When people visit our worship services one thing they often ask is, "How do you manage to keep so many young people in your church?" They wonder how it is that young people will endure 35 minute sermons, sing Genevan tunes, and sit quietly for a good hour. What keeps them interested so that even when they grow older they remain as members? The fact is, there is no ‘trick’ or particularly special thing we do. We would even say that "we" don’t keep the children in the church at all, but rather the Lord does it - all the credit and glory go to Him alone! All we do is follow the Lord’s instruction in the Bible, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it" (Proverbs 22:6). Under the blessing of the Lord, simple, faithful instruction in the teachings of Scripture is the key to keeping the next generation faithful in their service to God. This is the way God’s people have kept the faith for centuries, even millennia.
3-Pronged Approach - Home - Church - School
In the Canadian Reformed Churches we often speak of a 3-pronged approach to educating the children God has given us: Home - Church - School. All teaching begins with the parents at home and remains their primary responsibility. Again we follow the plain teaching of the Bible where God instructs parents to take His commandments and, "Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up" (Deut 6:7). All parents are encouraged to model and teach their children Christian habits from an early age, to explain to them the rich promises of their Father in heaven as well as how He expects them to live day by day.
The church supplements the instruction at home by giving official instruction to the youth of the church. Of course, by way of the preaching every Sunday the young are also taught the gospel. This is especially the case in the afternoon services where the preaching takes on more of a teaching character (see Worship Services) and is geared more toward the young people. But in addition to this, the teens of the church are given separate classes one evening per week. We call these sessions, "Catechism Classes". Catechism is an old word used often in the church which simply means, "instruction." Students are given six years of Catechism classes. The basic manual used is one of the church’s written confessions, the Heidelberg Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism is a question-and-answer style of confession that takes the student through all the basic teachings of the Bible. Although this man-made confession is used as a tool, the Bible remains the basis for all teaching and is frequently opened and read in class. The goal of all this instruction is to build up the understanding and so the faith of the children to the point where they desire to publicly profess their commitment to the Lord. After having learned what God has done for them in Jesus Christ and how He expects them to live, by the grace of God they may accept His promises and dedicate their life to His service. Such a commitment results in the public profession of faith of the student during a worship service - a beautiful moment!
We believe that all the education of our children should be from and through a Christian perspective as much as possible. While some of our families have chosen to homeschool, the majority have opted to establish Reformed, Christian day schools. As a community of believers in Manitoba, we have pooled our resources and founded Dufferin Christian School in Carman and Immanuel Christian School in Winnipeg. Each school goes from K-12 and each is operated by the parents directly, not by the churches. They are funded in the main by members of the school society and in part by the provinical government. Each school is staffed by qualified professionals who are all members of one of the Canadian Reformed Churches or her sister churches. In this way, the children are educated in a consistently Christian and Reformed way. The children grow to see the world as God has created it and learn to find their place in God’s church-gathering and kingdom work. Learning and growing up with other Christian children goes a long way to keeping them faithful to the Lord their whole life.
Young Christians by God’s Grace Alone
In these three areas we try to apply the basic command of the Lord - teach the children I have given you in my ways (paraphrase). Of course, we have many failings as parents, pastors, elders, teachers and children and as a result we often fall short in our callings. However, by God’s grace and the working of the Holy Spirit, a new generation is trained to walk in the Lord’s ways and so to live to His glory.