Why Children Matter to God
About the Guest
Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey and Barna Research Group founder, George Barna, tell why children are precious in the eyes of the Lord.
George Barna tells why children are precious in the eyes of the Lord.
Why Children Matter to God
George: Sometimes you'll find that a church or individuals are so intent upon getting another person to say the magic words, it's like, "Good, you're saved, now I can move on to the next person," without realizing that evangelism without discipleship is spiritual abuse. You haven't done that person any favor. You've really got to walk alongside them so they understand what that prayer meant and what it looks like and help them get to where they could be.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, January 24th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We'll talk today about what you and your church can do to help the next generation get where they need to be.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. I have never forgotten – I was in the second grade, and I think it was a Vacation Bible School I was attending at a church that our family went to, and I was sitting with our pastor's son, with Richie Melton, and his dad got up to start off the Vacation Bible School – and this is going to date me, but at the time that I was in Vacation Bible School, the biggest TV show on the air at that time was "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." I used to watch "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." every Friday night, you know? And I wanted to be like the man from U.N.C.L.E.
But I remember Pastor Bruce saying that if we wanted to read a book that had more excitement and more adventure than "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," we ought to read our Bibles. And I thought, "Not the parts I've been reading. I've tried to read my Bible, and it was a little confusing to me. I was not finding "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." stuff in there. But I've never forgotten that for two reasons – number one, because I have found, later on, that there were some pretty exciting parts in the Bible …
Bob: But, secondly, because he was talking to me in my language about something that I understood and was pointing me to the Scriptures, and it just stuck, you know?
Dennis: I do know, and I'm grateful that I had a mom who drug me to Vacation Bible School and Sunday school and a dad who was there with her pulling me through the doors. It gave me a spiritual background and a heritage that clicked early in my life, and we've got a leader with us who is a passionate champion for children, George Barna. George joins us again on FamilyLife Today – welcome.
George: It's great to be here.
Dennis: He's written a book called "Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions, Why Children Should Be Your Church's Number One Priority." George gives leadership to the Barna Research Group. George, you do something in your book that I want you to share with our listeners. You remind us that children matter to God. Now, Bob, in his illustration of growing up there in St. Louis, Missouri – and I have to wonder if they didn't put you next to the pastor's son for some …
Bob: … try to keep me settled down.
Dennis: Some reason of influence at that point. But children do matter to God and, personally, I've found, in your book, the list to just be refreshing, share the list with our listeners.
Bob: What list are you talking about – the list of what?
Dennis: Why children matter to God.
Bob: Oh, okay.
George: If you go through Scripture, you find that there are so many references to children in the Bible, it's interesting – you know, because I did this when we were doing the research. I was just so blown away by what I was discovering. But, wait a minute, I never really heard about any of this when I went to church. And, by the way, my parents wouldn't let me watch "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," but I didn't grow up in a Christian home, didn't know what VBS was. So that's a whole different story. I thought it was probably a broadcasting channel someplace.
Bob: You're tuned to VBS …
George: That's right, yeah. But you read through Scripture, what do you find out? First of all, God refers to them, and then certainly portrays them as a gift that He gives to us. He talks about the fact that adults can receive special blessings through their relationship with and their interaction with children. He talks about the fact that this is one of the most desirable things in a person's life is to have children and to be able to see how God works in the world and what He does in a person's life through the eyes of a child. It's a whole new experience.
He talks about how important it is to take children and to mold them into His image; that we have the privilege of raising them up to demonstrate His character and His love and His very nature; about the fact that we have the opportunity to introduce them to the same Jesus Christ that saved us from eternal damnation because of our sin and our faults. You know, the Scripture talks about other things like the fact that we need to discipline children, even though that's not always easy. He disciplines us. You know, we hate that, but we know that it's good for us ultimately. It shapes us, it takes us to the next level. We have to be willing to do that with kids.
And simply to be able to enjoy the simplicity and the naïveté and the joyfulness of children is such a gift to us, as we have them around us. So you go through Scripture, and you get this whole impression from God that children aren't here just to grow up to become adults. Children have an incredibly special role on the planet, whether I'm an adult relating to them; whether I am another child relating to them; whether I am a pastor who is supposed to impact their life. Those kids are powerful human beings, just because God made them that way, and to be able to realize that, to recognize it, and to grow from that, as an adult, is a real special privilege.
Dennis: You've been doing research now how long?
George: Oh, wow, over a quarter century, 25, 26, 27 years.
