Children’s Ministry and the Church

I know everyone has their specific talents and abilities and skills that are given by God to be used for His glory. Over the years, I’ve developed my musical abilities, my people skills, and my speaking. My musical abilities have afforded me the opportunity to do a little bit of professional singing while in college. The way I interact with people (my wife is much better than I) has helped me in ministry to build relationships with little to no effort. And my speaking has given me the opportunity to preach and teach which is a little bit of work for this introverted soul.

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Painted by Kaylee Campbell

But among all these gifts and abilities, I was not given any type of trade skills or creativity. My wife is a creative, artsy person who can draw or make anything! In fact, she painted me an Atlanta Braves logo for my office (Chop, Chop!). She is extremely talented and creative. For a long time, I have been using my lack of creativity as an excuse to ignore the Children’s ministry in churches where I’ve served. Believe it or not, I’ve always loved kids. I helped my mom in the nursery when I was 7 and 8 years old. But even though I’ve always loved kids, I’ve never developed a passion for them.

Until now.

Here are a few reasons why I’ve suddenly started seeing the Children’s ministry as one of the most important ministries in the local church:

1) The Bible clearly teaches to instruct our children in the ways of the Lord.

Everyone who has been in ministry for more than five minutes most likely knows the passage, in which I’m about to quote, by heart. The main point I want to pull from this passage is in the first section of verse 7. Moses wrote to the children of Israel,

“Repeat them to your children.” Deuteronomy 6:7, CSB

Moses has already given the greatest commandment to all who would believe in Christ for salvation and that was to love God with all your heart, soul, and might.
This first commandment is a significant commandment because this deals with loving God through the totality of yourself. Moses is trying to get the Israelites to understand that your first obligation as a chosen person of God is to have an individual, covenant relationship with this one, true God. He was addressing the Israelites as a group, but giving them commands individually. We know that the culture in which we live has radically destroyed every sound definition of love we have. In our culture, love is based more on feelings or attraction more than any other factor. However, as Christians, we know that love is an act of the will. Love is defined by the commitment one has to another person, no matter what comes their way. So when Moses exhorts the Israelites to love God, he is telling them that this is going to be a choice you make on a daily basis and it will be because you truly want to love him, not because he makes you feel good or feel worth something – even though those may be benefits of your relationship with God.

Then he continues by telling the Israelite parents to pass down this type of covenant relationship down to their children. He encourages them to teach this same type of love that is not based on feelings to their children. Moses’ next commandment was for parents to teach their kids to love God in the same way. It is imperative for us as the church to embrace the love for children that Jesus had. When we neglect our children by simply entertaining them or distracting them until church his over, we are not being like Christ. When we are more worried about numbers instead of spiritual growth, we are ignoring the command of Christ to “let the children come to me.” We are depriving our children of spiritual nourishment. It’s not enough for the church to simply have programs for children and teenagers while mommy and daddy sit in “big church.” It’s not enough for the parents of our children to depend on this type of methodology as the primary source of faith formation for our children.

2) The Bible shows us that God cares about children.

In the book of Jonah, we see God’s heart toward the unrepentant person. It is a breath-taking story about the character and will of God toward sinners. Although there are debates, too many to name, regarding the will of God for the “elect,” this is not the point of this post. I want to show you from the book of Jonah how God cares for the salvation of even the youngest of His creation. Look at Jonah 4:10-11:

“So the Lord said, “You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in a night and perished in a night. But may I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?” 

Jonah 4:10-11, CSB (Emphasis Mine)

In the last chapter of the book of Jonah, there is a dialogue between the prophet and God himself. Jonah has preached the message to Nineveh and is awaiting their destruction atop a mountain because he doesn’t believe they will repent nor does he believe God will actually forgive them. First, we see God dealing with Jonah’s anger and bitterness toward the city of Nineveh. Jonah was more concerned about the plant God had given and taken away than he was about the salvation of the people of Nineveh. Some scholars believe that there were at least 1,000,000 people living in Nineveh during this time. But verse 11 is vital. Go back and read the bolded phrase of the verse.

God is not simply saying that the people of Nineveh are so dumb that they don’t know their right from their left. This is the number of children between the ages of 3-4 years old who have no moral or spiritual compass about them. God is revealing to Jonah that there are children in Nineveh who cannot even fathom the gospel, and Jonah is more concerned about their destruction and his plant than he is about their salvation. What we see here is God’s unending love for people (and that includes children) and the desire He has for all his creation to come to repentance.

3) Your ministry is not complete without children.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve never been overly focused on children in my ministry. I’m more gifted toward older students. In some ways, I’ve been selfish and ignored the younger generations of our student ministry because I’ve never felt a passion toward children. I know there are many others who have felt this way. But the problem is that when we neglect our children, we are neglecting the church.

“When you look at most churches – their programming, their staff, and their budgets – it appears that children must first become prodigals, then we will go about putting together elaborate programs and events to save them.” [1]

Henrietta Mears

For too long, the church has waited until our students were “eating with the pigs” before doing everything they can to disciple them. The time for change is now. My thinking has changed. My methods have changed and are changing. My goals are changing.

But since this change, I believe the Lord has given me some great insight into what it truly means to be a leader of a Children’s ministry. I have figured out that what we work for in our children will result in our teens. And what we work for in our teenagers will result in our adult congregations. What I mean is that the discipleship goals we have for our younger children will come to fruition in the youth group and same with the youth group to the adult ministry.

The reason our youth groups are failing and our students are leaving the church in droves after high school graduation is because we neglect them while they’re young. For too long, we’ve depended upon Bible memorization rewards and Vacation Bible School to form the faith of our children. Instead, we must be proactive in sharing the gospel with them.

“We truly fail when we neglect the importance of the presence of the gospel within our youngest age classrooms.” [2]

Jenny Funderburke

Our gospel-centeredness shouldn’t begin after our children are “old enough to understand it.” We know our children are smart, for they respond with coos and grins when we speak to them as infants. They understand more than we think. We should be preaching the gospel to them in the nursery when we change their diapers, when we give them snacks,  and when we rock them to sleep. And this gospel-centeredness should not stop until they reach the age to share the gospel with their own children.

Conclusion

Sure, children’s ministry is one of the more difficult ministries to lead. Sure, it definitely requires a lot out of you. Sure, it will take up a lot of Saturdays. But it is worth it. The life change we see in these children is worth all the money in the world. Jesus loved children and prioritized them; so should we.


Recommended Resources

[1] Frank, Ryan, ed. Give Me Jesus: Gospel-Centered Children’s Ministry That Changes Lives. Edited by Ryan Frank. Ada, MI: Bethany House Publishers, 2014.

[2] Gallaty, Robby. Foundations for Kids: a 260-Day Bible Reading Plan for Kids. Nashville, TN: LifeWay Press, 2016.


Footnotes:

[1] Ryan Frank, Give Me Jesus: Gospel-Centered Children’s Ministry That Changes Lives (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 2015), 39.

[2] Ibid, 79.

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