Seminaries for children? That sounds like cruel and unusual punishment–almost child abuse! First graders poring over Greek and Hebrew verb tenses. Kindergartners subjected to medieval church history and systematic theology. Second graders forced to preach on the circuit and visit the sick. How is a seminary any place for a child? By definition it’s a graduate school with the expressed purpose of training pastors or priests. What sort of child prodigies could handle such rigor?
Maybe a quick lesson on word origin will get this discussion going in the right direction. The middle English word “seminary” is derived from the Latin, seminarium, which means “plant nursery or seed plot.” Thus, the original definition of seminary is “a plot where plants are raised from seeds.” Certainly, this is an appropriate word for a training center for future pastors. After all, these men are being raised from seedlings to plants that bring forth fruit in the gospel ministry.
But consider how an even better usage of the word can be applied to Christian homes, schools, and churches! These are all places charged with the task of growing young seeds into saplings, then on to full-grown and flowering plants. To broaden the image, Christian parents and teachers are used by the Spirit of God to implant the seed of the gospel deep within the hearts of our children, and then give that seed proper nourishment so it will grow. Of course, Christian adults are only the farmers–all the power is in the gospel seed and the work of the Holy Spirit. But we are certainly to provide seminaries for our children–nursery plots where plants are raised from seeds!
If my premise is acceptable, then let’s raise just one practical application from it. Hopefully, we would agree that healthy seminaries which train our next generation of pastors are vital for gospel-driven, Christ-centered churches, as well as for the advancement of the kingdom of God. Much care should be taken concerning the selection of faculty members, course of study, and the entire curriculum. We need our future preachers to be taught sound doctrine, preaching, teaching, and counseling skills, and the ability to equip others for the work of the ministry. These are all practical essentials that quality conservative, evangelical seminaries have been implementing and fighting over for decades and even centuries.
With that in mind, should we not bring this seminary mindset to the seminaries of our children’s ministries as well (not to mention our homes)? No, I am not suggesting that our goal is to produce nine-year old preachers–that is for much later. But I am proposing that we become much more rigorous in our choices of teachers and curriculum in local church children’s ministry! After all, we are raising vulnerable little saplings in our seminaries. They need more than just our Christlike love, nurture, and protection. They too require sound doctrine and theology, as well as ALL of God’s Word taught in a Christ-centered, gospel-driven manner. To grow into plants that produce fruit in God’s kingdom, they require much more than entertainment, fun and games, and moralistic stories.
So this begs an important question: Are our pastors and elders just as concerned about what is taught in children’s seminaries as in our future pastor’s seminaries? Again, we want our church and denominational leaders to be thoroughly vigilant about what is going on in the big-boy seminaries! Church history has proven that churches have moved away from truth and the authority of God’s Word primarily due to the errors taught to future pastors. But the same can be said about local church children’s ministries when gospel truth is watered down, and where the Bible is not really taught at all.
Unfortunately, it is my experience that many pastors and elders can’t even tell me exactly what children’s curriculum is being taught in Sunday school or VBS or other children’s programs. Or, they may know the name of the curriculum, yet have never read through it themselves. Then, there is the whole question of teacher selection and teacher training. How involved are your church leaders in that process? And, how many people involved in children’s ministry are seminary trained themselves? Hopefully, good attention is also being given by our church leaders to adult Christian education, so parents can produce seminaries at home. Is this the case, in your experience?
The reality is that, at all stages of life, God’s people require a seminary education. Our children need the basic, solid teaching of the one story of God’s Word in their seminaries. Our youth need the implementation and application of God’s Word from faculty in their seminaries. Christian adults need to be trained and equipped as witnesses and teachers of God’s Word in their seminaries. And then, we need seminaries that train up future pastors, missionaries, Christian educators, and Biblical counselors who go throughout this world to spread the gospel to all. Praise God for the work of all of these vital seminaries!