Is the Church able to reflect and change? Are our children's ministry models 'stuck' and outdated?
Updated: Feb 8, 2022
As a University lecturer, one of my greatest challenges is supporting students in developing critical thinking skills. It seems that the majority of our education system prior to University demands that learners simply accept any and all information which is presented to them, and often with little consideration of whether it comes from a credible source even. The suggestion is that they need to recite endless streams of facts, details and information and then regurgitate this in order to prove that they have knowledge and understanding of the topic. Now for some subjects this is more appropriate than for others. But in all subjects, there is a need for learners to grasp the need to analyse and critique information before they accept it and integrate it into their way of thinking.
Yet when I speak to many who are involved in children's ministry, I continually hear a different rhetoric...rather than continual evaluation and flexibility, there seems to be an inability to let go of models of ministry which were happening when I was a child (30+ years ago). On the surface, perhaps there has been some change to accommodate contemporary culture - we now use powerpoint rather than flannelgraph, and we have trendy kids worship songs, and maybe we even use ipads to explore the topics, rather than sticking cotton wool onto toilet rolls as part of the craft each week. But deep down, the underlying principles and models which we continue to adopt have not changed at all.
- If a child learns the memory verse every week so that they can regurgitate it when prompted, will it somehow be 'enough' to win them a ticket into heaven?
- If we instil into our children the need to be kind and gentle, to make Jesus happy....is this a full understanding of the Christian message?
- If we continue to send the children out to the 'back room' so that they can learn what is required, will this help them to feel a true and valued part of their Christian community?
- If we continue to use pre-written and generic teaching materials to deliver Christian truths to children in a 'momma bird' style, will that answer the true cravings and questions which each individual child is searching for and grappling with?
- If children are viewed as spiritually deficient, and needing to learn from adults, how will they truly comprehend the fact that Jesus welcomes children and commands us to be like a child?
- If we continue to model prayer for children as if God is a genie in a lamp, will that help children to develop a deep and true relationship with the living God?
- And if we do not collaborate with our children, and equip and empower them to have a voice, and a role to play in our Christian communities now, why will they stick around? Or furthermore....will they still be around in twenty years time?
So why do we not ask these critical questions? Why are we as a ministry sector not resilient and responsive to the ever-changing context that we are working in? Is the Church able to reflect and change or are we desperately clinging on to patterns and systems of old because they feel safe and help us to feel nostalgic? What will it take to enable the Church to truly and deeply reflect on what is going on and allow that reflection to bring about change in our ministry paradigms?