When we talk about the ministry to children, here is the problem that we are talking about. It has two parts: First of all, that although Christians, and especially Protestants, depend for their very life on knowing and interpreting the scriptures, there is among us a very heavy burden of Biblical illiteracy, and that many of our young people who grew up in Church School, so to speak, do not know the scriptures, and do not have much speaking acquaintance with them. The problem is increased by the fact that nobody seems to care much that this problem is remedied. With a few exceptions, parents do not care much. The rest of us don’t show much either, and I am afraid that it must be said, especially in Trinity Methodist Church. About the only people who care are the teachers, and it is always difficult to find teachers to fill a staff of no more than thirteen teachers.
Now that is only half the problem. We usually defend ourselves against this charge by being very liberal and saying, well, it is more important to teach children how to live than it is to teach them Bible stories anyway. And of course, there is some truth there. In the text book that we have been using for our Adult Bible Study Groups, some one pointed out a very pithy phrase the other night, in which the author said that the Bible is like a window, and if you just look at the window itself you miss what you are supposed to see on the other side.
This is a morally confused and confusing time, and in spite of the difficulty of the decisions which our young people have to make, I believe that many of them have a very high maturity and moral responsibility. But the real point is, that we ought not let this defense obscure the failure of the Church to minister properly to its children. These are not two different problems, but one problem with two faces.
Now, what are we going to do about it? Every Methodist Church has been asked to observe last Sunday or today as “C” Day. The “C” stands for two things, for children, meaning there is a call for new concern about our ministry to children. It also stands for curriculum. One of the ways in which this concern has expressed itself is in the decision of the General Board of Education of the Methodist Church to issue a new curriculum, new teaching and study materials for children, that means three year olds up through the 6th grade. The change will take place in September this year.
Let me say a few things about what this new curriculum means. Probably the most radical change is that the children’s division will be broken down into two year divisions instead of three. At the present time we have a Primary department, with first, second and third grades, and a Junior department consisting of grades four, five and six. Under the new system there will be a nursery class for three year olds, a kindergarten class for four and five year olds (as we have now), but there will be a class for grades one and two, together, grades three and four together, and grades five and six together. Now the interesting thing about this new division for us here, is that this kind of division is ideally suited for our new building.
Several other changes will be made. The teachers sand pupils books will be issued in magazine form so that they can be revised every time they are used. Over the past several years our material has suffered from the lack of revision. The quarter system will changed to begin in September. That is especially good for us because in the past the quarter began in October and we have tried to get along without teaching material in September. At the present time there are three kinds of material, Broadly graded for small church schools, Group graded for medium sized ones and Closely graded, for the larger church schools. Now there will be just two kinds, Wesley Series and Asbury Series, and both will deal with the same subject matter, so that if you take your children to visit another Methodist Church School somewhere or if we have visitors they will feel right at home and be familiar with what is happening. The new material will have more and better teaching aids for both teachers and parents. It will require more teachers and better trained teachers, both very important. If you think getting more teachers is a problem, training teachers should solve it. Already the Commission on Education is making plans for a training session, and if all this time you have used the excuse not to teach that you did not feel qualified, you can become qualified, don’t hesitate any longer.
If all these details about new curriculum do not interest you, it probably shows how we came to have our problem in the first place, a low degree of interest in Christian education of children. On the other hand, you may be thinking, “Why all the fuss, is there really is not anything revolutionary about that.” And surely it is true that the problem which we stated earlier, a Biblical illiteracy and a lack of moral integrity will not be solved by changing the curriculum, for curriculum is what a teacher uses, and if a teacher hhas something to say, a faith to witness to, he can say it through any material. Obviously, we are under the obligation to get and use the best material available for teaching our children and the Commission on Education has taken that obligation quite seriously for many years, but that is not the answer.
