Thursday, December 10, 2009

Church Daycares

Before I start, let me say that I know this topic can be a sensitive one. For most of my posts and this one in particular, I can understand both sides of the argument, and I respect and admire many of the people who hold the opposing view. My intent is not to alienate those who disagree with me but rather to offer a rarely voiced perspective in order to encourage readers to reexamine prevailing viewpoints.

My son goes to a church-run preschool. I am thankful for a program that teaches him social skills, numbers and letters, art, music, and Bible stories all in one. I see Christian preschools as close cousins of Sunday schools. (In fact, our preschool offers a free “Monday school” each week as an outreach to the community.)

To many people, church-run daycares are synonymous with church-run preschools. I don’t believe, however, that they are as closely related as they appear to be. The emphasis of a daycare is usually on taking care of physical needs more than educational needs, and daycares serve as a substitute for a parent’s presence rather than as a supplement to what parents are teaching at home.

Churches usually start daycares with honorable intentions. Many North American children come from a single-parent home or a home where both parents have full-time jobs and need a daycare provider. Churches reason that by running a daycare, they are meeting needs in the community while having the opportunity to introduce children to Christian principles. The parents may feel so comfortable bringing their kids to daycare that they start to come to church, too, where they will also hear about Christ’s love for them. And, as an added bonus, the church has an additional source of income to support its other programs. (Unfortunately, I fear that this “bonus” – and not a prompting of the Holy Spirit – is too often the main reason churches start daycares.)

Daycare programs do meet an existing cultural need, but I wonder if churches with daycares take the easy way out in addressing this particular issue. Perhaps we should be trying to change the culture rather than responding to it. Instead of using our collective resources to offer daycare programs, why not build a support system for parents that fosters healthy marriages and emphasizes wise stewardship of funds, frugal living, and the value of time at home with young children so that more parents can afford to – and will choose to – stay home with their children during their earliest years? Instead of following our culture’s drive to achieve more worldly success, as measured by newer and more expensive belongings, why not encourage our communities to focus more on living humbly and giving generously?

It’s a radical idea, I know, but sometimes it takes a radical idea to change the world.