This is a common question asked of me by many leaders as they begin a path toward discipling children in their churches. They are very concerned that certain kids in their groups are just not where everyone else is. The main temptation here is to target or focus on those who are behind or not ready. In other situations, we might focus on getting kids saved as our top priority. Which is best? I admit I have struggled with the same questions. Several years ago, I came to peace with the idea that I am called to make disciples, not converts only. Let me explain. If I focus all my attention on reaching lost children in my church, when will I have time to disciple those who know Christ? Getting a child to accept Christ is one the greatest joys of my life. For years I would lead them to Christ and I would go after the next kids who did not know the Lord. The problem was that I was sending preteens into the student ministry who were still “baby” Christians. They prayed the prayer, but that was it. As we look at Scripture, we have a mandate to make disciples (Matt. 28:190-20). So, the church is a place where we make it our top priority to disciple children. Lost children will continue to be saved, but the children in our ministries will grow in their faith and have a solid foundation in their lives before they hit the student ministry.
So here is how we turned the corner:
I remember at the end of the school year being relieved that another year was completed in children’s and preteen ministry. If you are like me, I hoped to see preteens transition into student ministry by the end of the summer with a good spiritual foundation. The problem I was facing was a lot of my preteens started dropping off the map before they hit the end of their fifth or sixth grade years. Then I discovered a new way to keep them on track. We developed a leadership training process. This came in two major parts:
If you are like most children’s ministers, child safety is your top priority. In my 28+ years of serving in children’s ministry, I have sadly had to report some individuals from my church and the camp I directed who were accused of possible abuse with a child. This is serious business when serving on staff in a Christian organization. We required applications and background checks on every leader who served in children’s ministry. We also mandated online training on sexual abuse prevention. What you don’t realize is that the majority of those who are sex offenders have never been caught. Because of this, it is proven that background checks and applications don’t always work. I did a great job at training leaders, but I failed to train the children in my ministry to know what was and was not acceptable behavior for children, students, and adults.