Should youth and children be separated from adults in church and ministry?

What verses do we have which tell us how God has ministered in the past to children and youth and adults? Are they to be together or separate?

In Exodus 10:9, we see that Moses expected children and adults to celebrate festivals to God.

Moses answered, “We will go with our young and old, with our sons and daughters, and with our flocks and herds, because we are to celebrate a festival to the LORD.”

In Deuteronomy 12 , we see God telling the people to worship together (adults, sons and daughters). Especially in verse 12

12 And there rejoice before the LORD your God, you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites from your towns, who have no allotment or inheritance of their own.

In Deuteronomy 31:12, we see Moses telling the people to hear the reading of the Law together – men, women, and children.

12 Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law.

In Joshua 8, we see that Joshua read all the law to the people of Isreal, including men, women, and children:

 34 Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law—the blessings and the curses—just as it is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the aliens who lived among them.

In 2 Chronicles 20:13-14, we see men and wives and children before the Lord.

13 All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD.

 14 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph, as he stood in the assembly.

In Nehemiah 8:1-3, we see all the people assembled to listen to Ezra read the Law of Moses.

1 all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.

 2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

In Nehemiah 10:28-29, we see men, wives, sons, and daughters promised to follow the Law of God.

28 “The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand— 29 all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.

in Joel 2, we see God saying to gather the people – including the children and elders.

16 Gather the people,
consecrate the assembly;
bring together the elders,
gather the children,
those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room
and the bride her chamber.

Indeed, we find that parents are to train their children in the ways of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 4:9-10

9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. 10 Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.”

Deuteronomy 11:18-21

18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the LORD swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

Psalm 78:5

He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children

Proverbs 22:6

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

So we see in scripture that adults and children learned and worshipped together. We see in scripture that parents are to train their children in the ways of God.

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8 Responses

  1. In principle, YES! However, ”Suffer the little children to come unto me….” doesn’t mean they have to ”suffer” in a mixed gathering some of the long drawn out drivel one can as an adult sift through when it comes to some sermons. There little bodies and minds are developing at such a rate that to sit still for a short time or pay attention and concentrate is so often forgotten by preachers and congregations alike.

    • Please show me in scripture where the children and youth were taught the Law and worshipped separately from the adults? All scripture on this topic that I have found shows parents teaching children and the families learning and worshipping together.

      I understand the thinking that children learn differently than adults and have shorter attention spans, but that is a worldly philosophy of education. What ends up happening is that children and youth become entertained but learn very little, have no true faith, and walk away from God as adults.

  2. If it were possible to make a study of all those who have ‘given up’ the practice of the Christian Faith but not given up on God, you would find many who had received their Faith in the manner expressed in scripture and perpetuated by Christians like yourself, who sneer at so called ‘worldly philosophy’. Because it is observed in scripture and practiced by God’s ‘Chosen People’ is no guarantee that the faith will be transmitted to the next generation in its totality because of the problem of ‘free choice’. Just look at the history of the Jews with their umpteen laws.

    The question of whether or not children are always, or have to be present during Church assemblies, and that their presence being exposed to Christian teachings of the life, death and resurrection of Our Lord for me is an open one. Don’t some people wrestle with the scripture to their own destruction? As for modern methods of teaching and communication, like St Paul, we may have to be prepared to go down to hades to seek the ‘lost’.

    I have been engaged with the Homeless in London for the last 4 years with other Christians and time and time again one hears the Church, you and me, coming under fire because of their childhood memory of coersive practices of threats and intimidation by parents and churches during their childhood. I didn’t just hear this in the context of the Homeless but at the place of work, who often considered Christians a humourless bunch of Devil Dodgers.

    I just feel that we should take a long hard look at what we are presenting to our children and how and when we should present it. The Bible does not rule out any particular method of teaching the Good News but it must be done in LOVE – you have just observed that at that time family attendance at the Temple, or in the local synagogue, was the norm, even though both women and children were separated in the assemblies and that women and children were the possession of the husband. Should we advocate that just because it was common practice?

    • Winstone,

      People who give up on Christ have given up on God and never knew either. People who do not obey God do not know God.

