“One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts.” –Psalm 145:4
Legacy Baptist Church has grown to see the benefits of a less divided and more unified approach to its gatherings and instruction (preaching/teaching). The abundance of Scripture relating to children, their instruction, and their frequent inclusion in assembled gatherings and worship has led us to our preferred position of age-integration.
We do wish to reiterate here that the purpose of this extra explanation on the matter is to articulate just a few reasons for why we do what we do. Our focus here is not intended to convey a spirit of attack or ungraciousness toward our brethren who have concluded differently. We anticipate sweet fellowship with our brethren who are otherwise likeminded. Let these verses and considerations simply provoke further thought.
Why devote this page as a defense of our minority pursuit? For many, our more uncommon approach to the Sunday School hour, our lack of Children’s Church, and the absence of a typical youth group are surprising enough that explanations are warranted. Therefore, we share a measure of thought in support for our favored pursuit. (Note that our favored pursuit is in terms of the model of services…not necessarily a set of doctrinal beliefs that have often accompanied modern movements promoting this same model.)
For a variety of reasons, most modern churches segregate children into isolated peer groups at church. In contrast, the Bible primarily shows children participating in all types of worship with their families…and in some cases without their families. Consider a quick overview of some Scriptures showing the normal place of children in life and worship, and the seeming expectation of their maturing capabilities.
(***None of these are stand-alone arguments…and a few might even be used by either approach. Still, the whole of Scripture helps to interpret the less obvious portions.)
1). Deuteronomy 6:6-7 “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” This instruction denotes that children would be learning of their Lord in every setting of life.
2). Deuteronomy 29:11 “little ones” or children were commanded to stand before Moses as he spoke the covenant of the LORD.
3). Deuteronomy 30:2 Parents were told to return to “the LORD thy God” and “shalt obey His voice” with their children.
4). Deuteronomy 31:12-13 “Gather the people together, men and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.”
5). Joshua 8:35 “little ones” children were a witness to Joshua building an alter, offering burnt offerings, sacrificing peace offerings, writing a copy of the law of Moses and reading all of the law.
6). 1 Samuel 1:28, 12:2 Samuel worshipped the Lord in the house of the Lord from the time he was weaned.
7). 1 Samuel 2:26 Samuel matured in the Lord as a child.
8). 1 Samuel 16:1-23, 17:1-58 David. We could say many things about him. From his childhood he worshipped God. (Still, we see that David’s father Jesse did not give him enough credit.) David exercised a faith (as a youth) not known among all of the army of Israel.
9). 2 Chronicles 20:13 “little ones” children were with their families gathered before God in a national prayer meeting.
10). 2 Chronicles 34:1-33 An eight year old boy began to reign as king in Jerusalem. The Bible says “he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord.” At age sixteen, Josiah “began to seek after the God of David”.
11). Nehemiah 8:2-3 “And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.” This passage depicts an assembly of Israelites, including children able to understand, gathered to listen to a long reading of the law.
12). Psalm 71:5,17 “O Lord GOD: thou art my trust from my youth” ”O God, thou hast taught me from my youth”.
13). Ecclesiastes 11:1-10 “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.” Are some guilty of telling our young people the first part of this verse without telling them the second part?
14). Proverbs 22:6 Our opinion is that Children’s Church often trains children for Children’s Church (sometimes not ‘departing’ from that mentality as they age). Be sure “the way” exemplified will indeed “train” our children toward the goal.
15). Daniel 1:1-21 Four “children” made a stand not to defile themselves.
16). Joel 2:15-16a “Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts…” All ages (even babies) were called to this “solemn” spiritual exercise.
17). Matthew 18:1-6 We as the people of God should receive children into our midst and not shew them away lest we offend them.
18). Mark 10:13-16 The disciples tried to keep children away. Maybe the disciples thought that what Christ was about was not age-appropriate for children. Maybe the disciples thought that children would distract others from coming. Maybe the disciples did not want to be burdened with children under their feet. Whatever the case, Jesus rebuked them.
19). John 6:9 This lad followed Jesus to a remote place and provided his lunch. Christ took this lad’s lunch and performed a great miracle. We must note that this lad was desirous to spend the day to sit under Jesus’ teaching.
20). Ephesians 6:1-3 The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church at Ephesus to be read to the church. In this letter, he addressed children, supposing that children were to be present during the reading of it.
21). Colossians 3:20 The apostle Paul also wrote a letter to the church at Colosse to be read to the church. In this letter, he addressed children, supposing that children were to be present during the reading of it. This same letter (Col 4:16) was also to be read in the church of Laodicea, supposing children to be present there as well.
22). 2 Timothy 3:15 Timothy was taught the Scriptures (not just Bible stories) “from a child”. This gave Timothy the knowledge of salvation.
23). Hebrews 10:25 “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” The Scriptures do actually state that we should be “assembling” “together”. While there can be some allowance otherwise, normal and literal interpretations would most often suggest that an assembling of people would be in the same place…with attention given to a focal point in the assembly. It’s worth considering whether or not divided classes and groups constitute an assembly of togetherness.
These Scriptures should at least give cause to evaluate our modern practices and norms. Here are a few other considerations:
1. Of all the NT instructions given for church practice, children’s ministries are absent.
We understand this does not mean (in and of itself) that it is wrong to segregate children into age groups to minister to them, but there is no evidence, command, or model to do so in the NT. Segregated ministries may be allowable, but are certainly not mandated.
2. Pastor’s are to provide spiritual food for the church, and fathers are to provide spiritual food for their own families.
