I don’t think it’s a sin for church to be fun, I just believe there are other values which take precedence over it. For example, take the value of meaningfulness. If I had to choose whether something was to be fun or meaningful, the latter will win every time. In fact, I would hope that if I wanted something to be fun that generally it would work in concert with being meaningful. If a church ever finds itself though choosing fun in spite of meaningfulness it risks running itself aground on the rocky shores of the trivial.
I can’t think of any sphere in the local church which walks this philosophical tightrope more than children’s ministries. Should a children’s ministry be a fun place? I think so. I believe “fun” speaks the language of a child (and often adults), it’s the medium in which most learn best. Yet if the attempt at fun isn’t balanced by the value and virtue of being meaningful I believe great damage can be done to the Gospel by trivializing it for children.
For example, what if your child went to Sunday School and played a healthy game of “Pin the Cross on the Donkey” (of course this would be a biblical donkey, likely the foal Jesus used on Palm Sunday)? I think many a mature believer might look with disdain upon that activity. Why? Because it cheapens the message of the Gospel. It takes something which should be very weighty and clumsily treats it as if it were light as a feather. It reduces the core of our faith to a child’s plaything. It’s trivializing. While you may have never played a game as such, I wonder if you could give examples at your church of how the Gospel had been trivialized all in the name of fun.
Furthermore, I don’t think this is lost on children. While I don’t believe it is the sole factor, I wonder if it contributes in no small way to the exodus of pre-teens and teenagers from following Jesus as they get older. It’s no secret in the “church world” that the further you move up in grade the more students leave the church. It’s not uncommon to have a student ministry composed of a senior class that you could fit in a thimble. Could it be that as those boys and girls in the transition to becoming young men and women felt that in addition to getting rid of Barbie dolls, Pokemon cards and a host of other childish endeavors, Jesus also was on the list.
And the reason he was left curbside as these individuals continued their trek into adolescence is because in the past Jesus was all too often obscured under activities which painted him and the Kingdom he is bringing as silly, childish, laughable, flippant…trivial. Ironically (and regrettably), the means often used to attract kids to Jesus becomes as they get older the very thing which repels them from Jesus. Silly rabbit, Jesus is for kids.
Children’s ministries (and adult ministries as well) need to be wary of the temptation of trivialization. While fun can (and I think should) be an integral part of learning one must make sure that in the end that the learning which is occurring meaningfully presents Jesus in his totality as the Christ, Son of the Most High God, Sovereign of the Universe, the One who has come primarily not to teach kids (and adults) moral values which need to embedded into their little lives but comes for those very lives themselves. Children need to understand that the demands of the Gospel aren’t trimmed down for them because of their age, on the contrary, children should be all the more encouraged to grow and deepen their commitment to the Gospel because of the wonderful, dependent, childlike faith many of them already possess. Leaders would do well to drill down on their faith commitment by helping kids see God pictured in full biblical scope, a scope that refuses to be trivialized, a scope that should be reflected at church in what kids see, sing and learn.
Children’s ministries are given the task of helping lay a foundation of faith that lasts for the long haul, a well-laid faith, a faith that not only remains with us into adulthood but propels us there. Those are the waters in which I want my children to sail. I want them to enjoy God and revere him. I want them to deal with sober truths about God – truths that give them a holy shudder and dissipates any smoke of triviality – as much as I want them to deal with truths that make them smile and jump for joy. I want them to know that God, as C.S. Lewis penned in his children’s classic The Chronicles of Narnia in his description of the Christ-figure Aslan, “is good but not safe.” I want them to treasure Christ, to adore his work at the Cross, to seek his glory in their lives and forever be amazed and humbled by grace. I want them to know Jesus bids them to come and die, that he doesn’t just want a piece of their day, their week or their life but that he comes for it all. I want them to trust with every fiber of their being that the sum of life and everything lived in it is Jesus. And I can’t help but believe that if my children embrace those types of truths about Christ it will only move them to build upon that foundation with greater fervency and fidelity as they march toward adulthood
…and well into it.
For the love of Jesus and the love of children, beware of the temptation of trivialization.
P.S. – So I’m not misunderstood I must add I believe my church’s children’s ministry is seeking to do exactly that. Indeed, it is because of a prior dialogue with them about this very issue that I felt compelled to blog about it. So, thanks Creek Kids!