I attended a preteen bridge conference several years ago. George Barna was speaking and shared something that really caught my attention. He said, “The spiritual battle for our children is won or lost in the children’s ministry.” This struck a nerve with me. If you are a children’s pastor, children’s director, preschool minister, or anyone involved in children’s ministry as a whole, you are in a battle. Barna, like many other leaders, is realizing how serious the battle for our children is today. During his 20+ years of research, he targeted adult behavior in the church. Then one day, reality struck. He shared, “Somehow, God managed to lift the veil from my eyes long enough for me to gain wisdom…It became painfully clear to me that I had been operating on the basis of some very faulty assumptions.” What Barna found was the most successful ministries can be traced back to those who were wholeheartedly had an effective plan for children’s ministry.
This means that what you do is the most significant thing in your church. It’s not student ministry; it’s not adult ministry. It’s in the children’s ministry where the battle lines are forming. Knowing this, what should you do as a children’s pastor, children’s director, or ministry leader?
I remember years ago when I first started out in children’s ministry. I would go to conferences and look at all different curriculums. A lot of times, I bought books or curriculum because of the awesome cover of the book, often in haste. But when I opened them up and began reading the content, I realized the only thing unique about the curriculum was the cover. I hate to admit it, but a lot of us do that. As I write this blog, a question comes to mind. How do we define discipleship with children? I remember years ago when someone asked that about discipleship, a red flag would go up in my mind. For some reason, the church quit using that terminology and began calling it Christian education instead.
In most churches today, what we would call discipleship is the impartation of wisdom or knowledge about the Bible. There is nothing wrong with this; however, are we truly discipling children like Jesus did by His example? What I want us to do is look at Jesus’ model. I want to share with you five points or models that Jesus used to teach His disciples:
The other day I was talking with a children’s pastor in my area. She was very frustrated because she had moved a group of preteens that she felt were ill prepared into the student ministry of her church. She talked with the student pastor shortly after the transition, and he told her that it was too late, that they were set in their ways and there was little hope of their lives changing at this point.
The fingers point in many directions in the church trying to cast blame; however, the answer to the problem is to stop doing what we are doing and move to a model of intentional discipleship and empowering of children and preteens for ministry.
Allen Nelson shares,
You might ask, why am I here? Why do I exist? For every child in the church today, there is a desire to find purpose and identity. Thinking even more deeply, how do we help a child find their purpose in Christ’s church, and do they really have a purpose at such a young age? I have wondered this myself. Like Jesus’ disciples, I was guilty of hindering children in their walk with Christ. I assumed that their faith was only about taking in information, not about expressing it. In reality, Jesus was speaking to me just as He spoke to His disciples who were with Him every day. Remember His scathing rebuke to His disciples when they hindered the children from coming to Him? “For of such is the kingdom” (Matt. 19:14). Maybe they didn’t see the children as persons to be heard, but only seen. I want to say this with all my heart, KIDS HAVE A PURPOSE IN THE CHURCH TODAY! In fact, children who have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior especially do because God has gifted them for service. Here are a few steps you can take to make a shift in the way you minister with kids: