Greg Luianoff and Jonathan Haidt coined the phrase “coddling of the American mind” in their Atlantic article and subsequent book by the same title. They lament the unintended consequences of an over-protective culture that shields people from reality, ideas, diverse thinking, and risk. They wisely conclude that coddling hampers growth and development. Reading the book made me think about parenting, kid’s and student ministry, and the temptation to coddle. Here are three common ways churches can coddle the next generation – either unintentionally or intentionally.
1. Dumbing Down the Message
I have never loved kid’s ministries using “kidz” or misspelling other words—“We can’t spell correctly but you can trust us to teach your kids about Jesus!” I know it is harmless and not coddling, but I just don’t like any semblance of “we are dumbing things down” in an attempt to be clever or catchy. Kids and especially students can understand the big doctrines of the Christian faith. They are often under-estimated by church leaders. For example, high school students read classic literature, work on Calculus problems, and debate ethics. And at church they can handle some deep thinking and will grow because of it.
2. Ignoring the Community
Every church must decide if they will run from the local community or pursue and love their local community. Because every local community is filled with people who hold beliefs and values contrary to the Christian faith, some churches sadly seclude themselves and go to over-protective mode. When a church secludes herself from the community, both the community and the church suffer. The community suffers because the church is called to serve the community, and the community fails to realize the blessing the church is to be. But those in the church also suffer, including kids and students, because they are not confronted with the pain, doubt, and diverse viewpoints that will help them growth.
3. Limiting Risks
The authors of The Coddling of the American Mind lament a culture that has expanded the definition of “safety” to beyond threats of physical harm. The authors wisely reason that when the term “unsafe” is broadened to include any type of pain, people will be pulled from situations that will develop them. When people are coddled, risks are minimized and people’s development is thwarted. Churches must challenge people to take risks because risks develop us. Taking students on a global mission trip is risky. Inviting older kids to help adult leaders serve younger kids is risky and extra work. Challenging kids to speak up for their faith is risky. But all of these moves help kids and students grow. A life without risks is a life without growth.
Should a church have procedures and processes to ensure those who invest in kids and students are trustworthy? Absolutely! Should a church ensure the area where kids gather is safe, clean, fun, and a place parents can fully trust? Absolutely! But “safety” must not mean dumbing down the message, ignoring the community, or limiting risks that build confidence and faith.