      Churches need to disciple their members to the point where they evangelize and disciple others. And these need to evangelize and disciple others to the point where they do the same, etc. This is done with love and through love. True religion is meeting the needs of the needy – putting love for God into practice by practically loving others, and training others to do the same. Churches and parents have failed to do this. Thus, churches become social clubs filled with people who play church but do not know God.

      Many people have failed to follow the model of grace and patience and forgiveness we see Christ and God the Father have modeled for us. We need to teach our parents and others to do exactly that – to share the grace and love God has shown us with others. It seems to me that in the past, people were caught up in the Law and not very aware of grace or love.

      I think we should use models we find in scripture to help us reach those within the family of God and grow strong disciples. I have no problem with those who have no parents or no godly parents being discipled by people in the church who are not heir parents. But the church should not supplant the parents. and godly parents should never look to the church or others to meet their own responsibility of training their children. The church met in each others’ homes, daily, sharing everything. I’m not saying we need socialism (in any way), but we need to voluntarily help each other where we are – loving on people in practical ways, teaching by modeling, teaching by sharing, teaching by speaking love into others’ lives. We need to know God’s word. we need to love God and love others. In general, churches are failing miserably at those things. We need to equip the parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents and brothers and sisters to reach out and love on kids and youth, not segregate them, but include them. The WORLD would have us segregate the children from their parents (ie., look at our education system, which has been moved into our churches). God has the parents living with their children and teaching them by being role models.

      I have always said my kids know how to be kids; I need to train them to be adults. They will not learn how to be godly adults by hanging out with ungodly children. They need role models, and the bibilcal model was not to have 30-50 children to 1 adult, but to have 1 child with multiple adult, or a few children with a few adults. When Jesus was in the synagogue as a child, it was he among many men.

      It is biblical for elders to have young people whom they disciple, but discipleship must occur – not mere entertainment. If an elder would pattern himself after Jesus, follow Jesus’ example of discipleship. Jesus had his inner circle of three, and then the 12, and then the 120, and then the masses. We must all seek to follow the example Christ set for us.

      What I am speaking of is not merely common practice – God said for parents to teach their children. It is our responsibility, and no one else’s. However, I’m not trying to say we shouldn’t step up when there are people who have had no one to love them. Of course we should. We need to share God’s love with others, whether they are in the Church or outside it.

  3. Hi WB

    Sometimes children are in house holds that have parent(s)/ guardian(s) that are ‘Christian’ at Church but are ungodly and hateful towards them at home. There is no biblical instruction in these kind of homes. These kind of children and those children that don’t have parents that even attend Church benefit attending Children’s Church during the adult service. They are exposed to teachers that love them, pray for them, encourage them in the Lord, and teach them about God’s love, what He expects of them, and etc.

    I taught Children’s Church for about 2 years. The two boys (10 and 11) that attended reguarly lived with their grandmother who was less than Christian towards them at home but was well thought of in Church. I was the only one who showed them agape love. The youngest boy would sit outside the Church waiting for me to drive up and then would come greet me with enthusiasm. We learned alot. I sought God for a message from Him to give to them each Sunday. Before each lesson they had a chance to share what was on their hearts, we prayed for their concerns for family and friends, and I prayed that God would give us understanding of His Word. God answered. God would give the boys understanding of His Word beyond their years and one would at times pray as a mature Christian adult. I was blessed and they were blessed.

    When I was a child I had a Sunday School teacher that showed me love. I always wanted to sit with her in Church instead of my mother who was harsh to me at home. I wanted to be with her; I didn’t feel tense around her like I did with my mom. I have never forgotten that teacher. I don’t remember what she taught me in Sunday School and I don’t even remember her name but I remember she showed me, what I considered to be, love.

    Sometimes it is useful, and God can use practices that are not given in Scripture to minister His love, guidance, and instruction to children.

    Maybe Pastors need to focus their attention on the ungodly ways parents are living at home, call them to repentance, to godly living, to becoming disciples of Christ, and instruct them to train up their children in the Lord.