There are two more things about this “C” day and its new emphasis on the ministry to children. First of all, families, and especially parents, are called to a new responsibility. That is why we wanted parents to be here today, to hear about it. Parents are being asked to decide, are you really serious about Christian education? There has seemed to be such a lack of seriousness about it, parents are going to be asked to take the responsibility to decide about this seriousness. The Commission spoke the other evening about how parents could demonstrate that seriousness. The talked about requirements, requiring, for example that all parents who enroll their children in the Church School buy certain books, or subscribe to the Christian Home magazine, which the parent’s magazine. But there were some practical problems with either one of those. They talked about devising a kind of home curriculum which parents could use to instruct their children at home in the Bible, or Church history, the Apostles Creed, and soon. (I must admit that this one appeals to men, and if anybody else is interested we might try to do it yet.) The idea was rejected because the Commission recognized that the family and the Church School each has its own specific job to do and neither ought to expect the other to do its job. Formal teaching is probably the job of the Church School. The Commission did recommend these, though, making sure that children give some time to preparation. Teachers have said that occasionally they give the children an assignment, and it would help if parents would see that it is done. The other requirement is to see that the children get here every Sunday. Regular attendance is very important. But if parents are going to be asked to decide whether they are serious about Christian education or not, it would be most important of all for it to issue in an understanding of the indispensable character of Christian education. Your children simply cannot do without it.
That is one thing that families are being called to do. The second is that they are being called to a new responsibility to be a family. That is more difficult, because it is not easy to know in these days what a family is. And so an attempt will be made to provide help in the way of books and pamphlets. One that was suggested, for example, was a pamphlet on how to have family devotions. Families, especially parents, are being called to a new responsibility for Christian education.
But if you are not a parent, then do not think that you are off the hook, or even if you are a parent that that is all your responsibility. Most important of all, the Church is being called to a new responsibility. Here, I think is the meaning of the whole thing, the whole observance and emphasis, in the scripture lesson and the text. Jesus’ family came to take him home because they thought he was psychotic, out of touch with reality, crazy. They said, your mother and your brothers are here, and he looked around him and said, “These are my mother and my brothers; whoever does the will of my father is my mother and brothers.” And the meaning of that verse from that day until this is that the church fellowship is so important and so close and so radically new, that it is like a family and that it replaces a man’s or a child’s natural family. It is as if those who are baptized into the Church have been adopted by new parents, and they learn through their experiences the the common heritage and worship and fellowship, the common experiments in group living, the common mission and hopes and destiny of that family, but like an adopted child, they are brought into the companionship of that family where they learn many things without being told, about how these Christians love one another, how they will sacrifice many things for one another, how they are not even afraid of death. Some may say, the Church is that kind of family, but that is not true. It is that kind of family by the grace of God or not at all.
For parents that means are hard thing. It means that a Christian’s family is the Church, and if we have had our children baptized they are ours because we are also in the Church, and the important relationship that we have to them is that the Church is also in our home, where Christians are also gathered.
For the whole church it means something too. It means taking seriously the responsibility to teach the children, both formally in a Church School, and informally by example. Now all of you were not here last week to participate in the Covenant Service. You will have a chance, however, to make those promises. I understand that there were some by that Covenant. I heard a preacher say once, if I offended you I am sorry, if the Gospel has offended you I am glad. If someone was offended by the Covenant Service then that is probably a sign that it presented the Gospel to us. We can be even more specific, now, if you are not a teacher, then why not? Christian education is your job, and you must treat it as if it were yours along and ask yourself, what am I doing about it?
In the beginning we state the single problem with two parts, Biblical illiteracy and the breakdown of moral integrity. The solution is not simple, it is painful, and requires something like being born again into your new family, by the grace of God. It is easy to become sentimental about children, and talk about doing something for the little things, without any real concern for them as people. If you are a part of the Church then they are as much your responsibility as if you had borne them of fathered them. What are you doing about Christian education? Are you teaching? Are you learning? In this as in any other family the children learn many things without being told. Are you witnessing to the grace and goodness of God in your life? We are the family of God by the grace of God alone, and so the cost is double and the responsibility multiplied. Here are my mother and my brothers.
This sermon was preached by Bill Crouch in 1960 at Trinity Methodist Church in Stony Point, New York. Bill Crouch often said that the members of Trinity taught him how to be a pastor. If you would like to receive copies of Rumors of Angels in your email, you can receive a free subscription in the upper right corner of this blog.