Every Pastor in the CRC Should Hear This

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Research on young adults and their absence from formal faith communities has been a popular topic of conversation for the past decade. It’s leading our churches to change course in the ways we’ve been discipling youth and enfolding young adults. As a parent of kids who fall into both of those categories, I’m grateful. But as someone who has been engaged in ministry with children for over 30 years, I’m concerned that we’re skipping over a generation.

This comment I received from a church leader says it best: “Focusing all of our attention on youth and the problem of young adults leaving the church is like responding to boiling water without realizing how gradually the water came to be boiling.”

The faith of our littlest ones is as worthy of our attention now as it will be when they’re teens and young adults.

A few months ago, Faith Formation Ministries spoke with a small group of CRC pastors about how our choice of children’s ministry curriculum impacts the way we’re forming faith in kids. The next day, after describing for the CRC’s Board of Trustees the content of that presentation, one of those pastors said, “I wish every CRC pastor could have heard this.” We agree, so we’re sharing it with you now.

As members of the CRC we read Scripture through Reformed theological lenses. That interpretation of Scripture informs the sermons prepared by pastors. It’s the reason we have a CRC seminary. Reformed theology is reflected in everything a CRC congregation does, from the way worship services are planned to the way we engage with neighbors. If we want to grow in our children the same deep and wide faith we want to grow in our youth and adults, our Reformed theology should inform the way we tell kids God’s story.

A Comparison

To illustrate the difference between a non-Reformed and a Reformed theological approach to teaching kids, let’s take a look at the way two different curricula that are being used by CRC churches interpret Genesis 3 for children.

252 Basics is a curriculum from Orange that’s gained in popularity in recent years. It links each Bible story to a virtue such as Individuality, Kindness, Endurance and in the example below, Contentment.

Using this virtues based curriculum, the story of The Fall is a story of Contentment (described in the session as “choosing to be happy with what you’ve got") and kids at all levels from kindergarten through grade 3 are taught Genesis 3 using these focus statements:

Bottom Line: When you want what you shouldn’t have, it can lead to trouble.

Basic Truth: I need to make the wise choice.

Memory Verse: “I have learned to be content no matter what happens to me. I know what it’s like not to have what I need. I also know what it’s like to have more than I need. I have learned the secret of being content no matter what happens. (Phil. 4:11b-12a, NIrV)                                                       (252 Basics, August 2012, Week 1)

Now let’s look at how the same story is taught from a Reformed perspective, beginning already with children aged 2 and by adding layers of depth right up to grade 8.

Age 2-3  (God Loves Me, book #5)

Focus: God still loved Adam and Eve.

Age 4  (Dwell Curriculum)

Focus: Adam and Eve disobeyed God.

Faith Nurture Goal (one of several): Thank God for loving us even though we sometimes disobey.

K-Grade 1  (Dwell )

Focus: God forgives us when we are sorry for disobeying.

Faith Nurture Goal (two of several): Imagine how God feels when we disobey / Know that God loved and forgave Adam and Eve.

Memory Challenge: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. [...]  God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:1, 31a, NIV)

Grades 2-3 (Dwell)

Focus: God’s perfect creation was spoiled when Adam and Eve disobeyed.

Faith Nurture Goals: Give examples of how sin spoiled creation / Tell what God promised Adam and Eve / Celebrate our forgiveness in Christ.

Memory Challenge: “And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (Genesis 9: 12-13, NIV)

Grades 6-8 (Dwell)

Focus: No part of my life is free from sin.

Faith Nurture Goals (one of several): Acknowledge who we are: Sinners who disobey God but who are loved by God, made in God’s image, and forgiven by God.

Memory Challenge: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8, NIV)

One story, two interpretations.

Which interpretation would we expect to hear in a worship service at a CRC church?

Which interpretation should we expect to hear with children during their children’s ministry program?

Every church context is different and a variety of factors go into determining what and how you choose to nurture the faith of children at your church and how you plan to partner with families at home. But the way you tell God’s story matters, and it deserves your thoughtful attention.

Faith Formation Ministries is planning to launch a Children’s Ministry Toolkit this fall as one way to support leaders as they sift through the more than 50 curriculum options that are available to them. The kit will also contain resources to help leaders who write their own curriculum, and it will include materials for encouraging and equipping families, provide training for leaders, and more.

One resource that’s already available as a free download is the 10 Question Tool for Choosing a Children's Ministry Curriculum. (See how Faith Alive has used it here.) We invite you to print and distribute as many copies of 10 Question Tool as you’d like, and to use it to open a conversation about the curriculum you use.

Because theology matters, whether you are 2 or 102.

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Let's Discuss…

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Participant

Amen!  

I second Doug's "amen".  Teaching children truisms and trite morality lessons will not equip them to grab hold of the promises sealed to them in baptism, nor will it teach them to understand/handle scripture correctly.  Children are often so much more ready and able to understand and internalize deep and meaningful truths than they are given credit for.  If we expect little from our children, we will get exactly what we expect.  The great commission starts at home and in the church and blossoms outward from there. Karen, thank you for posting this.

While I agree with much of what the article has to say, I want us to also stop and consider that the young adults who are leaving the faith from our churches also grew up with those same covenantal teachings, albeit with an older version of some of the same curriculum.   But they are still leaving.  Somehow, we need to discover what it is that we are missing in our teaching, not just what "the others" are missing in their curriculum.  Could it be that in our covenant theology that we fail to emphasize our response to God's faithful promises?  Do we presume a faithful response acceptance because we have taught the meaning of the words?  I don't have the answers, but I am also not hearing those kinds of questions being asked within our denomination.

Thanks for the helpful article! In the toolkit that Faith Alive is preparing, I hope we can help direct churches to other Reformed publishing houses. The linked chart of 50 curriculums appears to be heavily drawn from non-Reformed, mainline denominations (Episcopal, ELCA, UCC, UMC, etc.). There are some other great options out there that are deeply Reformed and didn't make the list - such as Great Commission Publications (https://www.gcp.org/) from the PCA/OPC. We've found their Sunday School curriculum to be very solid in our context.

Community Builder

Hi John,

Yes! The list to which I linked is a list that's created each year by a Church Educator from the Episcopalian tradition and shared on buildfaith.org but in the toolkit we do plan to point folks to curriculum from other Reformed publishers (for e.g.e Growing in Grace and Gratitude, Feasting on the Word and LOGOS (an intergenerational curriculum) are all available through the PCUSA.)  There are also other resources available from other sources which would work in a Reformed context which we'll include in the kit. The goal of the children's ministry toolkit will be similar to our other toolkits----links, ideas, information on resources that churches can shape to fit their particular context.

Participant

Thank you Karen! I agree with the article and the comments so far!

Two further thoughts... 

1. What does it communicate when this is assumed to be information for pastors? How about elders? In my first church I was given almost no say about Sunday School curriculum, thankfully the second church I had did value my input. And, I hope that I'm not alone among pastors in placing a high value on the input of professional educators when it comes to the pedagogy of the curriculum.

2. I hope this is somewhat of an answer to Tim's thoughts. While the CRC curriculum is an improvement on the other, I still wouldn't say it picks up on the better aspects of Reformed theology. It reinforces a sense of assurance of our salvation (justification!), but fails to plant seeds of sanctification. I've found, sadly, that many adults who have grown up in our churches actually begin to feel less assured over time because a) they don't sense themselves becoming more godly and b) the preacher seems to believe we need to hear the message of justification again - maybe that's a sign we didn't understand it before!

In my own young adulthood I went from extreme boredom with my faith to fervent excitement when I began to understand a Reformed (emphasis on Reformed!) view of sanctification - a view that put God in the lead, yet gave me a role in watching His transforming work in my life and even being allowed to participate in exciting ways! And then I discovered many others who were experiencing the same thing and then we got to watch God work in each other and support each other through the ups and downs of all that! 

Community Builder

Hi Scott, 

Thanks for your feedback. Although I posted this to the Pastors page because of the comment a pastor on the Board of Trustees made about how he wished every CRC pastor was able to hear, I'd love to see the information it contains shared with elders, children's ministry coordinators, and anyone else who is tasked with choosing what and how their church will invite kids to live into and live out of God's story. It's important!

 

Thanks for the article!

I agree wholeheartedly that our children and their Faith Formation NEEDS to be an important focus of every Church.

