This article is part of the 5 Myths series.
Myth #1: It’s best left to professionals.
Christian parents are sometimes tempted to think that God can’t use them to reach their kids. Instead, they need professionally trained children’s and youth leaders who are better equipped to evangelize and disciple the next generation. The result is a drop-off mentality. Here is how Timothy Paul Jones describes it: “School teachers are perceived as the persons responsible to grow the children’s minds, coaches are employed to train children’s bodies, and specialized ministers at church ought to develop their souls.”
The truth is that this temptation isn’t new. During the Reformation, Martin Luther confronted a similar clergy-laity divide within the Roman Catholic church. But God has given parents the primary responsibility to train their children in the faith (Deut. 6:1–12; Psalm 78:1–8), and the good news is that he has also given moms and dads his word and his Spirit. As parents, we can always sharpen our skills, but we can also confidently teach the good news to our children, trusting that in Christ we have everything we need (2 Peter 1:3).
Myth #2: We don’t need it.
In recent years, some church leaders have decided that age-graded children’s ministry programming is no longer necessary. Their desire is to empower parents as disciple-makers and also to help kids build relationships with people of all ages in the church. These are good and biblical desires, but there are downsides to eliminating children’s ministry from the church calendar. Kids trained from an early age might pull off sitting through a long sermon without rolling matchbox cars down the wooden pews, but will unchurched visitors and new believers be as successful?
Think about it. Why should we have young children sit all the way through a sermon they don’t understand? As we pursue ways to help children experience intergenerational church life, we also need ministry approaches that remember kids from unbelieving homes and that capitalize on the pedagogical advantage of age-directed lessons. Even within the Bible, there seem to be some parts—Song of Songs, for example—that should be taught publicly (2 Tim. 3:16–17) but seem to be reserved for adults and older teens, not for younger children (Song 8:4). Other parts of the Bible, such as Proverbs, are geared toward youth (Prov. 1:8; cf.; Ps. 119:9–16).
We have to keep our priorities in order. The church’s goal in discipling the next generation is not to train kids so they can sit quietly through church services. Our goal is for them to hear about the Savior and, by God’s grace, be changed by him.
Myth #3: It’s all about keeping kids entertained.
Children’s ministry is one of the biggest challenges a church can face. There is so much to think about—facility, curriculum, check-in, security, recruiting and training a quality team, and of course, where to buy Goldfish in bulk! I’ve talked with pastors who have a clear vision for preaching and worship, but children’s ministry befuddles them. It’s hard to know where to begin.
For Jesus, welcoming and caring for children didn’t start with having a multi-story jungle gym in the front lobby or a designated family entrance. It didn’t even start with having good signage or smiling and greeting kids by name. For the Savior, welcoming children begins with taking the posture of a child. In Matthew 18:3–5, Jesus calls over a child and stands him in the midst of his disciples. Then he says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.”
What does this involve? In my work with children’s ministers, I’ve encouraged them to start by slowing down and giving kids and families the gift of their grace-filled presence. Such gospel-seasoned hospitality involves three things: a humble heart, a kind reception, and valuing children enough to build a relationship with them. Those simple practices will be remembered much longer than a fancy playground, funny skits, or crazy games.
Myth #4: Children’s ministry environments must always be comfortable.
Infant children need parents and caregivers who are nurturing and available, and a calm and consistent atmosphere is equally important in our nursery environments. Infant rooms should be led by people who are even-keeled, joyful, and gentle. And little additions like soft music and lighting can make the church nursery a warmer place.
For the Savior, welcoming children begins with taking the posture of a child.
But as children grow, children’s ministry environments must grow with them. One way we do this is to challenge kids to get out of their comfort zones, step out in faith, and join God on mission. I love how Michelle Anthony and Megan Marshman describe it, “When children and students are challenged to step out of their comfort zones from an early age, they experience a dependence on the Spirit to equip and strengthen them beyond their nature and desires.”
Need some ideas for how to help kids grow in practicing uncomfortable faith? Here are a few: Gather the kids to serve a local nursing home. Bring the teens along to serve with you at a homeless shelter or crisis pregnancy center. Help kids memorize the Scripture passages and gospel summary in an evangelistic booklet and then encourage them to share their faith with a friend.
Myth #5: Children’s ministry lessons are moralistic.
When teaching Bible stories to children, the most natural thing for many teachers is to help kids see which examples in the passage should be followed—or avoided. With this sort of lesson, kids identify with the hero or villain, and when we tell Bible stories this way, kids remember key characters and little details—like how David was too little for Saul’s armor (1 Sam. 17:38–39), how he took five smooth stones and a sling (1 Sam. 17:40), and that he cut off Goliath’s head (1 Sam. 17:51). The kids will also remember to be brave like David, because David is the example to follow.
But children’s ministry shouldn’t merely be about teaching Christian character and morality to the younger generation. No, it’s an incredible opportunity to help kids see Christ! One way to do this is to encourage children to identify with the neediest people in each Bible passage, those in the story who are desperate for salvation. In the David and Goliath story, that’s the Israelites. They have a strong enemy, Goliath, and a weak leader, King Saul. When Goliath came to challenge Israel’s army, the people needed a courageous hero to save them.
How did God respond to Israel’s great need? God sends David, the shepherd boy from Bethlehem who fought the giant as Israel’s representative. Do you see how David points beyond himself? The boy-savior gives children a sneak peek into a specific way God rescues his people: God saves his people by sending them a representative king, a child from Bethlehem who crushes the head of his enemy. Sound familiar? Many Bible stories have heroes, but they are more than moral examples. The heroes point us to Jesus! And when you’re teaching kids about those heroes, you can point them to Jesus, too.
Jared Kennedy is the author of Keeping Your Children’s Ministry on Mission: Practical Strategies for Discipling the Next Generation.
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