As part of this EPC youth ministry class that I'm taking out of Covenant Seminary, I have to read Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry by Doug Fields. Yes, this is a spin-off of Rick Warren's books. Yes, he's a youth pastor at Saddleback. Yes, his ideas are over-the-top, but still more orthodox than Rick's ideas.
The first chapter starts great. It contrasts a young youth pastor (a younger Doug Fields) who wants to entertain his kids and have fun with a more mature youth pastor who wants to follow God's plan for the group. That's all great, but I feel like Doug is including God as a way to enhance his youth group, not a youth group to enhance his God. But still, I'm sure that's not intentional and that Doug really does care about how God ordains youth ministry and all ministry.
Before I get to what I really want to talk about, I must include this ironic quote from the Purpose Driven Church.
"Strong churches are not built on programs, personalities, or gimmicks. They are built on the eternal purposes of God." This is from the man who has not only a traditional and contemporary service, but a Hawaiian worship service. This is from the man who has a roller coaster in the children's wing of his church.
Moving right along, Rick identifies 5 purposes that Doug passes on in his book. They are based on the Great Commandment, "Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength and love your neighbor as yourself," and the Great Commission, "Go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." At this point, I agree that these two statements are purpose of the Church. We exist to worship God. Worship happens when God and all the people who have been redeemed are together enjoying each other in the same room. If this is true worship, then I believe the Great Commission will occur naturally. People will come to know Jesus and be saved simply because we worship, not because we have some evangelism committee.
Rick takes these two statements and draws FIVE purposes from them: worship, evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, and ministry. I agree that man was created to glorify God and enjoy him forever. I believe the church was created to help man follow that goal. Yes, worship is definitely the chief purpose of church. The other four purposes, however, are extensions of that purpose.
If you worship God then you will want to bring your friends to church to worship him, too. That's evangelism, getting people in the door. However, that is just one step in God converting souls. The real action in creating worshipers of God is not just getting them in the door, but nurturing them. This is discipleship. Through discipleship, believers fellowship with each other and ministry should result when we truly learn to love people because we love God. So, Rick and Doug make church more complicated than it was intended to be back give us 5 tasks instead of just the one purpose in which God created us, to worship him.
So, I've boiled down the 5 purposes of church to just two. Worshiping God and teaching people how to worship him. The latter is where Christian education comes into play.
Knowing that, I do like Doug's idea of making a purpose statement. This will let all the people know why I work at Trinity EPC and why my helpers do what they do. Why does Cathy teach elementary Sunday School, Shannon the man teach adult Sunday School, and my father and I co-teach the teens Sunday School? Why do I teach children's church while the sermon is being preached when it's really the same thing as elementary Sunday School? It is because I work in this church to teach kids how to truly glorify God and enjoy him forever. To do so, they need to know God, know his Scriptures, and know how to live for God on the other days of the week.
Understanding that, I now know why we need both Sunday School and Children's Church. Children need as much exposure to the basics of the Word and theology as possible. If we had only Children's church or only Sunday School, then they would get a very limited dosage of the Bible and graduate high school not knowing about Elijah or Abraham or the exile to Babylon. This is tragic. With both SS and CC, I taught on the Patriarchs in the fall, and Cathy taught the same thing in SS, reinforcing the lesson. Now that I have moved on to miracles of Jesus, Cathy still takes of from where she left off and has taught about Joshua and Ruth. This way, we get both reinforcement and speed the children through the basic Bible passages without them even noticing.
This purpose also helps me clarify which ages need which class. I have now discovered the hard way that age 11 is too old for CC. We promoted the one boy to teen Sunday School, which leaves us pondering the appropriate age limit for CC. I sometimes think that 4th grade is also too old for CC, but I don't believe in promoting them to the middle school and fifth grade class because they are still not on the same level as the fifth-grader. Also, we would have no transition program between CC and teen SS. If we end CC at 3rd grade, then they will have one year without special attention on them. At this point, Trinity is not at a place where it can have an after-church-hour program. So, for convenience sake, it is good to have CC for grades Kindergarten to 4th grade, and teen Sunday School for 5th grade and middle school. Once my regulars are old enough for high school, we will form a different class for that, too.
Until then, we must focus on teaching the kids who God is so that they can worship him both on Sunday and at school during the week, and such knowledge should drive them to want to minister to people and invite their friends to church. I do think we should start trying to do some service project, but that might be someone else's forte. I do the head work, and someone else can do the compassionate work.