Christian Education—The Spiritual Stumbling Block of the Church Today

unnamed 2I recently returned from our second preteen mission trip this summer. On this trip, the preteens (3rd thru 6th graders) were released to share the Gospel through music, sharing their testimonies, and teaching Bible studies, games, and crafts. Before they arrived on the trip, they went through special training to prepare them for their ministry.

One leader shared what she observed on Monday when Kenly (11-year-old) was teaching: “She told me after she taught that she was so nervous she forgot what to say. She prayed and said, ‘God, please help me, please help me.’ You could not even tell she was scared.” 

Kenly described her experience in this way: “I was doing the Bible study. I was, like, really nervous and scared. Something just came over me and gave me the courage and confidence to be able to, like, to know what to say in front of all of the kids.”

After leading 33 preteen mission trips with more than 3,500 children, I have found this to be a common occurrence. The Lord moves powerfully in their lives when they are allowed to be the church today. Sadly, the church has become a major stumbling block to kids. Our approach to children’s ministry, where children are told to just sit and listen while someone ministers to them, is killing their faith.

Christian education often hinders the work of the Holy Spirit because we tend to look at children from an intellectual perspective versus seeing what the Holy Spirit can do in any child’s life who knows Christ. We age-grade kids by their developmental learning styles so that as they move from being concrete to abstract thinkers, they will be able to grasp the things of God.

We are not teaching kids reading, writing, and arithmetic. We are teaching them how to live by faith…how to walk with the risen Savior and understand their place in the body of Christ to serve now in building His kingdom. Children do not receive a “baby” Holy Spirit; they receive THE Holy Spirit. They receive everything adults do at the new birth.

We are giving them knowledge of Scripture, but not the whole package. One of the greatest rebukes Jesus gave His disciples was due to their hindrance of kids. It was very upsetting to Him to see the disciples rebuking children and not allowing them to come to the Master. The church today is guilty of the same. Somehow, we believe that by sidelining them and only letting them listen to Bible stories each week, we are somehow building their faith and that this is what Jesus wants.  

We have set in place a model in the church that is not biblical. The 20-80 rule is not a biblical model of the church. Each believer in Christ, including kids, is gifted by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13). However, almost every church I have visited in recent years has about 20 percent or less ministering to the majority. Most are just sitting and listening.

The same is true with our kids—they are only allowed to be spectators in the game, and they will most likely never be permitted to play. The church is like pro sports. The “best” people are the only ones who play the game while everyone else watches them play. No wonder so many churches are plateaued or dying. It takes EVERYONE to build the church. It takes everyone in the church to reach the lost and make disciples…not just a few. It is not a one-man show.

I have had the privilege of leading 33 mission trips with thousands of preteens (9–12-year-olds). It is amazing to watch what happens when they are released to minister outside the church. The Lord shows up in amazing, powerful ways in their lives. They confidently minister in His power, and they feel His presence in ways they never would have experienced in a building. They mature very rapidly when they are not impeded by the church (aka adults).

One leader this summer observed the maturity and confidence of the preteens on his team. He watched them minister, pray, and lead kids to Christ. He told me, “I no longer look at these guys as kids. They are like little adults. God uses them just as well or better than most adults.”

I want to challenge you to look at kids as the church today. If you don’t believe this and your mind is set on making them just sit, listen, and wait for their turn, you may very well be causing them to stumble and walk away from a powerless faith.

It is time for you to step out of the box and take part in what the Lord is doing in the lives of children today who have been reached with the Gospel, discipled, trained, and released to minister. You will experience joy in ministry like never before because they did it. They were released to use their gifts to minister and serve in HIS church.

I am here to serve the church. If you need a mentor—someone to come alongside you—please feel free to email me. We can set up a time to talk, or we can set you up with a fellow minister who has stepped out of the kid’s ministry box into a new reality where kids are the church today.