Children’s Ministry – not just about the children?
Michele Roux, Alumnus of GWC
If someone had to ask me what the biggest shock of children’s ministry has been for me so far, I would say: the adults.
When I signed up to be a part of children’s ministry it was because I love Jesus and I love children – and putting those two together, I imagined I would be spending my time teaching children the Bible and discipling them. Maybe if I’d thought more about how Ephesians 4:11-13 also applied to children’s ministry, the reality wouldn’t have been so surprising.
More and more I’ve come to understand that the role of equipping, encouraging and modelling is not confined to areas of church life – such as sermons and bible studies – that prepare adults for the work of ministry. Children’s ministry needs to play its part in this as well. Children’s ministry is not just about making sure that our children receive solid Bible teaching so that they will become the well-taught church of tomorrow, i.e. adults who are better hearers of sermons, Bible study participants and who are willing to serve. Yes, children’s ministry does, and must, involve making sure that our children are taught faithfully and that they’re given a good foundation in the gospel and also biblical theology; but it needs to have a much bigger goal than that alone – it needs to help children be an active part of the church today.
There are three ways I’ve been challenged in how I think about this:
1) Partnering with parents
This might seem obvious, but time and time again I’ve had to remind myself that what we do in children’s ministry is only a supplement to what children are being taught at home. Parents are to be the primary discipling agents in a child’s life. Children’s ministry should therefore be seen as a support and encouragement to parents as they seek to fulfil this role. Our job should include providing resources and training that help with family devotion time, children’s own devotional time, strengthening marriages and help with parenting. Where parents may feel overwhelmed or discouraged with their task, children’s ministry should be a support that they can turn to, knowing that they’re not alone.
2) Children and the family of God
But of course they’re not alone! This is because children and their families are part of God’s family. This means that while parents are primarily responsible to teach and disciple their children, they’re not the only ones who are tasked with nurturing faith in children. The New Testament uses family to describe God’s people. Why is this? What does it mean? I think it speaks of the way we’re meant to be involved in each other’s lives – loving, serving and encouraging each other to stand firm in our faith. We need to remember that we’re part of a bigger family than the one we share our home with. This is glorious news for the child with an unbelieving father; for the unmarried person who feels the loneliness of being single; or for the widow who grieves an empty home. Well actually, it’s wonderful news for any Christian! Being part of God’s family means that we don’t struggle alone. It also means that we’re called to be a part of building up the body of Christ.
What implications does this have for children’s ministry? It means challenging both families and those without young children. (1) Families need to be reminded that they need to look beyond their four walls, and seek ways of serving others. How can they be encouraged to include others in the life of their family? How can their home be a place where people in their church family – grannies and grandpas, widows, singles, single parents, or children without Christian parents – are encouraged to live for Jesus? How can a family share the gospel or serve together? It also means challenging parents to be involved in the programs that are part of children’s ministry. Volunteers shouldn’t only come from willing teenagers, so that parents get the night off at the end of a busy week. (2) It also means challenging those married without children and the younger singles. People without children can’t be let off the hook; they too need to be challenged to be a part of serving their church family, including the children. The elderly too need to be challenged. Often they start to feel like they’ve become a burden to others, and that they no longer have anything to offer – but they have years of wisdom to share. There is much to be gleaned from their example of faithfulness to Jesus. So, we need to consider how all these people can be given the space to teach or disciple those younger than them. Could they “adopt” a child who doesn’t have Christian parents? Can they offer lifts to help children attend church? Can they help with crafts or décor? Can they serve at “big” events like holiday club or kids camp? How can they pray for the children’s ministry? Children’s ministry should never struggle to muster enough volunteers, there’s a whole big family to choose from.
3) Encouraging children to be involved in the work of ministry
Children cannot only be on the receiving end of ministry though. If we believe that they can be saved and are included in God’s family, then it follows that the same Spirit who gifts and empowers adults is also the same Spirit at work in them. This means that children’s ministry needs to provide opportunities where they can use their gifts to serve and encourage others. Older children need to be involved in discipling younger children; but children also need to have the chance to serve adults. Could they “adopt” a granny to pray for, or write a note to? Could they help serve tea, or welcome folk as they arrive on Sundays?
So children’s ministry needs to be as much about adults as it is about children. Children’s ministry should not happen in isolation from the rest of the life of the church. It should see how it can foster an attitude of the ministry of God’s family to one another. How can believers be equipped so that within God’s family, people of all ages and stages of life are serving one another with the gospel and their gifts.
*An article which has helped me as I’ve thought through these things is called Intergenerational Ministry by Sarie King, and can be found at:
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV