Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Kids and Church

Well if no one else is going to post here, I'll just have to do all the hard work myself. Ya bunch of slackers.

The last post was about Men and Church. I was thinking this morning about kids and church.

A couple of months ago, I watched the documentary "Jesus Camp." It had been in my Blockbuster online rental queue for quite some time, because I had heard about it, and I was really curious. The film was nominated for a number of awards, and it stirred up a lot of feelings in people, mostly because it painted a fairly scary portrait of a group of "evangelical Christians" and the ways they brainwash children into become political soldiers of God.

Or something like that. Either way, some of the footage really made me wince.

I even had a short argument on the IMDB message boards about whether the film really documents "evangelicals," or a tiny subset of pentacostals. But that's not really the point here.

My question is this: Within our churches and homes, do we teach our children Bible stories and blind faith, or do we teach them Bible stories and critical thinking skills?

For me, I know that the common thread growing up was that kids would attend church until they were no longer forced to go by their parents. This often happened sometime between the ages of 15-17. By that point, a lot of my friends had stopped going to church, except for two groups:

  1. Those that were Catholic, and going to church was a ritual and tradition, or,
  2. The ones who had a "cool" youth group, where the popular kids and cute girls would hang out.
Other than that, a lot of teenagers weren't going to church. Why not? Did the ones that had been raised in the church not have a solid foundation already built?

In "Jesus Camp," much of the story centers on two kids, ages 9 and 12. And both of them seemed to be totally committed to God, to the point where the 12-year old mulleted boy would get up in front of a room to preach, and the 9-year old girl would happily evangelize strangers on the street because she said the Holy Spirit told her to. The movie is chock full of children speaking in tongues (it's pretty much mandatory), children weeping and shaking with the Holy Spirit, and children praying in front of a life-size cardboard cutout of George W. Bush (go ahead, laugh a little nervous snicker at the last one).

While I admired a 12-year old kid that would have the guts to preach to a room full of other kids, some of the kids -- and most of the parents -- disturbed me just a little.

Obviously, the children in this film are miles apart from most of our own children.



I'd like to think that I'm not "brainwashing" my children. I'd like to think that I can teach them and introduce them to Jesus, and that they'll be able to develop a relationship with Him of their own choosing (and His) if and when they desire. I'd like to think that as my kids get older, I will prepare them for the fact that these Bible stories that we read at night aren't taken as fact by many of the people they will encounter later in life.

I'd also like to think that the majority of teaching will be done by me and my wife in our home. But realistically, my kids, although young, are at church a great deal. Multiple times per week, quite often. Sure, right now it's coloring pictures, doing crafts, singing songs, and listening to stories. My kids are young, but when I get home with my 5-year old daughter, she can recite the entire story -- with details! -- that she heard in class about Peter being in prison and an angel coming to let him out.

So the truth is, we entrust a great deal of our children's learning to people at church. And I trust those people, even (for the most part) the ones that I don't know. I don't feel like we are brainwashing our children. We teach them the Truth, we teach them about Jesus' love, and as they get older, they have the free will to accept or reject it.

Yet two things still trouble me. One, if The Church (in the broadest sense) is doing it right, why do so many of those kids reject that truth as they get older? And secondly, do "outsiders" look at what we do as indoctrination? As brainwashing?

While it may not truly matter what those people think, might they have a point?


Anonymous said... do i post here - all i can seem to do is comment

Anonymous said...

it really isnt the church's responsibility at all - there isn't one scripture to support that one - it is the parent and only the parent (curious coming from someone who gets paid for full time youth ministry in a church - huh?)
deut. 6 nails it down - the reason most kids leave church is because going to church is different than having a faith - i used to want every kid in my youth group and now i don't - instead i want every kid to have parents that choose which youth group things their child should be a part of in order to help them as they raise their own student in the Lord

scott said...

Darin, you should be getting an email regarding permission levels for the blog.

I completely agree that it is ultimately the parent's responsibility to teach our children... But that doesn't change the reality that many kids are at churches for countless hours each week.

The interesting thing about the "Jesus Camp" doc (we need to show this thing on a movie night, for you that haven't seen it) is that most of the core beliefs are also being taught at home by the parents. Many of the kids are homeschooled (it paints a rather scary picture of homeschooling, I'm afraid). The parents are definitely interested in the formation of their children's faith. Even if it might be a bit misguided.

Oh, and I'm not sure you could say that there isn't ONE scripture to support the church having some resonsibility in the spiritual upbringing of a child. How about I Samuel 1:21-28? The entire life of Samuel? I realize that's more of a "special" scenario, though.

Anonymous said...

yes i would agree that it was a special scenario since we don't have levitical priests any more - however i am very open minded and definitely not defensive when i ask for some other scriptures that support that the church as an organization and/or community is responsible for the upbringing of a child
i haven't seen the flick but i can imagine - too bad they don't make movies about homeschoolers who teach their kids critical thinking skills and social prowess
i guess that wouldn't sell too many copies though

Anonymous said...

oh by the way
great job tonight guys with the experiential worship night
thanks for the work

Anonymous said...

Joe B said:
Sure outsiders look at what we do as brainwashing. And I don't give a rat's A what they think. On this score, the question is whether I am putting the truth before my children.

We are the People, the holy nation of God who live with his purpose in his Earth. As the Father has him, so he sends us. And that child/person must embrace that vocation or else neglect it.

I tend to think that tere is a huge amount of mere brainwashing, and too little consciousness of our Identity with Christ and in Christ

Anonymous said...

Joe B said:
SENT him, that is

scott said...

I think my point is unclear. And that's somewhat because I'm rarely even sure myself of what my point is. So I doubt that this comment will clear it up.

I don't mean to say that we need to be overly aware of what other people think, nor do I believe that it's Biblical to pass the responsibility of "raising our children" to the church. I'm not even specifically pointing fingers at us as individuals or the specific church of which we are a part. It's much bigger than just "us."

Many children spend a lot of time at church, church functions, church-y seminars and conferences. It's reality. Joe and Darin's Monday night example of teenagers attending something recently at another church fits this issue perfectly. Yes, it is the parents' responsibility to teach and raise children...

But not all kids have Christian parents. And secondly, we DON'T always know what our children are doing.

At the same time, I know of many kids and teenagers that seem much more in-tune with their identity with Christ and in Christ, than their parents.