One day I had a fourth-grade girl approach me and ask if she could help out in the children's ministry. I immediately put her in charge of our resource room. Right away, I knew that her gift was administration/organization. I could give her something, and she would get it done. Later when she was in sixth grade, she became our Bus Ministry Director. She made phone calls to about 30 children each week. She also served in several afterschool clubs and grew even more as a leader. She continued to serve throughout high school and college. She now has more than 11 years of ministry experience, and I would choose her among most adults because she is a confident, capable, and fruitful leader. It all started during her preteen years.
In 2002, I started a new ministry at a church in Fort Worth, Texas. You know how it is. I just started the position on the eighth of May, and I was informed soon after that there was nothing planned for the summer. I had an idea in my mind that summer to train preteens for ministry as well as to focus on teaching them how to walk with God daily. I was in for a huge surprise! I did not realize that preteens could have a deep desire to follow the Lord. I witnessed that when they served, their confidence level went through the roof. As preteens began to understand how to walk with Christ daily, they transformed before my eyes. Ministry became exciting to me, for the first time really, because I saw a change in the lives of these preteens. In reality, they discovered they could do amazing things for God, even at a young age. I have read a lot of books about preteens, tweens, and betweens. I feel like the common mistake is that they look at a psychological approach to this age group rather than a call by God to raise them up to be the leaders that they are.
You see, if I look at what they cannot do, I remove God from the picture. Isn’t God the One who has taken you and me in our weakness and done amazing things in our lives? The same is true for preteens and children. They are to be discipled, trained, and released in ministry and on mission.
In the past 16 years, I have been on 29 mission trips with preteens. More than 3,000 preteens have taken part in these trips. On these mission trips, preteens do everything, including teaching and counseling lost children. The key I learned is that they have a calling, just like all of us in the church, to fulfill the Great Commission today (Matthew 28:19-20).
Here are some essential steps you can take to get started:
- Look at the heart, not the age group. These guys and gals can do amazing things for the Lord; we only have to train and release them to serve.
- The environment is not as important as the reality of their calling. I have read where leaders are suggesting lights and specific colors to set the mood for preteens. It's more important to create a ministry environment for them. Release them to serve, and you will see them grow.
- Develop a preteen leadership team. Let preteens be a part of the planning process in your preteen ministry. Allow them to pray and ask God for wisdom and then watch as the Heavenly Father gives them ideas.
- Dedicate your time to where the fruit is. As a children's pastor, I learned that the preteen ministry is where the action is. As a pastor, you must be a part of their lives in a hands-on way. It was not something I delegated to another leader. I took many of them under my wing and allowed them to serve alongside me.
I have witnessed these young leaders grow into godly church leaders to whom I have handed off primary responsibilities. They blessed me every time with their incredible gifts and abilities.