The recent film “Divided” has attracted national media attention for its critique of age-based church ministries, targeting youth ministry in particular.
But despite the film’s message that families should be more involved in faith development in their own children, the film makes questionable connections in its attempt to discredit any and all age-based church ministry, including Sunday school.
Despite its message that family is the basic unit of faith development, the film’s weaknesses overshadow its main point.
Apparently it isn’t enough to suggest that age-based ministries might not be effective. The filmmakers not only attempt to discredit youth ministry, Sunday school and other forms of age-based ministry, but they seek to demonize them as well.
By linking Plato, Rousseau and Robert Raikes, the founder of Sunday school, into a “pagan” conspiracy to rip children from their parents’ influence, the film fails in intellectual and historic honesty.
Demonizing those who differ with us has become standard practice in politics in the United States, and now apparently it is standard practice in discussions about church ministry as well.
The film seeks to equate age-based ministry with public education, the welfare state and other public institutions that have fallen out of favor politically in the United States.
The film also speaks of “the church” as though the only expression of the church was in the United States of America.
And, despite the appearance of two African-American pastors as interviewees, the film seems to direct its critique of church ministry toward white, middle-class American church congregations.
Completely lacking in the film is acknowledgement that the church of Jesus Christ is a multifaceted, multicultural body that finds unique expression within the cultural contexts in which it exists.
While there is no doubt that church attendance in the United States has been declining, the film does not provide an answer to that decline.
Credible church historians and academics see multiple reasons for the decline in U.S. church attendance, and none has suggested that age-based programs are the reason.
The film and its producers could have done the church in the United States a great service.
Instead, they have produced a film that supports one questionable perspective on church life in white middle-class America, which will be largely irrelevant to other expressions of church in other nations and cultures.
Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Virginia.