To be a Christian is to be about the business of disciple-making. Every person we come across, by definition, is either a disciple, or a potential disciple—and children are no exception to this. At Emmaus, we are passionate about the biblical, theological, and spiritual formation of children. We look at their presence in our corporate gatherings, our classrooms, and our homes as an incalculable opportunity—a stewardship from God that we do not want to squander. This stewardship belongs to the entire church in the general, and it is particularly concentrated to parents in the particular.
To flesh this concept out a bit further, those of us who are serving in Emmaus Kids ministry—who are teaching and instructing and demonstrating the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Word of God to our babies, toddlers, and children in K-2nd grade—take our responsibility seriously and soberly. A great honor and weight falls squarely on the shoulders of those who serve in this ministry. But woe to the church, and woe to the parents represented therein, if we ever begin have the impression that the primary discipleship of our kids belongs to volunteers on Sunday morning! These ministries don’t exist to give parents the opportunity to outsource their responsibility to disciple their own children. They exist as supplementary gifts to come alongside and aid parents in their duty train up their kids in the knowledge and discipline of God. They are intended as opportunities for the members of Emmaus to live out the “one anothers” of Scripture, but the primary God-ordained method for discipling children is parent-disciplers. A brief survey of Scripture makes this point clear:
Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children. – (Deuteronomy 4:9)
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. – (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. – (Deuteronomy 11:19)
… When your children ask in time to come, “What do those stones mean to your?” then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD… – (Joshua 4:6-7)
Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. – (Proverbs 1:8-9)
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. – (Proverbs 22:6)
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. – (Ephesians 6:4)
Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. – (Colossians 3:21)
Discipleship through Worship
So, how can parents do this? Well, one simple way is by keeping their children in the worship service with them. Soon, we will be offering a service for our 3rd-5th grade kids, for all of the same reasons we offer our other Emmaus Kids programs. But, this 3rd-5th grade service will never turn into a weekly event. Do you want to know why? It’s not because it’s too much work. It’s because we believe that it is a benefit for our children to worship (through song and through submission under the preached Word) with their parents! By the way, this is why even for the K-2nd graders we do dismiss into their own classrooms, we wait to dismiss them until after the music portion of our service. From a logistical point of view, it would actually be much easier to dismiss them before our call to worship. But the general benefits of having our children worship with their parents are just too good to pass up for the sake of logistical practicality.
The nonverbal messages that come from including children in the service are communicating a lot to them. They are learning that the corporate gathering includes activity that is relevant to them (church isn’t just for “mom and dad”). They are seeing their parents worship God through song. They are seeing their parents confess sin with the rest of the congregation. They are seeing their parents listening intently to the word being preached. They are seeing their parents stand up to take communion. By seeing their parents value the corporate gathering of the church as an important aspect of life, the children are themselves learning how important the corporate gathering is.
Further, by being present during all of these activities in the corporate gathering, the children are accumulating pictures to understand the gospel. They are learning the general “melody” of exaltation, meditation, confession, assurance of pardon, submission to the Word of God, and response—even though they won’t understand the complex “harmonies” that will give the tune a more robust sound until they are much older. They may not fully comprehend the broken body and shed blood of Jesus at first, but as they grow older, they will already have the groundwork to make sense of the gospel by watching it reenacted every Sunday Morning by mom and dad.
Discipleship through Catechisms
And this is why we are going to begin catechizing our kids. What is a catechism, and what does it mean to catechize a child? Great questions, I’m glad you asked. A catechism is a series of questions and answers that summarize and exposit basic doctrines. They serve to construct a worldview for our children, by answering questions, not only about the bible, but about life in general. This is important because, the reality is, our children are being catechized already. Our world is not a neutral place, and whether it is in movies, TV, music, social media, or other outlets, our children are constantly being trained to view the world a particular way. Let me give you a few examples from our world’s catechism:
Question: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: To be true to one’s self, follow one’s heart, and be happy at all cost.
Question: Is it possible for one to have a sinful desire?
Answer: No, desires are by definition good, and if one suggests that my desire is sinful, he is a bigot and is against me as a person.
Question: Where is one’s most basic foundation of identity?
Answer: One’s sexuality; one is not true to one’s self unless one finds one’s identity fundamentally there.
You get the idea. Christian catechisms can be useful to combat these untruths for our children and give them a biblical framework to see the world the way God intends. So when they are told time and time again that the chief end of man is “to be true to one’s self, follow one’s heart, and be happy at all cost,” they don’t have to wonder if that is true or not; they already know that the chief end of man is actually to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
Of course, this is not to say that catechizing our kids will guarantee conversion. We believe that salvation belongs to the Lord. But by giving our children a biblical worldview, a thought-category and biblical formulation of the gospel, we are shoveling kindling into their little hearts so they’ll have everything necessary to be set ablaze with gospel truth, should the Holy Spirit see fit to light the match.
So, every week, we will be providing our parents with a catechism question and answer. For now, we’re primarily borrowing resources from Founders Ministries. So for ages 2 through 4th grade, we’ll be using a modified version of A Catechism for Boys and Girls, and for 5th-8th grade children, we’ll be using a modified version of The Shorter Westminster Catechism. The idea is for these catechism questions and answers to be fodder for conversation in your homes throughout the week. Be creative, parents, with pointing out the relevance of these catechism topics throughout your day, and let them serve as occasions for worship and instruction.