The church is the hope of the world. It is the instrument of God’s redemption and restoration. Which is one of the reasons why the church ought to be the best run, most effective organization on the planet. So, every once in a while we need to be brutally honest with ourselves. Are we doing everything we can to reach everyone we can? And more importantly, because we can’t do everything are we investing in the programs and strategies that will have the greatest impact in our churches, in our communities and in our world for Christ and His Kingdom?
I’m going to get a little metaphorical with an Old Testament passage. And here is where I’m going to get brutally honest. (And maybe a little negative.) In Joshua 7, the Israelites get cocky in their campaign against the Canaanites. They scout out the city of Ai and decide they don’t need to send the whole army. After all, Ai is a puny town with a bunch of girly men (according to the report.) So they send 3000 men. Why weary the whole army? Meanwhile Achan has taken some of the plunder from their last battle and buried it in his tent, directly disobeying God’s command that “everything” was to be destroyed. Consequently, Joshua’s army is routed by the girly-men at Ai and thirty-five men are killed. Joshua is in shock. He goes to God saying, “Did you bring us out here to be slaughtered by the Amorites? Maybe we should have just stayed on the other side of the Jordan River—I’m just saying.” In the end, Achan is found out (with the assistance of an old testament lottery system). He confesses; they take care of him (they take him out and stone him) and go on to defeat the Amorites at Ai. This time they take the whole army.
Let me just be bold. I think church leaders have buried some idols in the church tent. Now, I’m not talking about pornography, infidelity or some moral failure—although there is a lot of press around that. The idol that is buried in the programs of many churches is that we have made the adult worship service and ministry to adults the center of the church. I actually had a senior pastor draw me a picture of this once. Here is what it looked like.
Notice how everything is ancillary to the main thing—the worship service? He explained that the reason this must be so is because it is in the adult worship service where the Word of God is preached. (I’m not sure he knew what was going on in the kid’s classrooms.) I had to clarify that in this case it was the place where the Word of God is preached to adults. After which, a plate is passed around that adults put money into. (I know this was a bit of a cheap shot, but I couldn’t help myself.)
Here is the bottomline—we’ve gotten a little cocky about the effectiveness of our adult strategy. We have only mobilized a portion of the army at only a segment of the population. And, we are getting routed. The influence of the church is declining and future leaders are going undeveloped.
Henrietta Mears said ages ago that when you look at most churches–their programming, their staff, and their budgets–it appears that children must first become prodigals, then we will go about putting together elaborate programs and events to save them. Think about all of the money, volunteers and resources be put behind outreach events for adults. What if we reversed this? What could you do in your community if the worship department gave you the Christmas Pageant Budget? What if all of those countless volunteer hours spent in rehearsals beginning in July (Christmas in July?) were spent praying for children and families, calling and visiting families and their children, and equipping people to become better small group leaders and Sunday school teachers for all of the families that will show up in the fall? What if the adult Sunday school class that has been meeting for the last ten years, disbanded and took all of that knowledge and wisdom they acquired and committed to investing in a small group of kids every week for an entire year? Isn’t that the kind of small group leader or Sunday school teacher we all want for our kids?
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the fact that Jesus put the child in the midst of His ministry and therefore we should put the child in the midst of the church. Not only do I believe that God blesses this, but that if we were really honest this would be the most strategic use of our resources and it would bear the most fruit for the Kingdom of God in the future. I.e. putting children in the middle of the church is a great growth strategy–maybe because it was Jesus’ strategy. Christianity has always been a youth movement.
What would the next generation look like if a church invested in its youngest members? Would we need as many Christmas Pageants and Easter events? Maybe with enough resources we could do VBS every Sunday!