB. Interesting isn't it? When the candidate consultant read my conversion experience he told me the trustees would question it and I could have a problem with completing the process. So, I went to the trouble of returning to my "home" church to look up the baptismal records. Guess what, no records. Well, I knew which pastor baptized me, so I looked on the Wall of Portraits to establish the dates he was there. It was a four year period. I remembered my mother saying I was young. I chose a year, agreed with myself that I did it at VBS and was baptized shortly thereafter. I rewrote my statement of conversation and here I am working somewhere in the 10-40 Window or whatever it is called now. Was I dishonest? How would I know? I do not remember exactly. Was child evengelism good for me? Yes. The effects are part of my life in ministry. Where could it improve? Teaching each new believer how to identify each day your personal relationship with God instead of "pinpoint the exact date and time." So there, the good, the bad and the ugly of my experience.

10-40 Window Missionary

stepchild said...

10-40 M,
Thanks for sharing your experiencing that. I've actually been working on a post about Candidate Consultant "Coaching" that talks about a similar experience I had with the appointment process.

The fact that so many of us are products of the "Children's Ministry" keeps us from questioning it- as if whether or not it "works" was the only standard we had.

For me, it all boils down to this: When it comes to evangelism, do the ends justify the means?

Strider said...

Sorry Stepchild, I don't think this post will get you out of doing children's camps when you go STAS. But really I agree with you. In fact, here is what I really think- you can delete this if it is too rough- most do children's ministries because they don't have the faith to work with adults. It has been true here in Middle Earth that many young people have come to faith but very few older adults. The assumption is that the older ones are set in their ways but what difference does that make to the Holy Spirit? I think we have not won older people to faith because we have not shared with them. We are pretty sure we can win an argument with a kid or even a teenager but a 50 year old man- no way. So, we don't try and end up with extraction evangelism and a dysfunctional group we call a church. On our team we will only work with families. Yes, we love kids and share with them but only in the context of their family. Anything else is very disrespectful of the family unit and the community we live in.

stepchild said...

Strider,
Good point about "spiritual bullying." I've heard that ling or reasoning as well, "Adults have already made up their minds."

Working in the context of the family is a terrific idea.

Matthew said...

Excellent Post, Stepchild! It is too bad that the Christian world does not treat others as we want to be treated.

Watchman said...

stepchild

i knew i liked you for some reason. this post explains why.

most often, the first question people ask when we tell them we are doing simple church in our home, its is asked, "what about the children?" i say we took our kids out of public church so we could homechurch them. Followed by "but what do you do for them?" For some reason, "let them play" isnt an adequate response. "But how do they learn the bible?" They watch Mom and Dad live life.

this doesn't get me invited to do any teaching either. but if youre ever in my neck of the woods, i'll invite you to speak, and I'll buy the first round. Heck, I'll pick up your whole tab.

watchman

Anonymous said...

I think that many well intentioned people either deny or forget Gods sovereignty in salvation.
They honor the Lord by being responsible in their obedience of the great commission but fail to honor Him when manipulation tactics are used possibly so that they can get numbers to report. to show that what they did was effective.

They fail to see or they fail to acknowledge that "salvtion is of the Lord". They fail to see that God is the One who turns mans heart not missionaries nor well intentioned youth workers/children workers.

I think it providential that yesterday I was thinking about how unexact various statisics are on how it is harder to "reach" children the older they become. Reading your post today on "Taking advantage" helped clarify those thoughts.

I would like to suggest that maybe those reports should have instead stated, it is harder to manipulate children the older they become ;0.

I think that there are many people who believe that they are Christians because they said a prayer.

I know that I was one. When I was in 4th grade we moved to a new town and the preacher came to visit. That next Sunday we went to church and when the alter call was given the preacher came down the isle grabbed me by the hand and led me to the front of the church. He asked (I assume he asked because I dont remember) if i wanted to be a Christian. The next thing I knew I was a "new believer".

At that time I assure you that I did not know Christ as my Savior...That didnt come until I was sixteen when in my room reading my Bible God opened my eyes enabling me to see His beauty and His Grace. He turned my heart of stone to one of flesh.

mike at http://seasidevacation.blogspot.com/

SelahV said...

StepChild: I read your blog until I cried. May God Bless you in your struggle and bring His fresh Spirit to your soul. May He be the refuge you need. May you find answers in His Living Word. And may His wisdom flood you from this day forward. SelahV

shannon said...

great thoughts by everyone!

i think it is manipulation and to some degree i experienced it when i was young... (mainly in the church camp catagory)

so I think the best thing you can do is make sure to send your 13-17 year old to christian summer camp but insist that for every "decision for christ" they make they also have to try to get to 2nd base with someone.

Holiday At The Sea said...

here is an intresting post.
http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=804

stepchild said...

SelahV,
For some reason, my blog makes lots of people cry...
Thank you for praying for me, and for reading. The Lord really is my refuge.

Shannon,
Very funny. Second base... isn't that holding hands?

Sea Mike,
You make a good point about how often we ignore God's sovereignty when it comes to salvation. We ask ourselves theological questions like, "Would this approach lead to conversions?" or "Is this person really saved?" Another reason to stop valuing something just because we think it "works."

"It is harder to manipulate people the older they become." It would be really funny if someone printed up a Sunday School poster with that on it.And then it would be really sad when no one noticed the irony of it.

Bill said...

Stepchild:

This is a subject that definitely needs more thoughtful discussion - there is a lot of validity in what you say. A couple (well 3) quick thoughts:

1. I think the way we treat children's evangelism is consistent to way we've at times thought about all evangelism - getting people to "say the prayer." However, I do think we're seeing some progress in this area - the increased recognition of the importance of spiritual formation (as opposed to the "going to church" model of spiritual growth.)

2. One major reason that children's ministry has become the way that you describe it is because many parents have shirked the responsibility for the spiritual growth of their children, and are entrusting that role to the "professionals" - i.e. Sunday School teachers and camp counselors . We may be seeing progress here as well. Our church has a family ministry rather than a children's ministry, with the primary purpose to help parents tend to the spiritual growth of their children.

3. One positive aspect of the model that you describe is that when parents are not involved, children's and youth ministries can lead kids to salvation and help them grow until they can stand on their own. For example I said the prayer and accepted Christ because of a message I heard in "big church," but it was my continuous involvement in Sunday School, Bible Camp, youth ministry, and a Christian college that kept me growing until my faith could stand on its own.

I really think that we should re-think the way we do children's and youth ministry the same way we are re-thinking methods for adult evangelism and missions. This comes with the realization that our purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ and not just "good church members."

Keep up the good work!

Ben said...

Stepchild,

Wow!, what an interesting array of comments/commenters you’ve acquired over a complex subject.

Back home (in the States), I love the idea of VBS and Awana, etc. I guess that’s b/c it’s largely how I was formed. However, I agree w/ the risk of “outsourcing” as Bill explains in his second point.

I work in Tijuana, Mexico. And, for the most part, I cringe when groups come down from the States and put on summer VBS. The same 50 kids get prizes each week; and the same 50 kids get saved each week. It’s fruitless (except for the exception), unless the parents are involved.

But you’ve taken the argument a different direction. Would I be offended if Muslims set up a VBS next door? The answer is yes. But is that our battle?

stepchild said...

Ben,
I ask the question so that we might put ourselves in the shoes of the people to whom we are ministering. What we would feel if Muslims set up a VBS next door is what they feel when we set up our puppet shows in the park.

Many of us have never thought about how negatively "children's ministry" might be received. If people don't have a chance to be offended by the gospel because our methods get in the way from them even hearing it, we're doing more damage than good.

Thanks for your comment.