Spreading God's Glory to the Next Generation Together
August 14, 2016 Speaker: Bret Rogers
Topic: Children's Ministry
Sermon from Selected Texts by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Topic: A Theology for Ministry to Children
Delivered on August 14, 2016
Normally, we preach through books or specific passages in the Bible—we’ve been in James recently. But occasionally we break from that pattern and make observations from a number of Bible passages to equip you on a particular topic. This morning, we’re going to look at the theological foundation for ministry to children in the home and in this local church. I’ve titled it, Spreading God’s Glory to the Next Generation Together.
I want us to look at a theology for ministry to children for several reasons. First of all, it’s usually only the people teaching in DIG that get a lot of this theology, but we desire the whole church to hear it. And since we’re kicking off Discipleship Hour next week, it’s a good time to work through these truths together.
Moreover, we have many new folks who’ve joined our church over time. Some of you are less familiar with our vision for children’s ministry. So, it’s good that we all hear from the Bible together and see what the Lord’s will is for our children, why we do what we do as a church, and what some of our ministry to them looks like. Later, Michael Sanks will speak to us about the DIG ministry in particular.
Another reason is that I’m simply thankful for all those who have served our children over the years, who have served in DIG and Nursery and VBS, who have come alongside our parents during hard weeks and valued our children. I’m thankful for mothers who labor hard every day, for the teachers and law enforcement officials in this church who’ve made it their vocation to serve children outside these walls. This sermon is just one big Thank You for and affirmation of your service.
Finally, the rebellious world around us continues to devalue children and has set an agenda for our children that is Christ-less and corrupting. In the Bible, it was a Pharaoh or a Herod killing babies to protect their throne. It was nations sacrificing their children to false gods. It was entire communities who ignored the orphan and looked down on children as unimportant.
The rebellious world we live in still devalues children. We see it still in things like abortion, abuse, and neglect. We see it in entire communities of people who refuse to care for the orphan, because they’re too busy building their portfolio. We see it in those who turn away the children seeking refuge from unstable and life-threatening situations. We even see it among people who put themselves above serving children.
Moreover, the rebellious world has an explicit agenda to corrupt our children’s thinking. One of the most pointed places that I’ve seen this recently is in the public education system. Now, what I’m about to disclose isn’t to say that you shouldn’t put your kids in public school. I’m thankful that some of you do have your kids in public school—we need to befriend our community in this way. I’m simply bringing this up as an example of how the world has an explicit moral agenda for our children.
While I can’t speak for every institution, I can say that many school districts across the country—including some in Austin and Houston already—are adopting a moral vision like the one promoted by the Human Rights Campaign.[i] You can read it for yourself at the website, welcomingschools.org. But essentially, this organization exists to train school districts “to embrace family diversity, create LGBTQ-inclusive schools…and support transgender and gender-expansive students.” They’re training institutions to indoctrinate our children with a false vision of human sexuality and gender.
They’re even writing children’s books like I Am Jazz, the description of which says this: “From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body.” This is a children’s book. Inner-wrestling of this sort may very well be genuine, especially in a broken world with broken minds; and we need to listen and show compassion toward children in this state. But to affirm that wrestling against God’s good design instead of pointing them to their value as image bearers and the redemption of the whole person in Christ, is not loving and it’s destructive and enslaving.
The world has an agenda to confuse our children on what it means to be human, created unique in God’s image. Do we have an agenda? And is it rooted in God’s word? We must teach our children of their Creator’s agenda for them to find their everlasting joy in him through Jesus Christ.
1. God Spreads His Glory through Image-Bearers
Those are a few reasons why we’re talking about a theology for ministry to children. So where should we begin this theology? Let’s begin where the Bible begins at creation, and look at this truth: God spreads his glory through image-bearers reflecting his character when they know him, enjoy him, love him, and obey him.
Genesis 1 teaches us that God created the universe, and on the sixth day he created man and woman in his image. Genesis 1:27-28, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”
Part of being made in God’s image is for male and female to represent and reflect God rule through our joint rule over the created order (cf. 1 Cor 11:7). God governs the world in righteousness and generosity; we represent him when we rule alongside each other in righteousness and generosity. Matthew 5:16 also teaches that our good deeds shine like a light, pointing people to God’s character and worth: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (cf. Matt 5:9, 44-45).
Also, when God’s eternal Son takes on human flesh, Jesus “is the image of the invisible God”—Colossians 1:15. In his humanity, Jesus reveals everything about God perfectly (cf. John 1:18; 2 Cor 4:4). He is the image of God in all its perfection. The best way for us to learn what it means to be image-bearers is not by simply observing what makes us different from animals, but by looking at Jesus. Insofar as we live like Jesus, we too become mini-reflectors of what God is like (cf. Rom 8:29; Col 3:10; 2 Cor 8:23). We tell the world a story of how great and glorious and worthy God is.
