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November 12, 2012

A Challenge to Children’s Ministry, Part 2

What really matters in reaching kids



sundayschool2.jpg

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.

Model Worship

“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.


Monica Selby is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and lives with her husband and three boys in Memphis, TN. Find her on Twitter and at MonicaJSelby.com.

Comments

I've read both your articles and I have to admit that I'm a little confused...this is mostly in part because we have moved around a lot; therefore, we have been in different churches. With that said, we have visited many different churches while on vacation or visiting relatives. In all those experiences (large and small churches), I don't think I have ever seen a children's ministry not preach the Bible and about Christ. And every church presented it in very different ways; some fancy and some very simple.

I think we have to be cautious over judging based on personal preference versus the material being presented. Don't forget that the very things you don't like may be the very things that draws someone else. I agree that showing and teaching Christ's love and forgiveness is essential; however, it is important to remember that discipleship also includes doing what Jesus did. That is the very definition of disciple. So, if there are character traits that Jesus demonstrated, we need to be teaching those as well (for both children and adults). It is not about burdening, because Jesus promises that when we follow in His footsteps that His yoke is light. It is all about being a disciple of Christ.

I really agree with the heart of this article. I agree that children constantly hear correction from their parents, and I don't want to raise kids who simply conform outwardly - I want them to have hearts that are transformed by Jesus Christ. I don't want kids who are "trustworthy" because they were given a list of ways to become trustworthy (see Part 1 of the article); I want kids who are trustworthy because they are surrendered to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. If we love children, build relationships with them, really get to know them, we will be privileged to lead them into a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And as they grasp His love for them through the model of our own lives, He will transform their behavior. That's not our job.

Monica,
Your children are truly blessed by the relationships they are forming not only with children in your church but also with the adults. There is a richness to their lives because you as a parent are taking the role that God gave you to teach and instruct them in the ways of the Lord, they have a Sunday School class to be a part of and they are making friends of all ages who are believers in your church. You are spot on about the foundational message kids need to hear. Thank you for sharing your concerns. As a Children's Ministry Director I have been thinking about your challenge.

I agree that we need to be careful not to teach kids biblical moralism, with the hidden implication that Jesus only loves them if they do x, y, and z. At the same time, James says that faith without deeds is dead. Our relationship with Jesus isn't contingent on what we do, but obedience demonstrates our love for him. I think we need to be careful not to let the pendulum swing from biblical moralism to watered down anything-goes Christianity. Kids need to know that Jesus loves them AND that they can live in a way that is pleasing to him.

thank you for this insight on the doing Children's ministry. Indeed the helpful relationship that should exist between the adult community of the church with the children cannot be overemphasized. the connection helps the children to look forward to every Sunday Worship service, (that smile, that affirmation and many more).

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