March 2, 2007

Children and Preaching (Part 1)

How do you feel about your children?

Maybe that, at least for most of us, is a silly question. Whatever else we may want to say, the heart of our answer is undoubtedly this: we love them. Amongst other things, we want them to be happy, secure, and fulfilled - and if we are Christian parents, saved by God’s grace and living out fruitful lives to the glory of God.

Let me pose you another question then.

How do you feel about children and preaching?

Even now, I can imagine some of the responses echoing through cyberspace. From at least some quarters, the sighs and groans are almost deafening. I will let you fill in the blanks with your own imagination as to the rest.

If you are a Christian parent, I want to stimulate you to think and to challenge you. I want to suggest that if we love our children, we ought to teach them to love bible-centred preaching.

No, hang on. Let me put it even more strongly. If we love our children as God would require from us as Christian parents, we must teach them to love bible centred preaching. I believe that God expects even our young children to be able to benefit from preaching.

I imagine certain readers may take some convincing. Stay with me. Be patient over the next few days, as I try to prove my case.

Some Foundations

The premise that forms the foundation of this short paper is this: we as Christians recognise that our boys and girls are made in the image of God, are individuals needing to learn about God and his truth, need to be personally converted, and are acutely precious to us. Our greatest desire is that they come to clearly understand and deeply love the Christian gospel, and have a bible centred, vital relationship with Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. We want them to grow into progressive holiness and lifelong committed discipleship.

The question that these few pages seek to address, is whether our children ought to benefit from preaching in their early years, whether they have the mental and spiritual capacity to do so, and whether, indeed, God intends them to do so.

This short study is not intended in any way to touch upon the vital and necessary area of our own personal, family devotional lives. It takes as read that every family ought to be applying the principles of Deuteronomy 6: 4 – 9:

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

It assumes as obvious that we are seeking to raise our children within the context of frequent attendance at gatherings of God’s people, both formal and informal, and framing our home lives as places where Christian hospitality and conversation have a regular place. Such assumptions are basic to the healthy development of the minds and hearts of our boys and girls. Christian world-view is taught by observation and absorption of our home surroundings almost as much as by direct instruction.

It takes for granted that the primary responsibility for instructing our boys and girls in the things of God rests with parents – not pastors, elders, deacons, Children’s Workers or Sunday School teachers. It is our familial responsibility before God to pray, explain, exemplify and enjoy God’s truth in a natural and deliberate way before our families.

As such, particularly as fathers, we need to take the lead in helping our children understand the necessity and value in hearing God’s true in every setting that we choose to expose it.

Scripture is crystal clear on this point. Although very precious to us, our young children are unable to help us best decide what is good for their soul. Proverbs 22:15 is both politically incorrect and undeniably true: “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child…”

It is we who direct our children, not they who direct us.

As far as the scope of our subject is concerned, the preference of most young children would be to avoid 40 minutes of physical stillness and vocal silence, whilst having to listen to preaching that at times seems to have little to do with them directly. Only an extreme idealist or blinkered fool would fail to acknowledge that. In young years they are untrained, and in most cases unconverted – we ought to expect little else!

So how do we proceed?

Our Contemporary Situation

We need to recognise that we live in the age of the soundbyte and the swift scene change. Television, radio, DVD – all encourage us to process information in tiny packages. Our society militates almost on every level against the enabling of the minds of our children to concentrate for anything but very short time spans.

Modern educational methods frown on the concept of monologue, and emphasise short tasks requiring minimal attention span, and methods of assimilating information that are primarily interactive.

Responding in part to those societal and educational developments, many churches decide to create methodologically similar, ‘age-appropriate’ environments in which to instruct their children.

In addition, many current Sunday school teachers can remember lots of occasions when they were really bored during sermons (can’t we all?), and long that the children under their charge both enjoy and learn at the same time. Quite right too!

I want to state right here, right now, that I am not arguing for the abolition of Sunday Schools, nor am I attempting by stealth to undermine confidence or rudely demean the diligent, prayerful and faithful labours of godly SS teachers in all of our churches.

Having said all of this, there are several vital observations that we must make.

The Biblical Pattern

The very first question we need to ask when we consider whether young children can benefit from preaching, is what evidence, if any, exists for children sitting under preaching in the bible. Is there a biblical pattern that not only we can trace, but also trust and reproduce?

Although we don’t have lots of references, those that we do have are very clear.

During the great convocations of God’s people, children were present. When you read Ezra 10 or Nehemiah 8, you find that children were present during the preaching of those chapters – and were included in the response that followed it.