Dennis: One of the questions I was looking forward to asking you, and you'd think, as a researcher, there would have to be those moments that would be absolutely shocking, stunning. You mentioned earlier that your research that you did on children was shocking. Was it one of the most stunning moments of you receiving data from the marketplace that you've ever received?
George: There have been very few times when I've called the staff together and said, "Let me understand now – we went through all our procedures properly, we did everything right, and this is what we came up with? This is not what I was expecting to get." And there were very few times we've actually replicated a study simply because I couldn't believe that it was right only to find out, yeah, it was right. And so it is shocking information.
Over the years, there are thing that we find that are eye-opening, but, honestly, after you do this for 20, 23, 25, 27 years, you can pretty much predict what you're going to find, because you get so robust an understanding of how people think and behave, you're not surprised by much. This research, I mean, it blew me out of the water a few times.
Dennis: And the research was?
George: One of those, for instance, had to do with the theological beliefs of children. Now, most of the people working in ministry that I've talked to, and most of the parents that we've interviewed, don't believe that children can think theologically. And so the idea is we'll wait 'til they're older, and then we'll give them real theological training. What we found, we did this study with a large national sample of 13-year-olds, and a large national sample of people over 13, divided into all the different age segments, because I wanted to compare what happens in the minds of kids as opposed to the minds of adults – how does that transformation process theologically happen?
The thing that blew me away was we found out that there was no difference. We took 12 core spiritual perspectives, and we studied 13-year-olds and people of all the other, older age segments – there was no difference between the 13-year-olds and any of the other age segments. And one of the things that, as we tried to unbundle that and understand it, we came to realize is what you believe by age 13 is pretty much what you're going to die believing.
So all these fun and games that we play in Sunday school, we're missing the boat. We've got a tremendous opportunity to shape a person's understanding of Scripture and life, the nature of God, holiness, all of these things and more, to a much greater extent than we believe to be it impossible.
Bob: I've heard a great story. I think it was Moody, who was in Scotland, and he was speaking to a group of children, and in the middle of his conversation he asked rhetorically, "Now, what is sin?" And as soon as he said it, one little child spoke up and repeated the catechism answer to that question – "Well, sin is a transgression against the law of God," or whatever the catechism answer is. And Moody was stunned, and he stopped, and he said, "Children, you must thank God that you have grown up in Scotland." And his point was you grew up in a place where the spiritual formation of children – now, you may say, "Well, catechism is just rote, and they don't understand even what they're saying," but you're saying they understand a whole lot more than we think they understand.
George: They understand – and what we've found about the most effective families and churches is that they will take an ideal like that, a concept of sin, and they'll start introducing it when a child is three, four, five years old, and they come back to it every single year from a different angle with different Scripture, different stories, different applications, trying to make it fresh and new and interesting, but constantly coming back to these core concepts so that theologically by the time a child leaves whatever grade they're in when they're 12, 13, 14, they've got so much stuff that they've been exposed to over and over again, theologically speaking, they own it. They understand it, the believe it, they want to live it. And they are able to go out and do battle in our culture with that as pat of their armor.
Bob: Why is it then that so often we'll hear somebody in adulthood share this as a common testimony – and maybe this isn't as common as it used to be, but you've heard over and over again – I grew up in church, at the age of seven I prayed a prayer, but then I really didn't get serious about my faith until I was in high school, I was in college, or something. It seems like there is something happening early in children's lives, and then there's, for many children, a period of spiritual wandering or wastefulness that is then capped off in the teen years or the early 20s by some spiritual reality. That's a pretty common story, isn't it?
George: And there are a lot of reasons as to why that may be the case. One of those is sometimes you'll find that a church or individuals are so intent upon getting another person to say the magic words, it's like, "Good, you're saved, now I can move on to the next person," without realizing that evangelism without discipleship is spiritual abuse. You haven't done that person any favor. You've really got to walk alongside them so they understand what that prayer meant and what it looks like and help them get to where they could be. So that's one possibility, and then there are a lot of others.
It's very common, you know, another thing that we found out of the research is that so many kids wind up essentially turning off their mind to the church because they come, and they hear the same stories over and over and over again. There are no applications that are given to them, there's no personal challenge, there is no relationship that's built between them and the person who is teaching them these things. There is nobody modeling that stuff for them, so they can see what it looks like in practice. There is no parent who is talking with them consistently about how all of these principles fit together. There is no body of believers who are encouraging that young person to say, "You know what? You walk in this for the rest of your life. This isn't just the story that you learn now to get through Sunday morning. This is the essence of life, and all that other stuff that you're learning a school, all that other stuff you're watching on TV, that's all well and good, but that's not the stuff of life. God's Word is the stuff of life. This is the reason you walk the planet.