From the context of a Church Plant perspective, I spoke with various people from Faith Alive often over the past 8 years. I shared with them the problem we face is complete Biblical illiteracy of many people of our congregation. With 2/3 of our people coming into our faith community being brand new to church or returning after many years, most of the parents we meet have very little Biblical knowledge to speak of. While the content of Faith Alive materials like Dwell are fantastic, they have been tried in our setting and are 'over the head' of most if not all of our kids. More and more families from the area are not just coming to us with a deficiency of Bible knowledge, they are coming to us with ZERO Biblical understanding...because they didn't even own a Bible!

We serve in a Post-Christian setting where some kids think the story of Adam and Eve is on the same level of authenticity as the story of 'Beauty and the Beast.' When God brings them into our midst, guess which story they know better?

Community Builder

Hi Ben,

Your comment paints a great picture of the unique context of every CRC and an important reminder of why a one-size-fits all approach doesn't work. I'm also part of a church plant and my small group of kids there includes those from different faith traditions, those who come with their grandmas and have parents who don't own a Bible, kids in distress, and kids whose parents grew up in the CRC, and more.  It's an exciting challenge:)  And I suspect that even in churches that aren't plants we're going to be seeing more parents who are Biblically illiterate in the coming years. So it's important that the children's ministry toolkit we hope to create will include ideas and resources that are both theologically sound and flexible to shape for the different needs of the church leaders who use them. I'd love to chat some time with you and learn more about the needs of your church and the sorts of things you are doing there to meet those needs. It's the best way for us to gather ideas that we can share with other churches!

Sure thing Karen.

Give me a call sometime at RedArrow Ministries, 269-657-5679.

Thanks!

It is both the what and the how.

Yellowbox church in Naperville, Il, a thriving new mega church with multiple campuses has such a vital Sunday School curriculum that kids talk to kids at school and convince their parents to let them go to to church. Thousands of families have joined this new contemporary church because of the vibrancy of the programs for kids. I know because my three grandkids can't wait for Sunday.

Community Builder

I'm just trying to follow the thread here. Yellowbox Church uses Orange, the negative example from the article. https://communitychristian.org/resources/kidscityparentresources/ 

So the point of this comment contradicts the posted article's point. 

I'm just trying to understand. pvk

Community Builder

Hi Eric,

Thank you for your comment. What a blessing that your 3 grandkids are so eager to go to their church on Sunday. As a parent that’s a dream I also share for my grandkids one day! The Orange curriculum which I described in the post and which they use at Yellowbox Church has always been very intentional about reaching out to families and providing resources to churches to help them to do that. Although the CRC has always talked about the “three legged stool” of faith formation---church, school, home--I don’t know that we’ve always done the best job we can encouraging and equipping families to form faith at home. We kind of left that leg of the stool up families to figure out. It’s something that Faith Formation Ministries is working to change (and a big part of our going to the BOT to ask for funding.) We need to do a better job supporting family faith formation. And we can certainly learn from Orange in that regard. So thanks for making that important connection.

Several years ago I sat down with an enthusiastic Children’s Ministry Director at an Ontario church. They had been using 252 Basics for several years and were planning a renovation that would add space to their building so they could fully implement the program. Beyond their baptism Sunday, the kids at that church don’t  enter the main sanctuary or worship with their families again until they are in Grade 6. They are dropped off before the main worship service begins and picked up afterwards. The Director told me that  families love it because they can enjoy worship without their kids and because their kids are learning to make wise choices; the leaders love it because the prep is minimal; and she loves it because “you don’t even have to be a Christian to teach it” so it’s easy to get volunteers.  

Here’s the thing. Children are not bait to get parents to church. Children grow in faith as they are participating in worship with all generations in addition to time spent with their peers in an age appropriate learning environment. Children learn about wise choices at school; at church we have an opportunity to grow in them a deep and wide faith, a three-dimensional faith which Robert Keeley defines as “a faith that is rooted deep inside so that even when our head doubts or our heart falters, our faith remains strong. This faith goes beyond platitudes and catchphrases. It’s a faith that realizes that God is faithful even when our questions go unanswered.” (Helping Our Children Grow in Faith, p. 14)

Your point about the what and the how being intertwined is an important one. We need to teach in creative ways that capture the hearts, mind and spirit of the kids we’re leading and learning alongside. We need to build loving, faith nurturing relationships with the kids in our programs. We need to encourage and equip their families. But---if we want to nurture in children a three-dimensional faith, we can’t introduce them to a one-dimensional God of wise choices. We need to invite them into God’s story and help them find their place in it. And we need to teach from a curriculum that does that.

 

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