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When I began at University as a young Christian nervous about getting involved in the Christian Union, I was handed a copy of More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell and told that it was ‘our evangelistic book of the term. Read it and pass it on!’.
It was indeed excellent and I was happy to pass it in to a fellow Agricultural Economics student.
Fast forward 30 years to 2004 and I discover that the author of this book, Josh McDowell was coming to Premier studios and would be up for an interview for my newly-birthed radio show, The Leadership File. I had since learned that Josh is something of a guru within the field of apologetics. His book More Than a Carpenter was a summary of information about Jesus that was available in a bigger tome, Evidence that Demands a Verdict. He argues that there is a ton of evidence that supports the truth of Scripture and the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.
But I then discover that Josh had changed his ministry. Despite warnings from wise friends that he was bonkers, this established minister to students had abandoned a fruitful writing and speaking ministry on apologetics to work instead with children!
So when I had him in the studio I asked his reason for the switch?
"By the time they get to University it’s too late. Their thought patterns are becoming ingrained. You need to start much younger."
Indeed his lament was that for all the talk of children’s ministry in the church it is generally woefully under-resourced. When I asked him what his advice to church leaders was, his reply was, "take whatever your budget is for children’s work and triple it!".
Fast forward another eight years and I was reminded of this conversation with Josh when chatting with Sam Donoghue on a recent Leadership File (show 322). I am sure he would agree with Josh’s budgetary advice, but his soundbyte for me was the thought that "young people may leave the church at 13, but they leave mentally when they are 9!".
Sam is the Children’s Ministry Advisor for the London Diocese and co-editor of a brand new children’s magazine, Childrenswork. Okay, so he has a vested interest in seeing children’s ministry thrive, but I believe his insight is telling.
Children check out of church younger than we realise. Why do they do this? Maybe it's because we allow the untrained and untried loose on children’s work (the category who are most vulnerable to error), reserving the best trained for the grown ups (who might be discerning of what they are hearing.)
Is it any wonder that many children are bored by their children’s groups? Many are educated well, receiving the very best approaches at school. At church they get maybe half an hour a week delivered by people who are willing helpers, but not necessarily gifted for the task. The Bible takes children seriously and the education of children seriously. The law of God was taught, memorised and discussed. They were part of the Covenant People of God.
The future of this people depending on wise transmission of the truth.
Should church take its education and nurture of children any less seriously?
Look around your congregation at your children. Imagine them as teenagers telling their parents they no longer want to attend church. How does that make you feel?
Is there anything you can be doing now, to make sure that doesn’t happen? Why not check out my interview with Sam and prayerfully consider what may be possible?
And while you are at it, get a free copy of Childrenswork.