During the past decade Christian education has emerged as a priority for churches in China. Church-based Sunday schools and kindergartens, Christian-run private schools, homeschool networks, and online programs hosted abroad have all become options for parents seeking to impart a biblical worldview to their children.
With new restrictions on religious activities, these options may become less viable in the future. Already churches in some provinces have been told to cease children’s programs. How pastors, parents, and educators respond to this changing environment will have serious implications for the spiritual development of the church’s next generation.
Writing in the August issue of Pray for China, Cheuk Yu suggests that the future of Christian education will require a shift in emphasis from the church to the home. Rather than relying on trained children’s workers in a church or school facility who provide teaching at a set time using a set curriculum, parents need to take up the baton themselves. The focal point of Christian education needs to be the home, where, in Yu’s words, “real everyday life becomes the backdrop for learning biblical truths daily.”
As Yu acknowledges, “Such a transfer would monumentally increase the responsibilities of believing parents, and many parents may not have confidence in becoming a spiritual leader to children. Hence, children’s workers in the mainland will have to change their teaching charges from children to parents. In this way, though children’s work is stifled, family ministry can flourish as a new path.”
If this shift is to be realized, changes need to take place in the following areas:
- Mindset. Yu writes, “These breakthroughs in thinking are very foreign to many pastors and believing parents on the mainland. They did not grow up in this way. They have only known that learning the Bible happens at church, and have never thought about cultivating their children’s spiritual growth at home.”
- Training. Parents need to be trained in order to minister to their children, but most pastors are not equipped to provide this training. Yu points out that most theological education is strong on biblical interpretation but weak on application. To meet the challenge of the times, “Pastors will need to monitor the situation when children are no longer permitted to learn about the Bible at church, and tackle this with ministry to parents. They need to cultivate a cohort of spiritual leaders (parents) who are not restricted by buildings, so as to fulfill the mission of teaching a new generation of believers in the family home.”
- Marriages. Confronted by issues such as cohabitation, premarital sex, and adultery, which are unfortunately as common in the church as in the society at large, pastors are often hard-pressed to adequately counsel couples in their congregations. They need support in this area if they are going to equip parents to live out biblical principles at home in order to provide a nurturing environment for their children.
At the end of the day, as Yu points out, “Children can see through their own eyes whether their parents are obeying the teachings of the Lord in their everyday speech and action.” While church instruction was never meant as a substitute for spiritual nurture at home, the current environment makes it all the more imperative that parents be encouraged and equipped to take up this important task. “If we do not start this process now,” Yu warns, “We will lose the next generation of children.”
Image credit: Chinese Generational Family by Stanley Zimny via Flickr.
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio
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