I believe when Jesus told Peter, 'upon this rock I will build my church', He was speaking of His "plan A". Plan "A" is that believers in a city would come together in unity and pray and worship together regularly. They would also fellowship with one another, preach the Word, and prophesy over one another. (1 Cor. 14:26-31) This is the New Testament picture of a local church.
The interesting thing though, is that there is no mention of where children fit in the local church. Biblically, where are the children to be while the 'gatherings' are taking place? It is fair to assume, based on Matthew 19:13-15, that children were present in public settings when Jesus was teaching.
Now, culturally, in the western church we have "children's church" and "Sunday schools", and that's where the children go during the adult gatherings, but is that Biblical? Perhaps it is not, but what I want to examine is what the local church's role should and shouldn't be.
1. The Local Church should be a place of Common-Unity. (Acts 2:42-47)
Recently, our Senior Pastor spoke on the topic of "Community". (cHOP podcasts available here.) To define "Community" was pretty funny actually- because it really is so simple. It's people and families that come together based on the thing they share in common- Jesus.
A "Community" includes children, teens, young adults, young marrieds, seniors, empty nesters, older adults... that's right- everyone! One of the neatest things about our community at Convergence House of Prayer is that we all really do everything together- meaning, there isn't a bunch of age segregation. In the prayer room on any given worship set you will see some younger kids, some teens, some young adults, and some older folks all operating in place of prayer and worship together. This is the picture of "common - unity" I am speaking of.
2. The Local Church should be a place of equipping. (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Within the community, different ones are given different gifts of teaching, shepherding, evangelizing, etc. Each one should be using his or her gifts for the equipping and edifying of one another. This is not limited to the five fold ministry gifts- but consider the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12. All of the workings of the Holy Spirit through us are for the benefit of the entire community. This is why every part of the "body" is important!
You have heard the famous saying, "It takes a Village..." - I have heard people preach for and against this saying, but I believe this, "It takes a village, to be a village." In other words, it takes everyone participation to be a community. Everyone has something to offer to edify or equip the community. No one was called to come and "absorb". I do not see a gift of "absorption" in 1 Corinthians 12. I guarantee you, there is something you can contribute to your local church community!
It has never been the role of the local church to raise children, or be their 'spiritual food'. Children should receive from the local church the same thing adults do... community and equipping. It always will remain the role of the parents to train up their children (Proverbs 22:6). The local church should provide community and equipping for parents and families. Personally, I think specialized classes for kids are great, particularly if they are supporting the vision and direction the parents are on as well so that parents and children are on the same path- remember "Common"- "Unity".
What about Parents and Families?
What I am not a big fan of is children's programs that create detachment from a common vision. If the Biblical role of the church is to edify the whole family, then the whole family would be receiving a common message, edified together, and the parents would own the responsibility to pour into their children.
Now I know there are many, many local churches that are trumpeting this vision, and I too will continue to trumpet this family - focused vision.
What about Children without a Family?I used to think that the local church ministry was first for the unsaved as an evangelism reach. Later I discovered it was because of my personal heart of evangelism that I felt that way, but that it wasn't really Biblical. If the children and families within the local church are operating in real community, what better place would someone from the outside come in and feel welcomed? The fatherless generation of our culture need to be received into a "family" not into a "program".
I became fatherless at 15 when my parents separated, and when I was 16 years old I had a friend that invited me to go to youth group with her. Needless to say, I went and that is where I heard about Jesus. She took me to a summer camp where I joined many other teens at an alter and prayed a prayer of salvation. It didn't really stick for me. I felt very uncomfortable at the youth group or teen events, I didn't feel like I fit in at all. What I did like, what got my heart, was that her family invited me to spend the weekends with them. Often I would spend the night with them on a Saturday night and go to church on Sundays with them. That is what I really enjoyed. Even when I didn't really know God, I knew that I enjoyed being a part of a family that was taking me to church.
To this day, that family will always feel like my real family. See, it doesn't matter if there is dysfunction, family is real. Programs are not.
To wrap up, I would love to hear from you. How does your local church edify you and your family? How does your local church equip whole families? What's your take on the topic?