John Piper on Children’s Ministry

Today I wish to direct your attention to a post from John Piper at the Desiring God website.  His starting point is a reader who writes in because his church is struggling with the issue of whether to have a separate children’s environment during the Sunday morning worship service.

While Piper ultimately comes down on the side that children should be in the same service with their parents, that is not what I wish to argue.  I am part of a church that has very well-developed children’s ministry environments separate from the regular Sunday service, and they have very good reasons for doing it that way.  Other churches do children’s ministry differently, and they have very good reasons for the ways in which they do it.  So the issue of whether or not to have a separate children’s ministry environment on Sunday morning is neither here nor there as far as today’s post is concerned.

What I wish to argue is Piper’s view of what the Sunday service ought to be, which is best summed up in the catchphrase “sustained maximum intensity of moving reverence”:

…It seemed to us that for at least one hour a week out of 168 we should sustain a maximum intensity of moving reverence. Now I am going to say that again, because I really like that phrase: a sustained maximum intensity of moving reverence. And our arguments for bringing children to worship, of course, will only carry weight with parents who really love that, who really love to meet God in worship and really want their kids to get that and grow up breathing that air. The greatest stumbling block for children in worship is parents who don’t cherish doing that worship.

This proceeds from the Neo-Calvinist way of looking at things, in which everything begins and ends with the greatness and glory of God.  The idea is that God is something so great, so completely and totally other than us, that we have no choice but to fall upon our faces before him in absolute, mind-blowing worship.  Anything less is unworthy of our unfathomably great and glorious God.

Now I am not arguing that any of this is not true, i. e. that God is not great or glorious or deserving of worship.  What I am arguing is that if you make that your starting point, if you make that the end-all, be-all of the Christian faith, you end up with a monumentally incomplete and unbalanced view of God.  It is, in fact, a view of God which would be much more at home in Islam than in anything remotely resembling biblical Christianity.

As Christians we have a story to tell.  It is a story that begins and ends at the cross.  It is the story of how this great and glorious God set about to redeem and restore a creation broken and marred by sin by choosing and calling a people of His own.  It is the story of His engagement with this people, the people of Israel, which reached its unexpected climax in the person of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross.  That is where our story begins and ends.

The greatness and glory of God is part of our story, to be sure.  But it is not the end-all, be-all of the Christian story.  Making it the end-all, be-all of the Christian story results in a woefully incomplete and unbalanced view of God, and it reduces Jesus Christ, who is in fact the center of our story, to a marginal character at best, an assumed but unimportant presence.