“Most of the kids are leaving the church after confirmation. We need to beef up education!” This sentiment is expressed in many ways in nearly every church in America. It’s not false either. We do need to improve education in the church. Biblical literacy is very low, and we are getting no help from the schools or culture in educating our children in the Word of God or the hope of the Gospel.
On the other hand, it has always intrigued me that in many cases, kids who attended Sunday School and confirmation faithfully, and were active and attentive during those times, often still drop off sharply in church participation after its over. I think the reason is this: we have taught them some of the basics of Christian teaching well enough, but we have not formed them in the life of a faithful disciple of Christ.
That can’t be done fully in the classroom. We have to not only be taught the faith, it has to be modeled and encouraged in us through our relationship with other Christians. Especially for kids, it needs to be nurtured by wiser and more mature Christians. This is all over the Scriptures:
“[Older women] are to teach what is good, and so train the young women” (Titus 2:3-4).
“Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
“Imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1-2).
Just as God has designed the family so that children will grow up to imitate the example set by their parents, He has also designed the church to be the family of God, where each member contributes to the spiritual growth and maturity of the others: “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).
In order for us to build each other up, to model and encourage one another by our speech and our conduct, we have to spend time with one another. The biggest weakness of modern church life is that so many programs are segregated by age or interest that children never really spend time with young adults. Young adults don’t spend time with middle-aged men and women. Aging adults often don’t know or spend time with children.
If we want that to happen, we have to craft intentional times of being together and building each other up. It has benefits for every member of the congregation. Children benefit from having a close relationship with Christian adults who can encourage, model, and guide them in Christian faith and life as they grow older and enter into new seasons and challenges of life. Teenagers develop a greater faith maturity from learning they have ways they can give back and serve others in the church, rather than learning to see the church from a purely consumerist mindset, where there must be a youth program that caters only to their wants or needs. Older adults can be encouraged by the energy and passion of children and younger adults, and often the questions of a new generation help an older generation to better understand their own faith and grow in their devotion to Christ and service to Him. Young adults receive the benefits of an “extended family” in the church to help them care for and nurture their children.
For everyone, learning to spend time with people who are different from us serves as a cure to our narcissism. For God did not call us to His body only so that we can receive. He also calls us to serve and care for one another. The first step is to spend meaningful time together.