The Expository Files

Message, Methods & Maturity In Training Our Children


"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment with promise: that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.' And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord." (Eph. 6:1-4).

This passage is from a letter the apostle Paul wrote to "the saints who are in Ephesus," (1:1). He wanted the members of the church there to read this (see Col. 4:16), and the aim was, that they might understand his "knowledge in the mystery of Christ," (3:4). In the above text, he addresses children. It is reasonable to believe, there were some young people in this church; they had obeyed the gospel, but still remained at home under the authority of their parents. It is also reasonable to assume, there were children in those families at Ephesus who were not Christians yet, but had access to or heard this epistle read. The apostle Paul was not indifferent to the spiritual education of children. His attitude was not to leave them alone and assume their parents would teach them. There can be no doubt father and mother have the primary duty to instruct children (see above text). Yet Paul, in an inspired epistle, addressed himself to children and he obviously wanted the church at Ephesus to read this, or give this instruction to children. Based on this and other instructions from God, parents and local churches ought to take responsibility for the spiritual education of children.

Local churches are in the business of teaching truth - to the lost; to people in the community, and certainly to everyone who walks in the door (whatever their age). God has directed local churches to provide instruction from His Word (Eph. 4:15,16; Acts 13:1; 1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:24). Adults need this instruction, but so do children. Christians who are members of the local church need this instruction, but so do non-Christians who visit. The attitude should be - we are committed to teaching God's Word to all who are present (see Acts 10:33). In adult Bible classes, the aim should be to lead the students in understanding what God's Word says. What should we do with the children who attend? We should discharge the same responsibility, but in a manner and with methods appropriate to their learning level.

Children's classes cannot just become baby-sitting services. That's poor use of time and constitutes a failure to prepare these precious children for life and death. The duty to teach the truth is not age-limited, not race-limited, not sex-limited or limited in any other way as to recipients. Everybody needs to hear the truth. Everybody needs to learn what the Bible says. (I heard of an occasion where brethren installed a new front entrance door into the building. As they completed the job, one brother suggested that they conclude with prayer. In his prayer he said, "we pray that all who enter this doorway will find love and hear the truth.")

I am a product of children's Bible classes. Though the primary influence and instruction came from my parents, an important part of my biblical education was received in children's Bible classes.

I sang about Zacchaeus, colored pages of the rainbow, and learned the books of the Bible. I attended "Vacation Bible School" every summer, learned about the dispensations of Bible history and learned the little song about the apostles. When I was a little older, I read my lesson, used my Bible to fill in the blanks, did my memory work and had all this checked by my parents before class. I went to the map and pointed to Jerusalem; I answered questions, joined in discussions, learned to study and pray and sing.

Some of the methods used in the 1950's may seem ineffective today, but a whole generation learned the Bible in this "old fashioned" setting. I offer no discouragement to anyone employing the modern methods of our day (audio-visuals aids, technology, labs, etc.). We ought to use whatever legitimate methods we find useful in our time. But we can use these good methods without any suggestion that the 1950's model was frail or fruitless. I want to say something about teaching methods.

A good computer system will not turn a poor preacher into a good one. An expensive LCD Video Projector will not turn weak content into a powerful message. A smooth running Bible lab program will not necessarily yield better results than the 1950's model. Methods must never become our purpose, but remain subservient to the purpose. The purpose is to teach the Bible. That cannot be effectively done without the strong and primary influence of the home, and the commitment of the local church to the right message.

Good educational methods never compensate for lack of parental support. In my experience with "Sunday School" and "Vacation Bible School" in the 50's, there was strong parental support and involvement. My primary Bible class room was my home. And before I went to classes in the congregational setting, my parents went over "the lesson" with me, requiring that I cite my memory verse. I do not believe my case was the exception to the rule, at least with the church my parents belonged to. The backbone of the 1950's model was strong parental involvement. The message needs to be sent to parents, students and teachers today: Though our educational methods are proven, the foundation must be in the home.

Good educational methods never assure guaranteed results. Jesus was the perfect teacher, but there were people in Capernaum and Nazareth who would not listen and learn (Matt. 11:21-24; Mark 6:5). In the parable of the sower, the good seed yielded the good harvest only in the hearts of the humble and teachable (Mark 4:20). In our excitement over our labs, computers and video projectors - let's not forget that some will not learn; they do not have the humble desire to learn; lack of effective method is not the problem. We ought to use the best methods. This sad reality (of dull hearers) shouldn't discourage us from the ambition to teach and teach well. But we do not enjoy any assurance of guaranteed results.

Good educational methods never yield good results if content is absent. Without biblical content, our good methods will not achieve the results we ought to desire: instructing children in God's Word. Parents, elders and teachers need to be aware of the danger of students becoming fascinated with the fun methods and teaching tools, but without concentrating on content. All involved in the spiritual education of children must be sober and discerning, developing the skill, maturity and discernment to use good methods, but without compromising the message. If we decide to update our approach and modernize our tools, let's do that without changing or minimizing the message.

Like Paul, let us direct teaching to children; and may we do so on an appropriate level, and with every good method we can bring to the task. But without exalting our methods above our purpose.

By Warren E. Berkley
The Final Page
From Expository Files 8.12; December 2001