Adam and Eve were to be fruitful and multiply—have children—so that the earth would be full of his image-bearers rightly reflecting his glory. Every child comes into the world as God’s image bearer (cf. Gen 5:1-3; Ps 8). God made and fashioned every child this way (Ps 119:73). Therefore, children have value as God’s image bearers and incredible potential to reflect God’s character with their lives and spread his glory. Children will only flourish when they understand why they exist and what their every breath is for: they exist because God made them, and they breathe to relate to their Maker, enjoy his presence, and to reflect his character in all that they do with their lives. We must help them know who they are before God.
2. Every Generation Desperately Needs the Gospel
A second truth is this: every generation is born in sin, influenced by a corrupt world system, and, therefore, in desperate need of the gospel. We’re shifting now from what the creation should be to the reality of life on this side of Adam’s rebellion. Every child born into the world on this side of Genesis 3 still bears God’s image (Gen 5:1-3; cf. Gen 9:6; Jas 3:9), but sin seriously perverts that image. We’re not just mankind, but mankind in revolt. Our ability to reflect God’s character properly is lacking.
Romans 5:12, “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Children, just like old people, die because of sin inherited from Adam. Ephesians 2:3, “…we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Among the vices that merit God’s wrath in Romans 1:30 is disobedience to parents. Children enter the world rebellious. You don’t have to teach them to be selfish.
Children are also surrounded by a corrupt world system. First John 5:19 says, “…the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” And Ephesians 2:2 says that, apart from God’s grace, we will follow the evil one in this world. So children come into the world with rebellion inside and surrounded by rebellion outside; and they’ll be held accountable according to what they know is true and right (cf. Rom 1:18-25).
On top of that, the book of Proverbs and a couple instances in the New Testament show that children lack the maturity to discern good from evil (Prov 1-3; 1 Cor 14:20; Heb 5:12-13). They enter the world ignorant of good from evil, wise from foolish, truth from lies, beauty from wretchedness. That’s not something we criticize them for, look down on them for; it’s something we patiently help them out of in the same way that God patiently led us out of our ignorance. So a lot is against them.
Their only hope for rescue is the same as our only hope for rescue—the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What’s our Fighter Verse this week, church? “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek…”—Romans 1:16. It is the gospel, the good news, the word of Christ that saves adults as well as children from their bondage to sin and from their attraction to the evil world. It is the gospel that opens our eyes to truth and to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
If we know the desperate need that children have for the gospel—because that’s our need too—and if we know as they grow up and mature that they’re becoming more and more accountable before God for what they know, and that the gospel is the only hope for deliverance from judgment, then we should be wholly involved in bringing it into their lives. Even from day one, we can be praying that God would protect them from the corruption in the world and that he would give them life in Christ through the gospel. Far be it from us to win our neighbors afar while neglecting the children right in front of us. We must labor to save both (Matt 28:18-20; 1 Tim 3:4; Tit 2:4).
3. Children Can Understand God’s Salvation & God Saves Children
Which leads us to a third truth: children have the intellectual capacity to understand God’s saving acts in Christ and God is able to save children. Take Exodus 12:26 for example. This is just before God rescues his people from Egypt. He’s teaching them about the Passover, and he says this: “When your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this [Passover] service?’ You shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’”
The assumption is that children can understand God’s judgment on Egypt and God’s undeserved mercy to Israel. Children can understand what it means to hide themselves in the blood to escape God’s wrath. The Passover became an object lesson for the coming generation (cf. Josh 4:6, 20, 21).
Or think of the other metaphors the Bible uses to describe God. Proverbs 18:10 for example, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous man runs into it and he is safe.” Any kid that builds towers for his army men knows what it means to run for safety. The Proverb points them to where they should find their safety. Or take Jesus, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock”—Matthew 7:24. Kids can understand what this means just from their own basic encounters with sand and rock.
Or what about the assumption in Psalm 78:2-3, 7? “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done…[the whole point being] so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.”
We see this same pattern play out with Timothy and his Grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (2 Tim 1:5). We don’t hear much about Timothy’s dad except for that he was a Greek (Acts 16:1, 3). But these two women apparently taught the Bible to Timothy throughout his childhood. Second Timothy 3:15, “…from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
The Bible assumes that children can understand key things about the Lord and how he saves, and that these things can make them wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Even if they still lack saving faith and resist God right now, what we want to do is harness every bit of their God-given capacity to understand him, so that through understanding him more they will come to trust in him, Lord willing. Romans 10:17, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Acts 2:39 also says this about the promise of forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit: “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” In other words, grace doesn’t show preference for ethnicity or age. He commands all people—no matter what ethnicity, no matter what generation—to repent and believe in the gospel. And many times, it seems that he is pleased to save even children, so that they believe and they are baptized and become participants in his church.[ii]
4. Parents & the Church Must Declare God’s Glory to Children
Fourth: parents have a great responsibility, with the assistance of the whole church, to declare God’s glory to the next generation. Whether we’re talking about the old covenant people, Israel, or the new covenant people, the church, God commissions parents with the primary responsibility for the spiritual nurture of their children.