When you examine the Pentateuch, for example in Deuteronomy 5 and 31, you find Moses preaching to the whole of the gathered nation – children included.

Exodus 10 and Joshua 8 are plain in their inclusion of children in the corporate worship of God and hearing of preaching. The pattern of Hebrew worship was age inclusive.

This is not simply OT practice. The expectation of New Testament epistles was that children would be present during congregational instruction and preaching – Ephesians and Colossians assume that freely, as seen from instruction directed specifically to them.

The expectation of biblical times was that God would meet with children – children who ought to be present during preaching – and that the spiritual meal prepared would be effectual in their lives without the need for it to be intellect, age, or gender specific. The children receiving exhortations toward the close of Ephesians had, together with their parents, heard all of the previous doctrinal richness of the early chapters. No attempts were made to shield either them or anybody else from rigorous doctrine or difficult concepts. It wasn’t that a message was prepared for adult believers and crumbs left almost as an afterthought for children, but rather that the whole of the epistle was directed at the whole of the people.

Bringing our children under preaching exposes them to hearing the whole counsel of God. It is unlikely that Sunday school, in all of its evident value, depth and helpfulness, is able to do that in quite the same way.

The evidence of the text of Scripture is that children can be present during preaching and be helped.

Have things changed since those distant times?


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Posted by Danny at March 2, 2007 12:39 PM | TrackBack

Hi Charles. Lovely to hear from you - and feedback greatly appreciated :)

I wouldn't want you to think that this or any of the following posts are an argument in favour of the abolition of SS or other age-appropriate ministries. Far from it! I value them greatly and benefit from a church where our SS teachers take their role very seriously.

My argument is that children really can benefit from preaching even when those things are in place, and that we ought not to feel otherwise. Like you, I think most ministers would not aim the majority of their messages solely or primarily at the children present, but in God's grace those children may still come under his gracious influences. Thankfully, it is the Spirit who does the work and not us. It is a good job, isn't it? If the conversion and growth of folk from 3 - 93 were my responsibility, the church I pastor would be empty! Having said that, I really ought to seek to address myself to be understood as broadly as possible. Strong meat and peas/carrots all on the same plate :)

I have really benefitted from hearing the way that men like Al Martin and Art Azurdia can preach such deep truth, and break off for such wonderful applications to children present in the congregation. I am still learning that skill.

It may also be that parents wonder whether or not to bring their children to worship on a Sunday evening. My hope is that some will see that the absence of an evening SS or Junior Church (terrible name, I'm sure you will agree!) is no barrier to them doing so. God can speak and save, and if they are little believers, grow them in grace through it. It may also be that some parents have children who may prefer to be under the 'main preaching', or feel their child is too old for their current SS provision, or even not have a SS! Such parents ought to take heart!

We really aren't living in the days of the OT, I agree. However, the principle extends far beyond the reach of the OT, as the next post in the series indicates.

As far as destroying a good sermon, it tends to be me who is in greater danger of doing that!

Posted by: Danny at March 3, 2007 6:49 PM

Dear Brother

Having been in the ministry for 40 years, (which does'ntnecessary quality me for this topic) I must side with Sunday School/ Bible Fellowship's/ and Childen's Church.

Even in my youth, I didn't like to listen to my father preach. And he was one of the best. I would listen to my mother teach the Bible for an hour at a time. What is reflective of my thinking to day is my mother's teaching, in Suday School, or Children's church.

My wife has done more to influence my children and the children in the churches I have pastored than I.

I have always directed my preaching/teaching to adults, (of course they do have a child like mindset most of the time).

Today, if parents were to train their children in the art of listening to preaching rather than listen to the TV's form, maybe they could hear what I am preaching.

I do not have the prideful thinking that I can reach all ages when I preach at one time. I do not try to range my preaching to reach ages 3 to 93. I had qualified techers who were trained in the Word who could teach the prinicples of the Word of God on the level of the children they were teaching.

We are not living in the OT times.

But I do agree that the primary roll of parents are to teach their children in the Word, and not the local church.

I could never get my children to set 40 minutes at one time at all. Even at a basketball game. They wanted to play rather the sit.

And in our church we had a bus ministry. Try preaching to 40 kids who had never been in church before they came to our church. New families would come with their children, and had never been in church.

One child can destroy one sermon.


Other wise you had a good article. I am sure there are some churches who have accomplished what I have never been able to do.

Posted by: Charles E. Whisnant at March 3, 2007 3:01 PM
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