A Challenge to Children’s Ministry, Part 2
What really matters in reaching kids
In my last post, I wrote about a few hang-ups I have with children’s ministries. As a parent, I honestly care less about the trappings of any ministry and much more about how it helps my kids see Jesus. There are a few key things I like to see in a kids’ ministry, but I hope my thoughts will spur other ideas also.
Let There Be Extras!
Kids don’t need expensive decorations, loud music, or intricate crafts. They need adults who love them and want to be there. They need hugs and laughter and acceptance, quirks and all. These essentials can come in different packaging, but they should be the starting point for any real ministry to children.
At the moment, the church we attend meets in a bar. (Er, excuse me, “concert venue.”) The children’s ministry is happily ensconced in some old offices on the second floor, and yes, we decorated up there. With simple materials like scrapbook paper, tissue paper, and string, the space has been transformed into a colorful, fun place.
The children’s space is a great place to get design-oriented people involved. In these days of Pinterest and DIY, it’s not hard to find inexpensive ideas for making the space fun and inviting. We shouldn’t have to spend a fortune here.
Jesus Loves You
In my last post, I emphasized that churches don’t need to teach children how to behave like Christians. Parents spend all day, every day correcting behavior and trying to convince their children of the right way to act. In the stress of the everyday, sometimes we forget to say, “Darling, Jesus loves you, and so do I.” This is the place for churches to lovingly pick up the slack. Tell the kids, “Jesus loves you. Just as you are. No matter what.” Tell them over and over and over again, in as many compelling ways as you can imagine. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just consistent.
The resource that works best in our church and home is The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. There’s a copy in every kids’ classroom, and you can often see parents and pastors with one tucked under their arm. This book is beautiful because every single story ends with at least one paragraph pointing back to Jesus. The stories do not portray biblical heroes as people to be emulated, but as broken sinners used by God to bring him glory. It’s the antithesis of moralism.
“Jesus loves you” is the central message our children need to hear, but we don’t have to simplify or ignore theology in our kids’ ministries. My four-year-old twins can recite the Apostle’s Creed and sing many hymns rich in truth. One of them regularly discusses “the new earf” and the truth of sin with us. They’re not prodigies; they’ve simply been fed a steady diet of truth, in our home and in our churches. If we can talk about truth now, when they’re willing listeners, the truth will never be far from them.
Children’s ministries should be a primer on how to worship God, on what a meeting of believers looks like. Reading from God’s Word, music, and prayer should be included in kids’ time at church. After all, those are the same things parents are doing in the adult service.
Relationship Trumps Curriculum
“It takes a village,” of course, and I don’t mean to imply that only parents have the right to correct or guide their children in proper behavior. The church does have the responsibility and privilege of molding the little ones in its midst. It just doesn’t belong in a curriculum.
Every Sunday, on the way to church, my three boys chatter excitedly about seeing their friends. They name a few children, but the list of adults they look forward to seeing is at least twice as long. There are a handful of men who always greet my children with a smile and a high-five. Many of them bend down, look my boys in the eye, and listen to whatever wonderful nonsense the kids are talking about that day. I see these men do this with almost every child in the church.
Some of these men are fathers, and some are not. All of them are fighting hard to live like Christ in a very broken city. I would be proud for my boys to grow up to be like any of them. These men may not realize how important the weekly greetings are, but one day the things my boys say will no longer be wonderful or nonsense. The foundation of trust and respect is being set right now, so when my boys are unable to talk to me or their dad, any of these men can step in to be a guide for them.
This is how the church functions in teaching our kids how to act: through the hard and rewarding road of relationship. In this way, kids know they belong, which will encourage belief, and eventually we can address the behavior.
It’s possible to teach our children the tenets of the Christian faith without putting undue burden on their young shoulders. If we can resist moralizing, their hearts may be more drawn to the Jesus who fulfilled all behavior requirements for all eternity. When the Spirit guides them, and only then, they begin to truly seek the glory of Christ. And, of course, that is the ultimate goal of the church.