This is what the Bible teaches, but do typical church models encourage this in Christian homes? Churches may unintentionally send mixed messages to families when children’s workers are given the responsibility of the spiritual training of children who attend their classes or youth groups. It may be that parents become satisfied with the church’s multi-programmed role of instruction, and thus grow lax in the parental role of spiritual instruction.
Perhaps churches could give more attention to winning men to Christ and personally discipling them (so that they, in turn, might fulfill their role in discipling their families). Men are more likely to bring their children and spouses to church than are a child or wife likely to bring or reach the rest of the family. View this reality among the majority of churches. How many women come without their husbands and how men come without their wives? A report published by The Baptist Press states that if a child is the first person in the household to become a Christian, there is a 3.5% probability everyone in the household will follow. If the mother is first, there is a 17% chance everyone else in the household will submit to Christ. If the father professes Christ first, there is a 93% probability that everyone else in the house will heed the Gospel call. Men should be encouraged and prepared to fulfill their responsibility to train their own children.
Deuteronomy 6:4-7 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”
Ephesians 6:4 “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
3. Children ought to be exposed to church services where they learn the hymns, share in the testimonies, experience the reverence, participate in the prayers, hear the missionaries, know their pastor and his preaching, be a witness to baptisms, and gain an awareness of the more mature elements and nature of Christianity. (These types of examples are not always seen or learned when regularly segregated with peer groups.)
Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
The “provok(ing)” and “exhorting” instruction is given in a context of gathering “together”. This passage stresses the importance of meeting “together” and prohibiting its neglect. A separate Children’s Church (or Sunday School class) may not help children learn this truth. Sending our children away from the assembly for Children’s Church may be teaching that they as children are not welcome at ‘grown-up’ church.
We prefer this age-integrated church model over having regular programs or classes for children during every service. We desire to train the child in the way he or she should go by direct example, and we tend to believe that the togetherness actually helps to fast-track the spiritual maturing.
Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
4. Many children’s ministries are designed to entertain children, and they also keep children coming back with incentives.
Might we wonder why so many young people are leaving church when they age? We suppose many of them leave when church is no longer entertaining to them and they no longer get goodies for coming. It has been said that “what you win them with is what you win them to”. Perhaps we sell children short when we do this to them.
The Bible gives warning that men will be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (II Timothy 3:4) in the last days. The modern need to accompany the practices of church ministration with fun is prevalent (bathing a large percentage of children’s gatherings), and often (even if unintentionally) usurps what should be the preeminent role of the Spirit and the word of God.
5. Segregated ministries create difficult situations for those who must serve in the various classes and programs.
How often have we heard from preachers the need for Christians to attend all the services, yet children’s workers will regularly miss the primary services, the pastoral preaching, the sharing in testimonies, singing, and decisions being made with a large segment of the church body. We need to also consider whether the ones teaching our young people are themselves being fed as they ought to be.
Consider also that true unity of message and doctrine is more difficult to maintain when so many are teaching in their isolated groups or classes. It may even be occurring in innocence of intent, but happening nonetheless due to any number of reasons. Beyond that is the potential for purposeful “false teachers” (2 Peter 2) that creep in unawares…using “craftiness,” and “handling the word of God deceitfully” (2 Corinthians 4:2).
6. Children’s ministries may open the door to many vulnerable situations between children and the workers.
Can we really know each and every children’s worker? Can we really protect every child who comes to our church from some sort of abuse while attending our church? Can we really protect every children’s worker from being falsely accused? Those are harsh questions that we need to ask. Every church hopes this will not be an issue in their church, and we like to assume it is a rare occurrence that only happens elsewhere. Still, we might suggest that age-integrated churches will not be attractive to pedophiles, and will provide little opportunity for foul play or false accusation.
7. Many busy families never do anything as a family. Family worship makes the clear undeniable statement…be a family.
This is something our culture has lost over the years. Church should promote unity, not only within the church body, but within families as well. Keeping the church body together for worship will allow for the derived benefit and opportunity of families worshipping together. The value of this example and joy ought to be precious within families and the church as a whole.
Even being together during the Sunday School hour benefits in a variety of ways throughout the week. Lessons learned and exercises performed together on Sundays are more easily reinforced and practiced within family groups or other church segments in their day-by-day Bible times. We encourage this unity of thought both within the families and the church body as a whole.
8. Children may easily learn more from their peers than they will from their teachers.
This is one of the tragedies of many age-segregated ministries. Good Christian families will go to great lengths to keep certain worldly influences away from their children. Yet, a child of theirs will befriend another child (at church) and become exposed to the very things that the parents have been so careful to guard against. Rebellious and disruptive children will almost always seem to get most of the attention in classes and groups. Children have had their curiosity stirred about television shows, super heroes, rock music, movies, popular trends in dress, books, magazines, and… all from children in their classes or youth group at church. There’s no perfect guard against all these possibilities, but the more that parents and the greater church body can be in the mix of worship and fellowship, the greater their protective influence.
In conclusion: There are some other points that could be given, but perhaps this will give initial cause for some consideration. While we may part ways in pursuing children’s ministries as most churches do them, we are certainly thankful for those churches that are much more careful than others.
Perhaps, upon initial introduction to the idea of an age-integrated church, you are taken back. (Most of us were, at first!) Please consider, though, not only the weight of the Scriptures, but also the current state and trend of Christianity in America. While the Bible prophesied of this condition during the last days, we would do well to evaluate whether or not our pursued efforts are Biblical or contributing to a falling away.
The answer is likely not so simple as to be solved simply by church model alone, but we’ve come to see that a church unified in gatherings tends toward unity in message, belief, practice, and fellowship. Isn’t that what the Lord intended from the outset of His church?
“But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” –II Timothy 3:14-15