kids, what are we teaching them? (warning: politically incorrectness ahead)

I have no kids, so I suppose that automatically disqualify me from saying anything meaningful about kids. Right? I thought so at one time. Then of course by the same token there are those wonderful priests who are among the best marriage counselors around. Ultimately, I suppose the astute mind will see that a Socrates dialogue is inclusive by nature regardless of the credential of the participants. So here is my two cents.

Children ministry in the church gets top billings these days. This to me is disturbing. I am beginning to see this is a theme in both the mainline churches as well as the Chinese churches of which I am a member of. The undeniable truth is that anything related to kids cannot be questioned. The motto “Nothing but the best for our kids” is as sacred as the scripture.  From my perspective the motto is a marketing slogan. It is only when we pit our actions to match the motto then it is not a slogan. They will say we are. We have a children minister, a host of volunteers, loads of resources and endorsement from the entire congregation. Not for me. Allow me just to raise a couple of questions. Are the teachers equipped to teach? Do they have training in understanding the kids at the age group? Do they have seminary level training on biblical truth? If not, why are we not providing them? Does a couple hours of chatting among the teachers deem appropriate for training and support? Do they have the best that we have got to give? The fact is that the term “best” as we in the church undersatnd it is being colored by our cultural understanding of best as in most “resource”. I work in a corporate world and see it every day. If a project is in trouble then people (regardless of their abilities), money (regarless of budget restrain) and time (regardless of whether it was well spent) are thrown towards it as a remedy. The result is not only the project will never be completed as expected and even worse often we regard this as “normal business pactice”. The sad truth is once the PMT(People,Money,Time) is thrown at it people thought tha tthey have done their best and that is the “best” we can do. To me this is all just a sign of lack of direction and a last grasp wishful gamble. I sincerely hope this is not the best we have to offer.  Another disturbing fact was bought on by my wife who is teaching grade 7/8. One day she showed me the new curriculum she had and she asked me, “Can you find any scripture reference?” I looked and said,”Not explicitly.” As I reflected on that I began to realize how serious the problem is. I have been teaching a university Sunday School class for over ten years now. I must say I do not see any significant changes in the level of biblical understanding in the kids going into first year. In fact I am seeing students who “know” less but believing they “know” more. It is disturbing. In our recent VBS we have such a hugely wonderful theme (Space Quest) and I must say the presentation was most impressive. (I am slightly envious that I did not get this much fun and attention when I was a kid.) Admist all the success claims, something in me did not sit well with that. I ponder: if the truth of Jesus required such elaborate packaging to communicate to the kids then Jesus himself must have been a big failure then. I mean his words were really quite boring, isn’t it? Else can we not just use them instead of packaging them up? Do the kids not have some ability to undersatnd the truth? If the medium is the message, what are we telling the kids? Are we not saying, to teach kids you need all sort of packaging, games, food and what have you to spice up the “boring” message?  I have my concern. Do we really think our pakaging can attrach their attentions? Do we really think we can beat the marketing machine of the like of Pepsi and Nike (We cannot but Jesus can)? Why not just let the power of the Word do the talking? Do we really believe in the power of the Word any more? Can we not teach them something that later in life they will appreciate it? Like teach them to discern a good book and enjoy reading it. Or get them to memorize scripture when their brains are at a stage of development most suited for such activities. I mentioned that to an Old Testament professor one time and he concurred but added that we need to use our creativity to make the reciting interesting.  

Recently, our church took a bunch of kids to an AIDS awareness tour which was part of the huge AIDS conference in Toronto. Surely I had my take on it and surely not exactly a full endorsement. I saw two different AIDS documentaries on children in Africa and China. I cannot finish either because I cannot hold my tears. I can feel my tears welling up even as I type this. I cried for the fact that some of these kids will not live past 7 or 8. Should we not do something? Should we not help the next generation to realize the compassion we felt? Of course we should but during the same week I was also given a point of reference where I draw my point. On the heel of watching those two documentaries I came across a friend who was bringing his kid to a pool party. It was then that I realize why all these awareness is good but may yet be a losing cause. On one hand we show our kids how desperate the rest of the world is but on the other hand we endorse them to a lifestyle few in the world can afford. I have never been to a pool party when I was a kid. Many kids in the world will not see a pool and in fact even clean water in their life time. What are we telling our kids? What are we telling them to think or are we giving them a paradox that they will ended up being more confused and thus choose to be indifference to compassion? Is that justice? To me if we cannot install restrain, charity and justice in our lifestyle we’ll never be able to commit to a life that can uphold justice. (May I just add that having a pizza party after a 30 hours famine exercise is similarly upsetting for me.)  

I suspect a lot of how we are teaching kids today is driven by the “market driven” culture. We need to make a big splash to catch people’s attention. We need to create event to move things. We need “star” attarction to raise people’s ambition and aspiration. We need dramatic and novelty on every turn else people will forget.  No, No, No. We need the Jesus alternative. An alternative to the reality that we are facing everyday. We need to foster a life of habitual turning to God for guidance. We need a lifestyle that stresses obedience, chastity and holiness. (Sounds like a monastic vow, doesn’t it?) Can we teach that to our kids? Of course not. We simply cannot teach our kids what we do not believe in.

That leads to my conclusion about teaching kids: children ministry is not a separate ministry in the church; it is the result of developing adults who with fear and trembling are willing to pass on a faith they lived that is not diluted from what was passed to us.

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