In the previous post on building multi-generational churches, I focused mainly on the duties of parents and especially fathers. On their shoulders, in large part, rests the future of the Church. But of course, as we observed, the church ‘fathers’ must cultivate them, and so really it does come back to the teaching and ruling ministry of the Church at the end of the day.
The following extract from Samuel Miller (1769-1850) comes from his masterly work, The Christian Education of Children and Youth. In this passage, he urges one particular duty of church officers in raising up and retaining a godly seed for the Church. It is the time-honored Reformed practice of pastoral catechizing of the youth:
It follows, of course, that the pastor who does not diligently attend to the religious instruction of the young people of his charge, is blind to the comfort, the acceptance, and the popularity of his own ministry. Why is it that so many ministers, before reaching an infirm old age, grow out of date with their people, and lose their influence with them? Especially, why is it that the younger part of their flocks feel so little attraction to them, dislike their preaching, and sigh for a change of pastors? There is reason to believe that this has seldom occurred, except in cases in which pastors have been eminently negligent of the religious training of their young people; in which, however respectable they may have been for their talents, their learning, and their worth, in other respects, they have utterly failed to bind the affections of the children to their persons; to make every one of them revere and love them as affectionate fathers; and, by faithful attentions, to inspire them with the strongest sentiments of veneration and filial attachment. Those whose range of observation has been considerable, have, no doubt, seen examples of ministers, whose preaching was by no means very striking or attractive, yet retaining to the latest period of their lives, the affections of all committed to their care, and especially being the favourites of the young people, who have rallied round them in their old age, and contributed not a little to render their last days both useful and happy. It may be doubted whether such a case ever occurred excepting where the pastor had bestowed much attention on the young people of his charge.
Such are some of the evils which flow from neglect on the part of the Church to train up her children in the knowledge of her doctrines and order. She may expect to see a majority of those children—even children of professors of religion—growing up in ignorance and profligacy; of course forsaking the church of their fathers; leaving her either to sink, or to be filled up by converts from without; turning away from those pastors who neglected them; and causing such pastors to experience in their old age, the merited reward of unfaithful servants (22-23).
Here is one big reason why churches, even Reformed ones, lose their youth. The ministry has neglected catechizing. Church catechizing, that is. Much of the evangelical ministry today, sadly, has farmed out its duty here to ‘youth pastors’ - most of whom are often little better than glorified baby-sitters. At best, it has delegated church education to pious, but unordained lay people. But as Miller shrewdly observes, this passing on duty is also passing on a major opportunity. An opportunity for the ministry to win young people’s minds to the principles of the church of their baptism, as well as an opportunity to win their hearts by sustained care and attention. A profound insight indeed.
My mind here is taken to a beautiful mental image I have of the good Dr. Luther. I can’t recall if it was a painting or something I read at some point - but forever irretrievable, I fear. The master has gathered his pupils around him, and he is imparting a sacred lesson. The little peasant catechumens are listening with rapt attention, and on occasion one is put on the spot to give an answer. Here we see the embodiment of duty, of love, and of shrewd church policy, aimed at winning and at retaining the young.
We in the Reformed ministry must imitate our Saviour. “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the Kingdom of heaven.” And when we are done baptizing them, let us yet hold on to them. Let us retain them in our hearts, in our prayers, in our attentions – and in our devoted, focused instruction of them. And combining this discipline with godly parenting in the home, by the blessing of the Spirit, shouldn’t we hope to mend the breaches in Zion’s walls?