PARENTS, teachers, and ministers all wonder why we lose so many of our youth. Many theories have been offered, but as a teacher I have been impressed recently with the conviction that it is because we do not begin early enough the business of saving their souls.
Of course, parents are supposed to have worship with their children and begin teaching them as babes, but did you ever take a poll in any church school to see how many homes have worship once a day, let alone twice a day? It might even be quite revealing to know how many ministers have worship in their homes with their own children. If parents don't care enough to send their children to church school, there is even less chance of their having a family altar.
"Oh, we take them to Sabbath school each week," is a common response received from parents when questioned about the religious instruction they give their children. But how much good does anyone receive from Sabbath school if they have made no preparation during the week? Sabbath school lessons are mostly stories of Bible heroes and offer very little about the real process of obtaining salvation. How many times do we hear someone say, "You be good little girls and boys so you can go to heaven." That isn't even what we believe. They must learn to know Jesus as a Friend and Saviour while they are young and receptive. Children aged 6 and 7 are not too young. They must develop a personal relationship with Christ if they are to be really converted and remain in the church. They can understand these things if they are put into simple language.
How the Catholics Do It
We may learn something here from the Roman Catholic Church. There the priest meets with each child every week in confession. In many places he also teaches them the catechism. He works progressively with the children throughout their growing years. No wonder they can say, "Give us a child until he is seven and you will never take him from us." Can we say that?
Our ministers often pay little attention to the children until they are old enough to be baptized and then they may have them in a baptismal class for only a week or so. It is taken for granted that they have been instructed at home.
With our television-soaked generation it takes real consecrated, dedicated labor to make an imprint on young minds. They are so used to tuning out everything but the TV that it takes weeks just to get their attention! Too many times ministers allow the children to grow like Topsy and then assume that at 12 years of age they can go in and reap a real harvest of souls. It doesn't work that way. If one wants to draw a year's interest in December, he must deposit sums in January and all through the year. The same rule works in harvesting souls.
In The Desire of Ages, page 515, Ellen White says:
It is still true that children are the most susceptible to the teachings of the gospel; their hearts are open to divine influences, and strong to retain the lessons received. The little children may be Christians, having an experience in accordance with their years.
Telling It Like It Happened
This fact was brought clearly to my attention this past spring when we had our usual Week of Prayer. Grades five through ten had one session, grades one through four another. When the week was over, the pastor passed out slips of paper for those to sign who wanted to attend the baptismal class. All of the children in grades one, two, and three signed. But in the fourth grade class there were three or four who did not choose to sign. I firmly believe that if they had attended the previous three years they would still have been interested.
When the class met for the first time, there were students from grades one through ten. Since there were too many children and too varied ages to meet all at once, the class was divided. It was planned that grades five through ten would meet on Monday and Wednesday, and grades one through four would meet on Tuesday and Thursday. This was a good plan, but was never carried out as far as the lower-grade class was concerned. There were always other "more important" appointments. The little ones were so disappointed. I hope it didn't make too much of a scar on their eager little hearts.
How often we liken converts to candles. The young children are the candles that can burn the longest for Jesus. Yet how often all those eager little souls are ignored.
I think baptismal classes should be held all year round in our churches too. Why not have a class for public school children? In our church about half of the children are outside of the church school. Their souls need to be sought after.
Are you looking for someone to baptize? Then don't ignore those little lambs among your flock. But be sure to prepare them well first. Then that back door will no longer swing.