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,
The main question children this age grapple with is “Am I successful at what I do, or am I worthless?” Children have unique abilities and potential for great things in the body of Christ. The potential to develop them into leaders is directly reflected in the local church’s perception and ability to embrace them in such a way. The church needs a process to disciple and train future leaders who have moral compasses that are set on Christ and the purpose of His church.
I was talking with a lady named Rachel at church Sapulpa, Oklahoma. As we were talking about children and preteen ministry, she made a statement that set deep in my heart. She said, “The church should be a place where the success of every child is our highest priority. They have to be allowed to serve, and when they mess up, we are there to encourage them in order for them to become the leaders God intends them to be.”
Richard Ross shares,
Why would a child or teenager choose intentional discipleship? I want to use an illustration to explain what I am talking about. You take a 16-year-old boy who has got some skill in football. It’s the first of August, and he is already on the football team, and he is walking towards two-a-day workouts. He already knows that when he steps on that practice field, whatever he ate for lunch he is going to see it again. He is going to be so sick at his stomach running bleachers and running laps and plays. He knows he is going to lose his lunch. Why would a person choose to do that? The answer: Friday night lights. It is the joy of being in the game that motivates a person to go through workouts like that.
You see, it is only at church that we say study, study, prepare, prepare, and some day you can do something for God. We expect young people to practice and study for 18 years without ever getting into the game. Well, who would that appeal to? Actually, nobody!
After speaking with Dr. Ross on multiple occasions about the transition process, it has become apparent that the silo effect in the local church is causing much of the problems we face. We are dreaming of a day when the process of discipleship and ministry for children and students will be seamless. If you want them to stick around, time is of the essence, and you have to make this a priority to stop the exodus of students from our churches. Kids want to be in the game. We can teach them all their lives and give them all the knowledge of the Bible; however, we are losing half of them, never to return to the church after college.
It is time to make changes that can turn a generation from the world to the Savior and help them discover their unique purpose and identity in the body of Christ. Here are five suggestions to start the process now:
- Set up a meeting with your student pastor and develop a plan to make a smooth transition process for preteens into student ministry. Work on breaking down the silo. When preteens move into the student ministry, you don’t want to cut them off from the children’s ministry. You can continue to provide places of service and ministry for them. Remember, the church is the family of God, and we intentionally work together to make disciples and equip the saints (children and students) for works of ministry.
- Start young in your children’s ministry getting kids involved in ministry. This might surprise you, but if you think about it, about a third of the church’s spiritual gifts are in our children. If you train children now and allow them to serve, you will eliminate your leadership void in your church in the years to come. I have a dear friend in Oklahoma who was the family pastor at his church. They focused on intentional discipleship of children and students on Sunday evenings. On Sunday mornings, they staffed the whole preschool and children’s ministry areas in their church. At one point, they had no leadership voids in the preschool and children’s ministry. This is what it’s about. Children who are believers don’t have a “baby” Holy Spirit—they have THE Holy Spirit, and they are gifted by Him for ministry today.
- Teach children and preteens how to walk with Christ, not just about Christ. Here is what I mean. Two books that highly influenced me in my understanding of discipleship are Disciples Are Made Not Born by Walter Henrichsen and MasterLife by Avery Willis. These two books opened my eyes to personal spiritual disciplines that changed my life. Well, I tested the water fifteen years ago with a group of about 15 preteens. I saw immediate change and transformation in their lives. Discipleship goes beyond head knowledge to teaching them how to walk with Christ daily in a personal relationship with Him. These disciplines are Lordship, Bible study, prayer, evangelism, gifts and ministry, and living a life of obedience to Christ.
- Empower children and preteens for missions. One of the highlights for me every year was when I took preteens in my church on a mission trip. I would train them in my church and then take them into the community to share the Gospel. Then I would take them on mission trips outside of our city as far as six hours away. It was during these trips that I saw many of their eyes opened to God’s amazing plan of salvation for the whole world. In the past 15 years, preteens from my church and others who have attended our mission trips have led more than a thousand children, students, and adults to Christ.
- Seek the Lord for a vision for your church. Remember, this ministry is not yours—it is His. When you surrender the ministry to Him, it takes the pressure off you. Now you simply ask the Lord what His vision and desire for your church is. Once you have a clear vision, develop a prayer team. This should be a group of prayer warriors who will stand in the gap as you move forward. Remember, not everyone will be happy with change, but through prayer, the Lord will bring them on board with you. Cast your vision from the top down. Go to your pastor, staff, elders, deacons, and your leadership. Once they are on board, it will be a much easier process to get started and implement in the years to come.
I want to say to you that I fully understand your struggles. It is my desire to help you develop an effective ministry to children and preteens that bridges the gap between children’s ministry and student ministry. When you do, you will see lives changed for His glory. If you currently do not have a process to intentionally disciple preteens and engage them in ministry, we would love to set up a time to meet with you to develop an effective plan. Get started now!
Dr. Clint May
Nelson, Alan E. “Welcome to the World’s Most Effective Preteen Leadership Training Program.” KidLead: Growing Great Leaders. Accessed March 11, 2014. http://kid lead.com/ 388839.ihtml.