    • Hi Pat,

      I agree. There are plenty of children without a godly parent. But we need to evangelize those parents rather then allowing them to stay where they are spiritually. We need to help children learn godliness from adults. While sometimes an adult can make a difference, its the parents who have the most impact on their children. If we can reach those parents while not ignoring those children then I think we have a dynamic ministry. But I think we make a mistake when we segregate by age.

      It seems to me you were modeling discipleship to these children while you were loving on them. Pastors and teachers all need to call God’s people to a higher standard of living – modeling obedience to God while showing love in practical manners. But so many times we have parents who abandon the children at the door – even those who attend church. Children need to learn to be godly adults from godly adults – and its the churches’ responsibility to grow those godly adults.

      I think we need to call people to show the grace of God and the love of God with others, while being obedient to God. I think, generally speaking, that separating the children from the parents is not a good idea because it goes against what we see in scripture. The family should care for the homeless, the fatherless, the widows. The church should also, but should not have to for those whom have family (Deut 24:19-21, Acts 6:1-4, Rom. 12:13, 1 Timothy 5:16, James 1:27).

  4. WB

    ”People who give up on Christ have given up on God and never knew either. People who do not obey God do not know God.” Your statement – shame on you!

    I don’t know how far arrogance can be stretched but that statement of yours takes the biscuit. In testimony after testimony I have heard in a variety of churches, how many had ”left Christ” but testify that the Shepherd found them and brought them back out of sometimes the most degrading situation for any human being, whether they drifted into it or chose it. Just imagine the black nights of despair resulting from alcoholism, drug addiction, loneliness caused by no family support, abandoned and rejected by society, itself cosmetically Christian. They are not abandoned or given up by God – you have given them up. The story of The Prodigal Son is proof that there is always a possibility of turning round and coming back. We have to walk the extra mile and give our tunics away. We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world because of He who is living in us.

    I said in my original missive that ”in principle YES!” to the question. I was and still am putting forward another point of view. You are presenting an ideal situation – well our world is not ideal and our Christian witness isn’t either, but we do our best. I don’t know where or how high your pedestal is but have you considered the hypocrasy that we have to face everyday. We live in democracies but dare democracy be democratic because individuals hold a completely different philosophy on life. It was a so-called Christian Nation that first used weapons of mass destruction on Japan and is possibly the most armed nation on the planet at this moment with the majority of its population claiming to be Christian, when the Master said that His Kingdom is not of this world. Oh yes, we here in Europe can make great claims for our Christian heritage but the cruel Reformation took place here, two World Wars took place between so-called Christian countries. I am sure the ”world” has very good reasons to reject Christ because of us and our behaviour. I personally don’t mind being part of a Church that acknowledges it can still be wayward – it’s human!

    Jesus spoke in parables – what could be more entertaining than that. We have to deal with the Church as it is not how it was. Give me some examples of what you mean by ”entertainment”! I think Paul would have tap danced the Gospel if he thought it brought someone to repentence but then it would seem you don’t allow freedom of expression, even though I know children return from the edge of the abyss!

    You are offering a ‘straight-jacket’ proclaiming there is only one method or technique to ensure that our children don’t leave us so long as it complies with the literal word of scripture, whereas all I am saying is the Heart of Jesus Christ is beyond anything we can imagine and we are never out of it, whether we are in the Church or away from the church buildings. The Prodigal Son was never out of the heart of his Father – the Prodigal Son found his Father waiting for him – after all that he had done! Christians have every reason to be the greatest optimists in the world – even when its lambs and sheep go astray!

    I have just read what I have written and it does sound a bit harsh. Nevertheless I am sticking by what I have said and hope the pain that LOVE can sometimes bring will bring understanding on your part.

    • Winstone,

      You and I have a different perspective.

      I dont believe one can abandon God and ever have been saved to begin with. This does not mean I do not believe that people can BELIEVE they are saved and not have been to begin with. Scripture is VERY clear, Hebrews 6:4-5

      4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

      But I think that many have been in a situation where they have gone to church, made a statement of faith, believed they were saved, tried to walk the life, and for what ever reason fell away – *I* meet that description. These people do not persevere. It is perseverance which gives evidence of salvation. I think people who do not persevere are not saved with the eternal salvation offered to us. I had a walk like that – I had an experience where my emotions were involved and I had what I THOUGHT was a saving experience. But then I fell away. I became a witch. I most definitely was NOT a follower of God, though I liked to believe I was. Had I been a Christ-follower for real (as opposed to only believing I was), I would have persevered. Luke 8:11-15 tells us,

      11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

      God’s word is clear, we must persevere.
      Mark 13:13

      All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

      Hebrews 3:14

      We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.

