(By Kurt Gebhards)
One dynamic of Children’s Ministries at Grace Community Church is that most of the children we minister to come from Christian families. Many of them are blessed with the sound and systematic teaching from God’s Word both at home and in the church, and even sometimes in school. This is something to be grateful for, but it also presents a unique challenge to those of us in Children’s Ministries. While the world breeds rebels, the church can unwittingly breed hypocrites.
It is the sad testimony of church history that the works and expressions of sacrificial love and devotion of one generation of Christians can quickly turn into legalistic rules and regulations for the next. The convictions of the first generation become the caprice of the second. It is sad and shameful how quickly the Object of wonder and worship of a generation can become the boredom and betrayal of the next. Hypocrisy is an imminent and evident threat to the church of Jesus Christ.
Churched children are seldom given to outright defiance of authority; they are much more susceptible to the poison of Pharisaism. Hypocrisy in the heart is much more difficult to spot than disobedient behavior. The Bible gives us some definite character traits of the pretentious pietist, and here is what they may look like in a child:
His outward behavior and adherence to rules are driven by a desire to please men, not by a love for God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength (Mk. 12:30).Doing good works and having them observed by adults is more important than the action itself (Mt. 6:5).The child is openly obedient and responsive — asking to pray before bedtime with you — while maintaining a quietly deceitful and rebellious attitude (Gal. 6:7).He scrupulously observes the letter of the law — like religiously bringing his Bible to church — but neglects the weightier spirit of the law — like sharing his favorite toys with his siblings (Mt. 23:23).He craves the verbal praises and tangible rewards of his parents and teachers, but cares little for the approbation of God Himself (Jn. 12:43)
Left unchecked by the grace and Word of God, by the time such a child reaches his teenage years, hypocrisy can have entrenched itself.
This teen prefers well-defined, black and white rules, for they give him a sense of certainty that God must surely reward those achievements (Lk. 18:12).He adds a layer of rules to the Word of God (like not watching any movies, not listening to popular music, et cetera), giving the impression that he holds to a higher standard than Holy Scripture (Mt. 23:4).He tends to propose personal preferences as, or elevate them above, divine imperatives (Mt. 15:2-3).He pursues perfectionism (Phil. 3:6), not excellence (Phil. 3:12-14).He separates himself from others he considers of lesser cultural morality — people whose table manners, courtesy of speech, and refinement of mannerisms do not match middle-class norms (Lk. 15:1-2).He is judgmental — he excels at fault-finding, he loves to pick verbal fights — and the standard by which he condemns others is not primarily biblical, but personal, preferential, or traditional (Mt. 7:5). He fights against many people, against many issues, but he does not know who he is fighting for.
Hypocrisy is the pretense of virtue or piousness that is contrary to one’s real character. And make no mistake, hypocrisy spreads like an unseen cancer. Everything appears alive and spiritually vital, then suddenly, the person is dull –and soon dead. The Lord specifically warned His disciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Lk. 12:1) Since hypocrisy is hidden deep within the recesses of the heart, it goes on unchecked and will hollow out its victim from the inside.
One of the dangers is that these outwardly compliant children receive much approval from parents and teachers. So they are encouraged to continue the duplicity unless anti-hypocritical measures are employed. We can certainly teach and militate against hypocrisy in the following ways:
Instead of just dealing with external behavior issues, we should seize every opportunity to help children understand that it is their hearts that generate their actions (Mt. 15:19). In His judgment of man, God looks at the heart (1 Sam.16:7). We should never equate occasions of good behavior (professions of love for Jesus, acts of compliance, et cetera) with saving faith in Jesus. We need to go beyond fixing wrong behavior to helping the child understand that his evil heart can only be changed by the Lord in regeneration.Emphasize the affections of NT religion. Make sure that we are not just aiming at a young person’s understanding, but that we reach for the heart and its affections.Do not encourage children to exhibit their talents and gifts to impress others. They should be reminded that all that they are and have are gifts of grace from God (1 Cor. 4:7), and they should not regard themselves more highly than they ought (Rom. 12:3).Teach the truth about integrity — which comes from the word for “integer” or “whole.” For a child with integrity, whichever way you turn them, they look they same. Who they are at church, is who they are in school, is who they are at home. This is what our kids should be.Do not be afraid to share our spiritual and moral failures with children in instances where they can identify with our shortcomings. This allows us to be authentic with them. It also allows us to demonstrate our response to God when we have done wrong, and our reliance on Him to continue molding our hearts.Be authentic in your love for Christ. Genuine desire for Christ is not easily faked. Let your zeal be a barometer by which they measure their own affection for Christ.
Hypocrisy is an insidious danger in Children’s Ministries today. It also threatens each individual home. As parents, it is our job to honor the intention of Psalm 78:4-6:
We will not conceal [the Word of God] from their children, But tell to the generations to come the praises of the LORD, and His strength and His wondrous works that He has done, that they should teach [the law] to their children, that the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, That they may arise and tell them to their children.