As a simple principle of parenting, there are two stages. The first, from 0-10ish, is the time to pour in Bible content. The second, from 11ish-adult, is the time to help them wrestle with two questions: Is it true? And is it personal?
Let me explain that a bit more. Children tend to be able to absorb content like a sponge. They are not particularly equipped to discern, but they are brilliantly equipped to remember. So it is the time to teach Bible stories, to memorise lots and lots of Bible verses, to help ground them in familiarity with the truths of God’s Word.
Pre-teens and teens are in that transitional stage from childhood to adulthood. They will be facing two questions as time passes. Is this stuff true? They will face challenges from school, from peers, from the media. Fairytales told in childhood won’t hold when sophistication becomes a secular alternative. Therefore make sure they know we don’t believe fairytales. The historicity of the Bible, the credibility of our theology, the consistency of our worldview, and the life changing reality of our faith…this all needs to be the stuff of training teens. But knowledge is not enough, it needs to be personal. They won’t be able to surf on their parents’ faith through college, let alone adult life.
If this post were about parenting, we could leave it there. But what does this mean for the preacher?
1. Make sure the ministries of your church are age appropriate. Don’t babysit children when they could be absorbing truth. Don’t fairytale teens when they could be wrestling with the truth of that truth and what it means for that truth to take root in their lives.
2. Help parents know how to target their input to the age and stage of their children – no matter how good your kids and youth ministry may be, the parents are the primary influencers (and disciplers, if the children concerned are blessed to be in a Christian family).
3. Consider your preaching. You may have only adults in the room (by physical age), but I can almost guarantee that you have spiritual newborns, spiritual children, and spiritual adolescents in the congregation. Does the principal apply exactly? Not necessarily. But there will be people craving milk, and others needing to wrestle with some meat. There will be some who need to know content, and others who need to wrestle with the truth of what you say, and everyone who needs it to be personal in their lives.