      Hebrews 10:36

      You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

      James 1:12

      Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

      Revelation 2:26

      To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations

      Christ (who can not lie, being that He is God) said, in Matthew 7:22-23,

      22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

      How could God say He never knew them when they prophesied in His name and drove out demons and performed many miracles? Its because he never knew them.

      We can have experiences and interpret them incorrectly. I think that is common in the church today. I think the majority of people in churches in western society (at least in the USA) are not saved. For many, its a club experience or a family affair – but not an act of obedience. Many have claimed to be Christian – because their parents were, or it was the right thing, or they were pressured, but they never knew Christ.

      But John was quite clear, you must obey Christ to have known Him – otherwise we lie. 1 John 2:3-5

      3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

      1 John 3:24

      24 Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

      1 John 5:2-4

      2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.

      Indeed, Christ is the source of salvation for those who obey Him.
      Hebrews 5:9

      and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him

      But by the same token, just because we do not know Christ (though we may have thought we did), does not mean God does not love us.
      John 3:16

      For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

      John 14:21

      Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.

      Nor does it mean I have given up on anyone. God WILL bring in His sheep. John 10:14-16

      14 I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

      We are to share the love of God with others in practical ways.
      1 Thessalonians 4:9

      Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.

      Ephesians 5:2

      and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

      No, we dont live in an ideal world. We live in a world damaged by sin. But we heal by taking the medicine we need to take – the word of God, and by acting as we need to – in love towards God and others, and by using what God has given us – His word, His faith, His model. I’m not saying we will get there over night. But we must begin with what we have. We need to evangelize and disciple both within the church and outside it. We need to teach people to be surrendered to God and to become like Christ – being humble servants who obey and love God and love others.
      Philippians 2:3-8

      3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!

      But this does not mean to separate children away from the adults and make them seen and not heard. I think children should minister in the same ways adults do. But only a few will learn that in an environment absent of godly adults, or only with one or two role models. The church is a family and we need to encourage and exhort other family members to live as God would have us live.

      I’m not saying to not reach children in ways they can best be reached. I’m saying we should look for models in scripture and follow those models presented in scripture. I’m not saying to not love people where they are – its what we will do if we are Christian. I’m not saying to not evangelize and disciple children or adults. But use models God has already shown us, and use what God has already provided – the family. The family must be discipled and strengthened by the church – not separated and pulled apart.

      Jesus did not speak parables just to children, nor just to adults. His audiences included both. I dont think the limited time in church should be one or two adults playing video games with teens, nor do I think the time should be spent planning events which do not evangelize or disciple. I have seen lots of games played at youth groups, but only rarely have I seen those games used as object lessons to teach the youth God’s word. I think its great to take kids/youths to go minister or even go to movies/plays which are not sin-filled and then use that time to disciple by pointing out right and wrong as God has said in His word. But the best use of the limited time we have should be to encourage families to be together to minister and evangelize and disciple together. This way we reach and teach parents and children simultaneously – we make true disciples instead of merely inoculating them against the word of God.

      God can use murderers to bring people to Christ. But that’s His job. My job is to become more like Christ, to make disciples as I go, to love God and others, to obey God. I can’t do that if I am expecting someone to entertain me – because when I fail to be entertained, I will think God is missing or God has moved. But in fact, God doesnt demand we be entertained nor that we entertain people – but that we make disciples who obey and love Him. If they do that, then they will love others as well.

      I’m also not saying we can’t have fun, laughing and joking and watching TV or movies or vidoes, listening to music, etc. What I’m saying is that to grow healthy godly adults, we need to flood ministries with people of all ages – including mission trips and helping at the local community centers or old folks homes or hospitals, etc.

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