Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

Should little children sit through big church? It was a question we addressed in episode 919 — and it is now the second most listened to episode in this history of our podcast, presently at over 300,000 plays. Wow. It raises a number of follow up questions, like this one from Ryan: “Pastor John, I am a teaching elder at our church and another pastor, and my wife, and myself have been wrestling with the idea of sermon content when children are present. We share the value of having children in church with their family, but cringe at the thought of dealing with homosexuality, or abortion, or bestiality with children present. How should one striving to rightly divide the word consider a child’s innocence as they prepare and present a sermon? Should there be any deference shown to the family trying to be mindful of what those little ears hear? Would it be prudent to provide an alternative for families when these topics are to be covered? What would you do?”

My bottom-line answer — and I will give the bottom line and then I will back up to why — my bottom line answer is that sometimes a church needs to hear a sermon that deals with such graphic and explicit detail concerning the kind of human depravity that arrangements should be made for the parents to be notified that such a sermon is coming so that they can decide whether they want their children present, and I think the leaders of the ministry to children probably will want to discern whether special alternatives that morning should be made for the children or not. That is my bottom-line answer.

Now, let me explain the principle behind it, because that is as important — more important. I have argued in another podcast why I prefer and think it is good to have little children, say, from age four on, in the worship service with the parents or some responsible adult. And so, I am not going to argue for that here, just point people to those resources. So, that means I do expect children are going to be constantly hearing words and concepts and experiences they do not understand. I think that is good, good, good, good. I think that is what it means to be a child. And the aim is that little by little parents are clarifying for the children what they have been hearing so that the children grow into things that were once above them.

But things are more complicated than just whether a concept is hard to understand. The issue is also whether the issue is morally hurtful to the child. So, here is an example. Take the sin of greed and the sin of homosexual practice. The reason I choose them is because they are both listed together in 1 Corinthians 6 as keeping a person out of the kingdom if they are pursued without repentance. So, greed and homosexual practice have the same horrific outcome when they are embraced in a lifelong lifestyle.

“An extended description of greed can be good for a child, but such a description of homosexual practice can be bad.”

Now, should a child hear an extended explanation of greed? And should a child hear an extended explanation of homosexual practice? And by child I mean something like 5, 6, 7 years old. And my answer is that there is a way that an extended description of greed can be good for a child, but an extended description of homosexual practice can be bad for a child. And one of the differences is this. This child is already greedy. And there is a child form of greed. The child can be shown by the pastor in his preaching or by the parents — an application can be shown in a simple way by the parents that he is greedy. He is sinful. He wants more than he should have or things that would be hurtful for him to have, and he can then be given gospel instructions for how he can begin to overcome his greed.

But in the vast majority of children — I am going to say 98%, plus: but I don’t need any statistics; just a vast majority — there are no homosexual desires at that age that need stopping, because the child is normally developing unselfconsciously into a typical heterosexual young person as it should be. An extended and detailed explanation in a sermon of the evils of homosexual practice would require a child to be exposed at a very tender and formative age to possibilities of sexual experience he should not have to bear. He shouldn’t have to carry the burden of even contemplating or going to bed at night wondering: What was that? Am I that? Should I consider that? He shouldn’t even have to face those questions at 5, 6, 7, 8 years old. I wish he didn’t ever have to face them, but it’s terribly difficult if a child is dropped into that cesspool at a very, very early age.

But I don’t think any 5-year-old boy, for example, should ever pose the question to himself whether he will engage in or someday grow into homosexual activity. That is too heavy and can create uncertainties and worries that he should not have to deal with at that age. God’s design for him is not to face multiple choices of sexuality. Our culture thinks that is the way it should be, because choice is god. But choice is not god. Rather he should grow naturally with God’s help and parents’ guidance into a heterosexual, godly young man.

Hence, there is a difference between the vigilance between what we need to take [is this the right word?] over what children hear concerning sins as opposed to some other sins even when both sins are deadly. Some are more destructive for a child to hear about than others. But I don’t think this means — this is an important qualification of what I just said — I don’t think this means that in the normal course of preaching a pastor must avoid all references to kinds of sins that might create problems for children. That would be too constraining on the normal course of preaching. But he can be aware that any extended treatment of those sins, rather than a general reference to them, could wait for that other special sermon.

“Pastors don’t need to avoid all references to kinds of sins that might create problems for children.”

The reason I don’t think he needs to avoid every reference is that for young children it is possible for parents to give age-appropriate explanations of things like adultery. A little 5-year-old doesn’t have a clue what adultery is, and if you tried to explain it to him, it wouldn’t make any sense. It would sound funny. Or fornication or homosexual practice or transgender issues or abortion. Children are often satisfied by being told graciously by their parents: Let’s wait and talk about that when you are a little older, because you are going to be able to understand that, and I am going to explain it to you. And they are happy to run outside and play after you say that. So, the parents are able to decide and be discerning what level of exposure or awareness they think their children need.

So, I would suggest that pastors talk with the parents and the children’s workers and try to lay out an agreed upon philosophy of parenting and education and preaching that would enable them to give appropriate protection and appropriate education to their children.