Westminster Seminary California
Children Decide the Important Things

Over the years I watched a number of people come and go through the doors of the church. In our mobile, vagabond, anchorless time, people move from job to job, city to city, and church to church. Given the mobility of a culture, say in comparison with a generation ago when a person might work for one company in the same city and live in the same house for his entire life, people move around. So there were some who left the church because of job transfers. In fact, I had a stretch where more than a dozen families relocated because of job transfers over a two-year period. Most of the time I could understand the job relocation. The situation, for the life of me, that I simply have never understood were the families that left the church because their children were not happy.

I can remember sitting before a number of families over the years who would come to me, “Pastor, we really love the church and find the preaching to be edifying . . .” On the heels of such a statement, I could hear that the person’s breath was not finished and that there was a conjunction just around the corner, “but . . .” Once they let the conjunction drop, I knew it would be followed by an excuse for leaving the church, “Our children just aren’t happy here.” I was certainly concerned, so I would naturally ask the family about the specific nature of their children’s unhappiness to which I received the following explanation: “Our children find the Sunday School boring. Plus, we know at other churches there is children’s church, which we think will be much better for them. They also have many other programs and such.”

Now in one sense, I certainly do not begrudge the idea of a parent wanting to make his child happy. As a father myself, I make every effort to ensure that my children enjoy life. At he same time it always stupefied me how parents would decide to move to another church because their children were bored. I even had one family admit to me that the preaching at another church was undoubtedly weaker, but they wanted the children to be happy. I know what some of you are thinking, “Poor man. This fellow doesn’t understand that the parents weren’t being honest. They were using their children as the scape goat because they didn’t want to own up to the fact that they were the ones who were unhappy.” True. This scenario is certainly a possibility. However, I determined that the parents were being honest because of two factors.

First, at times I would visit the children’s Sunday School and see first-hand bored children, with their hands holding up their drooping heads, as they sat there in a catatonic stasis, all the while their classmates were laughing, engaged, and seemingly enjoying themselves. Second, I often talked with the parents who were engaged, soaking in the material in the adult Sunday School class, and seemingly being edified by the preaching. So a lack of transparency aside, why would parents let their children make one of the most important decisions in their lives?

Would an adult entrust to a ten-year-old child her choice of what medical doctor to visit? Would an adult allow a child to choose the type of medication to consume to treat an ailment? Would an adult allow a young child to make investment choices for a 401k? While adults would not entrust these important decisions to their children, they nevertheless let them make the choices about where they should go to church. And the decision is not based upon whether the church bears the three marks (preaching of the word, administration of the sacraments, or administration of discipline) but upon whether the child is entertained. I think this type of decision also reveals an unstated but nevertheless present belief in the broader church—serious theology is for adults—children come to church for entertainment. Could this be one of the contributing factors to why so many young people graduate from high school never to return to church again?

So many children are taught that excitement and boredom form the poles of the economy of how life is evaluated. Rather than teach children about the truths of the gospel, the condemnation of the law, the promises of the gospel, and blessings we receive through Christ and the Spirit, all too many children look to evaluate life the same way they would a theme park.