Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Children and discipleship

I am following the blogs of two women who have recently left organized religion. Recently, both women have asked questions concerning children and discipleship. While they were part of organized religious groups, they both relied on Sunday School to teach their children about God and how to follow Christ. While they both realize that this reliance was always misplaced, they are now wondering how parents should disciple their children.

For example, "a former leader" writes in her post "The Church Lady and Her Un-Churched Kids" that she realizes that she never took responsibility for discipling her children:

Of course we all know that we (the parents) are responsible for their spiritual training. That was always told to us by our churches. I told this to others – partially to absolve the church when their kids turned out bad. After all, you can only claim responsibility when it looks good for you. When it does not work out to your advantage – bail and let them know it was their responsibility all along.

The only problem I see was that no one ever actually really took responsibility that I know of. We let the Sunday School teachers do their job and “presto” our kids knew all about Jonah and the Whale and Noah and the Arc. (In there was probably some really good spiritual training although, to tell you the truth, I never saw how they could take a story about God wiping out the whole human race – every living thing – and teach it to any child who would not run screaming from the room and never love God again. It worked though if you needed people to be afraid of God to obey him. Hmmmm…….)

Of course Church Lady was always too busy to teach Sunday School.
Similarly, Mary from "One Thing is Needed" responds in her post called "Learning the Language of Love". She compares training children in the ways of Christ to teaching people a foreign language. She suggests that "immersion" is the best form of discipleship:

I used to teach ESL (English as a Second Language) to international students. What I taught them in class could only go so far, though. I noticed that the students who really excelled and learned the language the fastest were the ones who immersed themselves in the English language. They hung out with English speakers, listened to English music, read English books, spoke as much English as possible, and taught what they knew to others. They immersed themselves in this new language. If they continued like this for a few years, they would find that they began to think and dream in English. By contrast, the students who struggled to learn English only spoke it during class. They didn’t immerse themselves in it and spoke their native language outside of class. They were the ones who were more likely to get frustrated and give up or learn just enough to get by.

What if I applied this principle of learning another language to teaching my children about Jesus? What if, as a family, we daily immerse ourselves in the language of love (love the LORD with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself)? Our children will learn that “language” much faster than if they only learn it during a weekly church service. If we continue to live this way, they will begin to think in this language and dream in this language. It will become second nature to them. That’s exciting to me.
I think these discussions are very important and very beneficial.

Many have trusted structured times of teaching (such as Sunday School) as the sole method of training their children to follow Jesus. Structured teaching is beneficial to a point. This is true of any type of classroom setting, whether it is Sunday School, or public school, or college, or seminary, or even a structured home school class, or a structured time of teaching children in the home. It is easy to dispense large amounts of information during a structured teaching time. As I said, this is beneficial. However, there are dangers as well. For example, some assume that there is a correspondence between the amount of knowledge acquired about a given subject (i.e. Bible or theology or the life of Christ) and the level of maturity or obedience. This is not necessarily the case. Also, structured teaching easily leads to evaluation based on performance. Thus, it is possible for some children (and adults) to assume that they are better people because they perform well in the classroom, or for others to assume that they are not as valuable as a person because they perform poorly in the classroom. So, while structured times of teaching are beneficial, there are problems that can arise if this is the only type of teaching and training for the child.

Others have turned away from structured teaching and prefer unstructured, unplanned teaching by example that occurs naturally as the children live their lives with their parents and others. I have found that many people (children included) learn more from object lessons - especially object lessons that come naturally during the course of life - than they learn from classroom lessons. Thus, parents teach their children how to trust God by trusting God themselves. Parents teach their children how to love others by loving others themselves. Being fair, however, there are also dangers with this method of teaching. It is possible for a child (or adult) to focus on one aspect of life with Christ, especially if that aspect is more natural for the child than other aspects. For example, a child could learn much about loving others, but very little about trusting God, because either the child naturally loves but doesn't naturally trust, or because the parents model loving better than trusting.

So, perhaps the best way to disciple children (and people in general) is a combination of the two approaches. We have tried to use both means to disciple our children. They are part of almost every structured teaching that we take part in. Also, we try to teach them in unplanned times that come up in the course of life.

Do you take responsibility in discipling your children? How do you disciple your children now? If you do not have children, or if they are very young, how do you plan to disciple your children? How should we plan and carry out structured times of teaching? How do we teach children by example such that they emulate our good examples and not our bad examples? What part does the larger community of Christ play in discipling children?


just me said...

This will be very interesting to watch our children develop outside of institutional church. One thing that has happened in the past few months is that all of a sudden I have noticed that their praying - either at night before bed or at the dinner table has become deeper - more adult. Coincidence? I wonder.

We were also listening to Wayne Jacobsen reading his book, “He Loves Me” in the car while traveling the other day. My oldest son – not yet in his teens spoke up from the back at one point and asked us to turn it up so he could hear it better.

This truly is fun to watch. We will see.
Former leader

Anonymous said...