Taking a Non-Traditional Approach to Children's Ministry

As children’s ministers, we have to ask the question, are my teachers teaching or discipling children in my church? Are weAdobeStock 123659968 more concerned about the developmental learning styles of children, whether they are concrete or abstract learners, than about whether they are being transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives? I believe we should be fascinated with the idea that every child that is saved (or born again) has received the Holy Spirit into their lives. Yes, the Holy Spirit indwells every believer, including children. He is not a “baby” Holy Spirit; He is THE Holy Spirit. This changes everything! In the body of Christ, we don’t look at what a child can learn. We look at what the Holy Spirit can do through them. We don’t worry about concrete and abstract thinking because the Holy Spirit is not restrained by learning styles. He works in and through open and receptive hearts. If the majority of children are saved between the ages of four and fourteen, you better believe that in their innocence, He can do a powerful work in and through them. What does that look like?  

In order to change the culture of your church, you have to move from teaching knowledge of the Bible to becoming a model of the Bible through your actions, like Jesus did with the disciples. Jesus’ teachings came alive through what He modeled for His disciples and did alongside them. That is when Scripture becomes real. The same is true in the church today. Discipleship isn’t an hour on Sunday morning or Wednesday evening. It happens throughout the week. Joel Resenberg does a wonderful job of defining the difference between a teacher and a discipler: “The discipler-disciple relationship is different from a typical teacher-student relationship. It’s more personal, more practical, and more powerful.

  • A teacher shares information............................ A discipler shares his life.
  • A teacher aims for the head.............................. A discipler aims for the heart.
  • A teacher measures knowledge. ...................... A discipler measures faith.
  • A teacher is an authority. ................................. A discipler is a servant.
  • A teacher says, “Listen to me.”......................... A discipler says, “Follow me.”[1]

The way we move from teacher to discipler is to intentionally take steps to develop the faith of children by modeling, equipping, and releasing them for ministry. Here are just a few suggestions you can start with:

  1. Teach them how to pray. Prayer isn’t something that is taught; it is caught. Show them how to pray and allow them to pray themselves. Encourage them to listen to the Holy Spirit or pray in the Spirit as Paul tells us. I tell my disciple group to ask the Holy Spirit to give them names of people to pray for. I encourage them to mention a name, and we will agree with them in prayer. It is quite unique to listen to them starting out as names of friends or family members come to their minds. From this they learn to listen to the voice of the Lord. On one of our mission trips, the leaders of a group of preteens at a local apartment complex told them to pray and ask the Lord what He wanted them to do. From there they began going door to door, laying their hands on the doors and praying for those living behind the doors. They prayed that the Lord would put someone in their path who they could tell about Jesus. The leaders were amazed as the preteens took the lead from the Holy Spirit and poured their hearts out for the lost.
  2. Encourage them to be in the Word of God daily. Let that become part of the DNA of what happens in your small groups at church. What children learn at home should be reinforced at home and at the church during disciple group time. Look for creative ways to make what they have learned come alive in the small group. If they are reading about ministry or service, grab the trash bags and go and clean up around the church. If they are learning about kindness, have them minister to the senior adults. A child can completely change the day of a senior adult in your church by showing kindness to them. Children can bless and be blessed back just the same.
  3. Train them for missions and then go. Train children how to share their faith, and then take them out to do so. I was contacted by a church leader in Texas who shared with me that one of her fifth-grade boys had started a Bible study at his school and led one boy to Christ. We also took our VBS off campus to multiple locations and allowed our preteens to run the Backyard Bible Clubs. Their faith came alive as they ministered to children in our community. How many times have you heard a preteen say, “I was teaching today, and I was really scared. But I prayed, and something came over me. I am not sure what it was, but God spoke through me in a powerful way!” I have heard this so many times that I have lost count. From their experience, they can look at Acts 1:8 and say, “That happened to me. I received God’s power, and He spoke through me.”
  4. Empower their gifts for ministry. Every believing child in your church has spiritual gifts, and they become apparent through service. I was testing this in my church about three years ago with seven new seventh graders. I gave them personal quiet times to do at home for a week, and they shared about them with our small group at the end of the week. I then gave each of them a spiritual gift test. There were three students who had the gift of teaching, two who scored high in service, and two with the gift of administration. I looked at their highest scores and then put them to work according to those gifts. About three weeks later, I asked them how it felt to serve, teach, and organize things at the church. The majority of them said, “I feel like I am part of the church for the very first time.” One of the boys made a comment that struck me and really hurt my heart for him. He said, “Brother Clint, four weeks ago I would sit in my Sunday school class without hearing a word that was being said.” This really bothered me because he was sitting under one of the best teachers I had in the children’s ministry. Service and ministry turned his focus on others and gave him a sense of purpose that he desperately needed. As these students served using their gifts, they found their place, and their faith was increased.

If it is your passion to see children and preteens in your church transformed, we would love to help. L.I.T. provides proven resources that can help you change the environment of your church to a discipleship and equipping ministry. We would be honored to help you get started. If you would like to know more about L.I.T. and our resources click here

[1] Rosenberg, Joel C., and T. E. Koshy. The Invested Life: Making Disciples of All Nations One Person at a Time. Kindle ed., Tyndale House Publishers, 2012, pp. 35-36.