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KIDS AND CHRIST: Recommit to teaching in 21st-century church John Ed Mathison, May 26, 2010
John Ed Mathison
By John Ed Mathison Special Contributor
It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are? Most of us have heard that message on television and it gets our attention. We immediately think about our children.
It’s 2010. Do you know where your children are? That is the message to the church. It must get our attention. It must lead us to examine one of the core values of our ministry.
We know where our children aren’t. We know that most of them aren’t coming to Sunday school. We know that most families are not engaged in religious activities, including Bible study.
We know that many parents enroll their children in so-called Christian schools so they can learn about the Bible. They hope the children will encounter sound doctrine and morals through community activities and parachurch groups.
It is one thing to acknowledge the reality of a situation, but another to do something about it. It’s time to ask these questions: Is Christian education a true focus for our churches? Do we understand that the foundation of faith formation is what will transform people and the world?
So many efforts in the church to offer Christian education are based on models and approaches of the 20th century. We must move into the 21st century! We must develop new and more creative ways of reaching today’s children.
There is a degree of comfort in following old routines. It is tempting to continue using venues, materials and approaches that no longer work. But if the horse is dead, it’s time to dismount.
I offer three suggestions for directing us to reclaim the great Wesleyan heritage of Christian education.
First, we must recognize that effective Christian education in the 21st century will require creativity. While content is extremely important, the presentation must change. New methods of effective communication are constantly being discovered. The church must not only listen, but also be ready to act.
A great resource for the church is our laity. Our pews are filled with creative people who can figure out how to communicate ideas. They know about taking the risk to do things differently. I have a hunch they would love to use their creativity in venues that really make a difference in life.
Let us raise up visionary risk takers who will positively influence the church’s caretakers. And in the process, let’s try to eliminate the undertakers!
A second component is intentionality. The United Methodist Church has historically moved forward when we become intentional about a need and opportunity. If we fail to do that now, we’ll miss out on a whole generation of people. The local church, like many families, has turned over its job to other groups in society.
That leads to a third essential component: accountability. Until somebody assumes and exercises responsibility, our Christian education programs will continue to flounder. Accountability must reside with all clergy—including elders, deacons and local pastors. One conference director of children’s ministries told me, “Many pastors have no idea what is going on or being taught to children in our churches.”
District superintendents and bishops also must be accountable, giving hands-on supervision and encouragement to local churches. Statistical reporting is a vital need.
Relevance must become a new watchword for Christian education. We must opt for a curriculum that offers sound, biblical, Wesleyan doctrine. In our teaching, we must also apply these doctrines to the everyday lives of children.
I recently talked with Lamar Vest, president of the American Bible Society, who told me they sold more Bibles in 2009 than ever before. He was confident of their ability to market and sell, but his big concern was persuading people to read, study and teach the Bible. Communication skills must be developed for teaching and applying scriptural truths.
I believe the United Methodist Church has the best organizational structure, polity and resources to turn around Christian education for our children.
Do we know where our children are? I envision a different answer to that question in 2015 than we have to give in 2010.
A retired United Methodist pastor, the Rev. Mathison is director of John Ed Mathison Leadership Ministries in Montgomery, Ala.