Lately I have been thinking about the strategy that the church uses as a means to encourage the spiritual formation of others, specifically children. The following is a continuation of articles that attempts to understand how we can do this (better).
With any strategy, a teacher must have some way of knowing when she is reaching or has achieved her objectives. The church must, therefore, have a simple way of acknowledging whether it is being successful or not. Barna suggests three such standards for defining success and the author will give another. The first is â€œwidespread parental involvement in the spiritual development of the children.â€ This is a simple way for determining whether the childrenâ€™s ministry is successful or not. One could simply take the parents of the participating children and determine how many of them are involved. The second is â€œstrategically equipping parents.â€ One could observe how many equipping opportunities are available for parents, and of those available opportunities, how many parents took part in the training. A third measure of success would be â€œthe transformed life of the child.â€ This measure is very subjective because it is hard to determine what is going on in the heart of a child by watching the behavior in the limited time a teacher has with the child during a class or other activity.
Proverbs 4:23 states, â€œAbove all else, guard your heart, for it is the well spring of life.â€ The way a person acts is an expression, a wellspring, or overflow of the heart. The heart determines behavior. Mark 7:21â€“23 says, â€œFor from within, out of menâ€™s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man â€˜unclean.â€™â€ Luke 6:45 says, â€œThe good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.â€ A strategy of the church must address the heart (what is going on inside) along with expressed outward behavior.
In addressing a similar issue Tripp says, â€œA biblical approach to educating children involves two elements that you weave together. One element is rich, full communication. The other is the rod or correction (See Proverbs 23:13-19, 22, 26.)â€ The didactical writings of the Bible, specifically the Law of the Old Testament were given to make the people of God see the impossibility of keeping it and to cry out to God for mercy. The law must be followed (telling the truth, honoring oneâ€™s parents, etc.), but it is only when oneâ€™s bend is toward God that they can keep the intention of the law which is a dependence upon God. If that bend is away from God, a person becomes like the Pharisees. Matthew 23:27â€“28 references this type of outwardly religious but inwardly rebellious person; â€œWoe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead menâ€™s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.â€ If a church focuses only on correcting outward behavior, but does not communicate enough with the children to determine what is transpiring in the heart, they have not successfully ministered to children. This is not a suggestion that the church should â€œbear the rodâ€ of correction but only that the church should emphasize relationship and communication in its educational endeavors with children.
The Pharisees looked religious and obedient to God on the outside, but their hearts were far from God. The measure of success should not be proper behavior alone (sitting quietly in their seat, saying â€œyes maâ€™am or no maâ€™am,â€ etc.) but a heart reliant upon and sold out for God. Discipline in the classroom and the home must be carried out to show specifically where the child has displeased God. It is this process of showing the child, according to the Bible, why what they have done is wrong that the child makes the decision to follow God and not the world. If the parent or church stops at only correcting behavior alone, and giving no explanation of why a standard of behavior is required, then they are raising Pharisees not true worshippers of Christ. Again, the earlier this process begins, the easier it is for the childâ€™s heart to be bent toward God and away from their natural heartâ€™s desire to sin. This is the heart of Deuteronomy 6 where it discusses a constant conversation with the child. This ideally is to be accomplished by the parents during their daily living, not one hour on Sunday morning by a teacher.
Romans 1:18â€“20 states, â€œThe wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.â€ In the language of Romans, a child will either respond to God by faith or they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. In his rebellion, he will actually hide the truth from himself. It is the parentâ€™s and the churchâ€™s responsibilities to guide the child toward faith in God (through teaching and correction) and to point out when the child is worshipping something other than God, thereby suppressing the truth in his life.
A fourth way of defining success is to have a diagnostic test of some kind that would effectively measure the knowledge of the child as he progresses through the years and stages of the ministry. One such test could be a life application challenge given in the classroom. For example, if the lesson is on â€œSpending Time with God,â€ the life application challenge could be for the child to have a daily devotional time. The teacher could then ask the child in a nonjudgmental fashion, â€œDid you have a devotional time this week?â€ When this information is received and reviewed, it can become the goal of the church to increase the total average over time by trying different strategies. Actual numbers and data give the leadership and parents something to work with as a basis to project realistic goals. Regarding this issue Barna has said, “In order to meaningfully operationalize these (or other) desired outcomes, we start by tying our search for clues (for spiritual growth) to the means of measurement. Here are some means through which we can evaluate outcomes: Formal evaluation tools â€“ written tests, oral tests, essays, competitions and homework assignments. Self-report evaluation tools â€“ surveys, inventories and profiles. Conversation and dialogue â€“ language used, reasoning skills, foundational worldview expressed and interactive engagement. Observable behavior or perspectives â€“ attendance, volunteerism, invitations, donations, professed beliefs, memorized beliefs, physical condition and body language. Inferences from choices â€“ character of friends, media preferences, spending habits, social activity, attire and appearance.
Assessment can be formal or informal. At the more formal extreme are written tests of ability and knowledge. On the informal extreme would be casual observation. Both of these measurements can be used together to give an administrator a more complete picture.
 Barna, Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions, 101.
 Tripp, Shepherding A Childâ€™s Heart, 74.
 Rom 3:20
 John 4:24
 Ps 51:5
 Barna, Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions, 130.