Deuteronomy 6:4-6, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (cf. Deut 4:9-10; 11:18, 19; Joel 1:3).
The point is that parents should be so full of God’s word that they’re talking to their children about it all the time. It’s not something we wait for others to teach them on Sunday. It’s something on our hearts all the time—when you rise, when you lie down, and every moment in between. And our prayer is that through our testimony of the Lord and his grace, our children will set their hope in God (Ps 78:5-7).
Fathers, this privilege and responsibility lays especially on us. Proverbs includes the mother’s instructions as well (Prov 1:8). But fathers lead out here. Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” As best we can, we help them value Christ and his kingdom. Only God can save. Salvation is of the Lord. But he also uses means. Parents preaching the gospel are the primary means. The primary responsibility to teach the next generation is on parents.
Thankfully, the Scriptures show us that whatever the Lord demands of parents, the Lord also graciously provides. His provision in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus unites us to every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places so that we lack nothing as parents. Ephesians 6:4, the place I just read about fathers raising their children—that passage comes within the larger context of having our image renewed in Christ (Eph 4:24) and being filled with God’s Spirit (Eph 5:18). We cannot do this well on our own—we need God renewing us and filling us.
And even more, part of God’s gracious plan throughout Scripture is also to unite his faithful ones to a whole family of redeemed people. Jesus says that when we leave our selfish ambitions to follow him, we gain all kinds of “brothers and sisters and mothers and children”—Mark 10:30. Galatians 6:2 says that we should bear one another’s burdens. Colossians 3:16 says we are to admonish one another in the word of Christ—I need you to rebuke me if I’m being harsh with my children.
We must come alongside each other to help parents raise children in the Lord’s ways. I think this is part of what 1 Corinthians 7:14 is about. “Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” Children of believing parents have full access to the gospel witness and the influence of God’s people. That doesn’t mean they’re automatically saved or should be baptized as infants. But they do benefit from the incredible blessings of God’s people caring for them.
And what about children who get saved, but don’t have Christian parents? What about children who come to know Christ, but don’t have a ride to our gatherings? What about children who love Jesus, but don’t have a father or mother to shepherd them? Is it not the place of the church to provide the family they lack? Is it not the place of the church to provide the refuge and peaceful companionship they’re seeking? You bet it is! Part of reflecting God’s character as image-bearers includes reflecting God’s heart for children, the most vulnerable, the orphan. Jesus proved himself servant of all by welcoming the little ones into his arms (Matt 19:14; Mark 9:35-37). He is the image of the invisible God. If we’re above serving children, then we cannot follow Jesus.
If you’re without children, look around the room and see your children. Look around the room and see the parents you can encourage in the gospel as they try to raise children—we need your help and your gifts. One of the most encouraging friendships I’ve had in my parenting has been with a single brother. Jesus and Paul never had children, nor were they ever married. But that didn’t keep them from speaking into the lives of parents and children. Parents and children need everybody in this room.
Whether you’re still married and happy, still married and doubtful, whether you’ve experienced divorce, separation, or the death of a spouse, or whether you’ve always been single, if you are in Christ, you’re not alone in nurturing your children in God’s truth. God purchased the body of Christ to help watch your children in the pews, sit with your children in Sunday School, cry with you for their salvation, sing of their conversion, discipline them in love, care for them with the gospel of God’s grace, and provide aid for them when your family is in need. God’s family is much bigger than we tend to think. We’re not alone in this.
That doesn’t mean the church replaces the parent’s role in raising their children in the Lord. But it does mean that we minister alongside each other, since you are family and your needs are my own—intentionally finding ways to pray, equip, sharpen, correct, encourage, teach, listen, counsel, and so forth.
5. God Is Worthy of Praise from Generation to Generation
One last truth before Michael comes and puts some of this theology on the ground: God is worthy to be praised not only among all peoples but also across all generations. Psalm 71:14-18, “My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.”
Hear that, Grandparents! Old age is for proclamation of Lord’s deeds to next generations. Psalm 145:1-3, “I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”
God’s infinite worth never changes. He is always supremely glorious and worthy of our praise and adoration. He deserves exclusive worship from every generation that he creates and sustains. And we know, just from reading the storyline of Scripture, that God does save people from every generation. Even through the most desolate times, he preserves for himself a remnant. And one day, all that remnant from every age whose bodies now lay in the grave—God will raise them from the dead and bring them into his cosmic temple-city, so that together they might enjoy making much of God forever.
Let us labor and pray together that God will be pleased to save the next generation sitting with us today, so that they too will join us in the enjoyment of making much of God forever.
[i]E.g., http://kut.org/post/how-austin-isd-trying-fight-gender-stereotypes-and-embrace-diverse-families; http://www.childstudysystem.org/welcoming-schools.html.
[ii]The Scriptures seem to assume that some children are in fact saved and could receive Paul’s instructions as members of the new-covenant community. Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord;” Colossians 3:20, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” Cf. also Mark 13:12, “And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child,” presumably because of the child’s faith in Jesus; Acts 2:39, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”