Dennis: C.H. Spurgeon made a great statement about children. He said, "A child who knowingly sins can savingly believe." Bob used to teach catechism to his kids as they were growing up, and you actually paid them, didn't you, or reward them?
Bob: We paid them to memorize The Apostle's Creed and The Lord's Prayer. I was just aware of the fact that most kids in evangelical churches today – I mean – I grew up in a tradition where we recited the creed each week. And I don't know that there is anything magic about the creed, but I thought I'd sure like my kids, as a part of their cultural education, to know The Apostle's Creed. And then I looked at it a little deeper, and I said, "Well, this is a pretty good body of theological truth that they probably ought to have some foundation in," and so it was worth five bucks for them to memorize that. And it's fun, today, 10 years later, when something will come up, and I'll go, "Conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary," and they'll just pick it up, and they've got it right there. They still know it.
Dennis: And more importantly than just spouting something from memory, your children have engaged the faith, and they're living it out.
Bob: See, here is where I thought it wasn't working for me, George, because one day I was driving along with my son. He was about 5 or 6 at the time, and he said to me, "Dad, I know who the Chief Indian Man is." And I said, "What do you mean, the Chief Indian Man?" He said, "The Chief Indian Man, it's to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." And I thought, "He's not getting it. The attempt here is not paying off."
Dennis: George, you must have some idea of where parents need to start, because they're listening to us, all three of us, get on our soapboxes here about championing theological education and introducing our kids to God and then to Christ. Give us just two or three basic fundamental steps parents ought to take today to know where to start as they approach their own children.
George: Well, I think one of the first places to start has to do with establishing this as a priority in life; that it's not just an add-on; that this becomes a lot more important than many of the other things that they already regularly schedule in their life. So they have to intentionally carve out time, which means they're going to have to sacrifice some of the things they would rather do in order to make sure that they have not just quality time but quantity of time investing in the lives of their children.
Secondly, I think it's a great starting place to actually put together a list of the basic spiritual principles that you want your kids to buy into. Now, I'll be honest, for a lot of parents that's going to be a struggle, because they've never though about their faith in terms of what are the key precepts and principles that I believe in, and what do they mean, and what difference do they make? But that's a wonderful starting place. You know, as we were saying earlier, you can't give what you don't have, so you've got to start by saying, "Okay, these are what I think are the important things, and as I make time in my life to invest in my kids, I'm going to give them some of these things."
Dennis: Okay, let me interrupt you here. Let's each of us pick two that you would want your children to embrace and know out of your family, all right? I'll go last. George, do you want to be first?
George: Sure. You know, one of them that I work with my girls on is there is absolute moral truth, and you find it out in the Bible. Now, you have to read it, you have to study it, you have to think about it, but it is there. Whether you like it or not, whether you believe it or not, it is there, and it is truth, and you need to deal with it.
You know, a second one has to do with the fact that you were placed on this planet to bless other people. It's not about you. It's about you serving and loving God so much that you realize that everything that happens to you in your life is done for a purpose, and ultimately that purpose is to bring glory to God.
George: And one of the greatest ways you do that is by blessing other people.
Dennis: Those are two great ones. Bob?
Bob: I would pick, first of all, that the inclination, the natural inclination of your heart is toward sin. If you go with how you feel, most of the time you're going to go in the direction of sin. And then, secondly, the source of authority for how we are to live our lives is found in the Scriptures, not in anything else.
Dennis: Okay. And I would say I would teach my children, as I attempted to, that God is, yes, a God of love, but He is also a God to be feared. If you don't reverence and respect God and have an awe of Him, His commands can be taken flippantly. A second thing that Barbara and I talked a lot about with our children is found in Ephesians 2:10, which comes right after verse 8 and 9, talking about how we've been saved by grace through faith, and it talks about how we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before Him that we should walk in them.
It's a little bit like George's – our lives were meant to be expended around The Great Commission and The Great Commandment. They need to be outward focused not self-absorbed, and I think we have a whole generation of children today who, unfortunately, the parents think that they've doted over them and focused on them and the parents' world has become child-centric rather than biblically centered and God-centered, and it's God who calls us out of ourselves. It's the Gospel that He gave us to redeem us from ourselves so that could think about, as you said, George, giving to others. It's an exhausting and a daunting task for parents, and it's not particularly rewarding on a day-to-day basis. There are those moments that are high reward, but it's hard work. And that's why a lot of parents quit in the process and don't go all the way to the finish line.
