“One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” Psalm 145:4 (ESV)
The long narrative of God’s work and mighty acts in the story of His people is broken down into generations like chapters. Just like the long story arch of our own individual lives is broken into seasons of life that serve as the chapters to our stories. God is telling a large and grand story through the course of human history, and He is telling a long and grand story in each one of our lives individually.
The Bible is wrought with commands to the nation of Israel and later to the Church to tell the unfolding of God’s grand, long story to the next generation. His mighty acts are to be passed down from generation to generation to generation. The Message version of Psalm 145:4 says it like this, “Generation after generation stands in awe of your work; each one tells stories of your mighty acts.” I also believe we are called to tell those around us, especially those in the next generation below us, the story of God’s work in our lives individually. We are never told in scripture to keep God’s story from the next generation.
As a younger Christian and dare I say a recent graduate of seminary in my early 20’s, I viewed ministry to the younger generation as secondary or maybe even tertiary to the work that needed to be done educating and discipling adults. I held many false beliefs that led to these conclusions. I believe these same false beliefs permeate many of a church today and do so at the determinate of the children/youth within our church walls.
- Children’s ministry is a “lesser” field of ministry work. Going along with this false belief is the belief that children cannot understand deep truths about God, therefore more educated and knowledgeable ministers are not needed in the area of Children/Youth Christian Education. If you are a super smart Christian with “big” seminary degrees you should be educating adults, not little people.
- The education of the children in our churches should be done by parents and more specifically mothers. Other church members without children or those who have no experience with their own children are not qualified or called to minister to the next generation.
- The children and youth of our church should be separate from the rest of the church’s other ministries. What they do “down there” is separate and different from what we do “up here” as adults, and the one does not affect the other.
- As long as we are providing safe and happy environments for the young people in our churches, we are doing enough to minister to them.
As much as it pains me to say this, I’ve thought every single one of these thoughts at some point in my ministry career and I spent a number of those years in Children’s Ministry.
But, as I’ve studied my Bible more, hung out with families and young people more and sought the Lord more about His heart for the next generation, each one of these false beliefs have been stamped out in me and a new heart and new vision has emerged.
- The old adage that says, “If you can’t teach what you know to a young child, then you don’t really know it very well” applies here. I took a lot of seminary classes, translated large texts from the Hebrew and Greek and debated dispensationalism, justification, election, etc. many of times, but the first time my 9 year old asked me a deep theological question, I choked. The Church is in desperate need of deep thinking, highly educated and skilled people writing Children’s Ministry curriculum and leading Family Ministries. It is not a “lesser” ministry field, if anything it’s a greater one. Little children ask big questions, and their thoughts about God at a young age form their thoughts about Him as an adult. We would do well by the Church to hold the work done with children and youth in high esteem. I’m as guilty as the next person at this. I started my ministry career in Women’s Ministry and quickly moved to Children’s Ministry. I remember when I first started out in Children’s Ministry, I would catch myself saying that I “just” work in Children’s Ministry, but I used to lead a Women’s Ministry. Looking back on it, the subtle difference in my choice of words proves that I thought my Children’s Ministry jobs were of lesser importance. Thankfully, God has softened my heart and has showed me what a great calling it is to care about the story of the next generation.
- Of course there are many times in scripture where parents and grandparents are implored to teach their children and their children’s children about the Lord. This is one of the great tasks of parents- training their children up in the fear and nurture of the Lord. But, there are also a great many verses that command the people of God to teach the next generation about God and what He has done for them. In all of these verses, it is implied that all the people of God are called to care for and teach the next generation whether you have children or not. Does this mean that everyone is called to be a Sunday school teacher? Of course not, but we are all called to care about and find some way to invest in the next generation within our church walls whether that’s teaching or holding babies or mentoring a teen or serving on a committee that raises money for the church’s education space. There are so many ways that all Christians can “tell” the next generation about God’s mighty acts.
- The separation of children and youth from the church whole is a newer phenomenon. Both in Israelite history and in the early Christian church, church was done in a multi-generational fashion. Now, do I believe in children’s church and Sunday school and youth group functions? Of course I do. I believe it honors the next generation to teach them and engage them in a way that is appropriate developmentally. But, I also believe that the vision of the children and youth ministry should be imbedded in the fabric of the church’s larger vision. And, there should also be space made for multi-generations to be together within the life of the church.
- Our kids need more. Period. They are hungry for rich, deep and authentic conversations about faith. They are capable of grasping big concepts and asking hard questions. They not only need to feel safe and engaged, but also discipled and educated in an intentional way.
My prayer is that God would continue to open my eyes to how I can pour into the next generation more intentionally, not just pouring into my own kids, but to all that He puts in my path. I also pray that the Church would continue to lean into the command to tell of God’s grand story to the next generation. It is a great calling and a great work. I’m thankful that God has softened my heart and opened my eyes over the years. May He do the same for you.
“So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” Psalm 71:18