Repentance is the other side of faith:
The basic idea of repentance is to stop moving in one direction and begin moving in another.
1. Children who are raised in nurturing Christian families and churches, and who respond to Christ at an early age, may as adults look back and wonder, from what, if anything, they have repented. A couple of thoughts:
A. Values are as important as behavior, and those who have made a commitment to Christ can see at least some of the ways their desires have been shaped by God.
B. Every human being has a bent toward evil. Turning from that evil and to Christ is an integral part of Christian faith.
There must be a call to repent as well as to believe.
2. It is not easy to break behavior patterns. Repentance embodies a desire to change as the Lord enables us.
Within the church children can hopefully find those who will help them to change by praying for them, encouraging them and at times rebuking them. Someone who works with children, like a Sunday school teacher, can be at least one person who assumes that role.
The ingredients that make up Christian faith are:
1. Acknowledging what the Bible says about the person of Jesus: He is true, He is God, Man, perfect, and the only Savior of sinners.
What does a person have to know? The claims the Bible makes about Jesus are so incredible that they create a chasm between those who would affirm them and those who reject them. Some people stumble over significant details. Acceptance of these biblical claims is easy for children. But belief in Santa Claus is also easy. We are not going to readily separate fact from fantasy in the mind of a child. (“Virtual reality” will increasingly give us all difficulty.) Christian doctrine can be taught in more detail as the child matures, demonstrating our conviction that the biblical claims are true.
We have had far too many children unquestioningly accept the doctrines of the faith and when that teaching is opposed, their belief turns to doubt and often unbelief.
With the boom of the Christian and home school movements, we have witnessed children who have been taught the Bible in depth. Instead of producing faith, however, in some cases it has planted the seeds of rebellion. In many cases the Bible has been treated simply as an academic subject, and consequently, the message has been distorted.
So, while affirming the Bible’s representation of Jesus as a necessary component of faith, that alone does not constitute Christian faith.
2. We acknowledge what the Bible says about Jesus’ mission is true.
The Bible tells us that Jesus died and then came back to life. As amazing as that is, Christian faith demands more. We must accept the Bible’s interpretation of those events. His death was punishment for our disobedience; His resurrection is the confirmation that God found what He did acceptable. Consequently, because He lives those who belong to Him will live as well.
Yet it is not enough to affirm that Jesus died for my sin. Something more is required.
3. A commitment to Jesus.
In essence that means linking our lives with his. I have used sitting in a chair to illustrate the point. When I sit, I commit myself to the chair. If it holds, I am fine. If it does not, I am on the floor. With Jesus it means that, if He is alive we will live. If He is not we are doomed. If there is some other way to find God then we will not find Him because a commitment to Jesus closes off all other options.
The only way commitment can be expressed is in what we do – or do not do. It is possible to try to live by biblical commands without a commitment to Jesus. But it is not possible to make a commitment to Him, without it finding expression in a sincere desire to follow Him.
Thus commitment entails turning from that which takes us away from Christ (repentance) and turning to Christ (faith). With children, we are urging a life style that we trust the Holy Spirit will internalize and consequently, become the way faith in Jesus is expressed. It is not enough to urge faith without suggesting ways that faith can be demonstrated. At the same time, to encourage children to live in certain ways without clear presentation of the good news is a distortion of the Christian message.
Prayer is part of the process
It is the Holy Spirit who gives and nurtures life but his work is linked to our activity and one of the things we must do is to pray for our children – our biological children, children in the church, children we can identify in our communities. Prayer is essential in discipling covenant children.
It has long been true that most who make a profession of faith do so either as a child or a teenager. The earlier faith is nurtured, the better.
However, we do not deal with children in isolation. (Actually we do not deal with anyone in isolation.) The primary link with children is their caregivers, which in most instances is one or both parents. So significant ministry to children, in the majority of cases, cannot be separated from ministry to families.
The family and the church
The Great Commission gives the church the responsibility for making disciples. Deuteronomy 6 gives that same responsibility to the parents. Both will pay a price if the other is ignored. And our children will suffer. Both will pay a price if it is done. But the rewards are eternal.
Some churches attract large numbers of children to their summer ministry programs. But it is hard to make meaningful contact with parents who are not part of the church family, so often the attempt is not made. However, if the parents are not brought to faith and become part of the life of the church it will be much more difficult to have a long term influence on their children.
The church must initiate a cooperative effort between the church and the home. Here are some suggestions which could be part of your Celebrate the Child program.
1) Children’s Sunday school teachers need to be taught how to involve parents in the process. For instance, if there are difficulties reaching a child, the parents’ help should be solicited. A teacher can learn much from the way the school is attempting to work with a child and about the way parents are trying.
2) Parents can be asked to read to their children using the biblical accounts from lessons, or the stories found in take-home papers. They can help their children learn Bible verses or catechism questions.
3) Parents can be encouraged to pray with their child. For instance, teachers could keep a chart of prayer requests that come from the class. Each week the group could pray over the list seeing how God has responded. Teachers could make parents aware of the requests made in class and suggest that they pray over them at home.
4) Parents who are in the church will usually respond positively to ways that they can teach their children about the Lord. Parents outside the church can be approached with an expression of appreciation. They are concerned about the spiritual development of their children. The teacher could review with the parents what he/she is attempting to accomplish with the child. That would include a presentation of the gospel and quite possibly an invitation to believe in Jesus.
5) Intergenerational learning is one way to bring children and adults together, and more specifically, children and their parents.
Whatever might be said about the things that shape children, the influence of the primary caregivers is enormous. Regular attention to parental involvement in ministry to their children will challenge both them and their children.
Any of these suggestions could be part of a master plan for ministry to families. Such a plan will require specific steps for implementation.
Children and the Church
1. Children of believers need to be grafted into the church and its worship. It is not enough for a child to be in Sunday school or Pioneer Clubs. If I had my preference, children of every age would be in the worship service with their parents. Our BOCO encourages the parents and children to worship together; however, that is not always practiced. In most congregations, children are in the worship service for part of the time. It is a wholesome thing to see a family sitting together in a worship service.
It is a picture of the way the covenant God has made with us works. It brings together the nuclear family and the family of God. It also models for children a part of what our faith entails.
Having children sing in worship, or to use music they are singing in Sunday school, is one way to include them. Many churches have a children’s sermon. Some have a bulletin to help children follow the Scripture and its exposition. On occasion older children can help take up an offering or do a special reading. I am aware of one church where children sometimes pray aloud in the worship service.
Older members can become surrogate grandparents informally helping to nurture children and causing them to feel like they belong in the church.
2. Children in the community need to hear the good news. To accomplish this will require a fresh look at what we are doing and what we could do. For instance, there are large numbers of special-needs children. Can we become intentional in trying to reach them -and their families? After school programs are common place. A few PCA churches are offering tutoring programs. What about a daily after-school program sponsored by a suburban church? Most congregations offer a summer program. What about a day camp that would span the entire summer?
3. Children have been gifted by God. In the church, opportunities should be made to recognize, develop, and celebrate those gifts. It might be as simple as helping to clean and straighten a room, or as profound as praying for someone in need. Children can encourage a shut-in with a card or even a visit.
What may be needed is an attitude shift – not seeing children as passive recipients, but as active contributors to the life of the church.