Bob: But we've got to ask ourselves the question, and it really points back to what you say is at the heart of this book – what do we really care about at the end of life? You know, 3 John, verse 4, is one that we've talked about often, where John, talking about his spiritual children, said "I have no greater joy than this, than to know that my children are walking in the truth." And how much more, as parents, are we going to express that for our own children? There is nothing, really, that will matter more at the end of life than our children walking in the truth.
George: It's one of the great seductions of the American lifestyle, I think, that we can be persuaded that there are other things that are more important, other things that are a better use of our time and our talents than to raise our children. But, to me, all that does is it points back to the essence of how we think in this country. So few people have a biblical worldview. They've adopted a worldview that says what you experience today is what matters. Don't worry about the future, don't worry about God, don't worry about any of those things. Make yourself happy and by making yourself happy the world will be happy. Nothing could be further from the truth, but that's what we buy into.
Dennis: George, I really agree, and I think about parents today, a mom with – well, like some of my children who are raising my legacy, my grandchildren, it's relentless – the culture and the pressure and the choices and accumulation of things and how we live and where we live and what we wear and where we go and how much free time we have and all the toys that go with it. The distractions are out there but, you know, that's why I think you've got to come back to the Scripture. It gives us not only a spiritual wheel alignment, but it gives us the gold standard for evaluating our own lives and, as we mentioned earlier this week, if we, as parents, do not have an authentic, real relationship with Christ, where as we fail in sin and act foolishly, our kids don't see us asking for forgiveness; turning to them and saying, "You know, Dad got angry. Will you forgive me? God already has, but will you forgive me?"
And it's in those moments that we're making a transfer not just merely of truth and about God but a transfer of life for the next generation, and, George, I appreciate you and all the research you do, and especially this – I want to say "prophetic" word, George. It almost feels that way to me, to call the church back to valuing children. Maybe that's an accurate statement. But thanks for being on the broadcast, I hope you'll come back and see us again.
George: Great to be with you.
Bob: Yeah, and let's hope that our listeners will take us up on the opportunity to get a copy of George's book and read it themselves and then pass it on to their pastor, their senior pastor, or maybe you've got a children's pastor at your church. But this really needs to be embraced by the whole leadership of the church. They need to understand the priority that children ought to be in the covenant community.
You can get a copy of the book from us by going online at FamilyLife.com. Again, the title of the book, "Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions." The subtitle is "Why Children Should Be Your Church's Number One Priority," and there is a sticker on the front cover, it looks like a sticker – you know, those parent advisory stickers? This one says "A Pastoral Advisory – The Enemy Has Plans for Your Character, Do You?" That's a good question to ask.
Again, get a copy of George Barna's book, "Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions." When you contact us by go online at FamilyLife.com, click the button that says "Today's Broadcast," and that will take you right to the page where there is information about George's book and other resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife to help accomplish these purposes.
In fact, we've got copies of a DVD that is the Jesus film that has been specially prepared for children. It's one of the tools your church may want to use, or you may want to use it personally with your children to help them understand the life of Jesus. Again, there's more information about it on our website at FamilyLife.com. If you contact us to get George's book and the DVD that is the Jesus film for children, we'll send, at no additional cost, the CD audio of our conversation this week with George Barna. Get all the details online at FamilyLife.com or call us at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.
I don't know if you've heard me mention, there's a group of folks who are regular listeners to FamilyLife Today who, in addition to listening fairly regularly, also help support this ministry on a regular basis. Each month they help with a donation to keep FamilyLife Today on the air in this community and in communities all across the country. We refer to these folks as Legacy Partners and during the month of January, we're hoping to add several thousand new Legacy Partners to our growing family of Legacy Partners, and we are hoping that you and your family will think about joining that team. As a Legacy Partner you make a donation each month, and we also try to provide you with resources, unique resources each month, that can help strengthen your marriage and your family.
Get more information online or be listening later on this week. On many of these stations, we're going to be talking about how you can join us as a Legacy Partner, and we hope you'll join us in praying that we'll be able to add several hundred new Legacy Partners over the next several days, and we hope you'll consider being one of those new families. Again, more information about becoming a Legacy Partner is available online at FamilyLife.com.
Well, tomorrow that is, in fact, what we're going to talk about on many of these stations. We are going to be live. I hope you can tune in for a special edition of our program tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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