Once Upon a Time in a Church Not So Far Away

Church Not Far Away 1Once upon a time in a church not so far away, the children were sequestered in classrooms. They were told to be still, be quiet, and listen and while the teacher told them about the King and His future plans for them. Year after year, they were told to sit and listen while their teacher ministered to them. But their children’s pastor did not realize that the King had plans for them today. As the children’s pastor began to release the King’s children to participate in ministry, he suddenly witnessed that they could do amazing things for their King. Right in front of the children’s pastor’s eyes, they told others about the King and His plans for them. To the children’s pastor’s amazement, other children became part of the King’s kingdom. In astonishment, the children’s pastor began to realize, “Hey, maybe they don’t have to wait to serve in the King’s kingdom; they can serve the King today.” So the children’s pastor began to recognize more and more the King’s current plans for the children. He gave them more and more responsibilities, and they carried them out to the glory of their King. The King (Jesus) showed the children’s pastor that children are not the future church—they are the church today!
After 26 years of ministry, I was that children’s pastor. For the first 13 years of ministry, I taught children about Jesus and His plans for them, but it wasn’t until 12 years ago that I began to release them to minister. To my amazement, they did phenomenal things for Jesus. I had been taught that younger children were concrete thinkers, and that as they get older, they begin to think in more abstract terms. But this type of training left out a key component—the Holy Spirit who lives in every believing child. You see, when I sit a child in a classroom and lecture them and teach them Bible stories trying to embrace all of their learning styles, I am embracing a secular educational approach to Christianity. But when I recognize who lives in them at new birth, I begin to see these “concrete thinkers” in the 1st through 4th grades do amazing things for Christ. Let me explain:
1. Salvation: Scripture makes it clear that those who trust in Christ as Savior and Lord will be saved. Through personal belief that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for their sins and rose on the third day, they are saved (Romans 10:9-10).
2. Sealing of the Holy Spirit: Paul tells us that at the point of salvation, every believer is sealed by the Holy Spirit for eternity. “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14). They don’t receive a “baby” Holy Spirit; they receive the Holy Spirit, just as believing adults do.
3. They are gifted by the Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit gives at least one gift or more to every believer in Christ. Paul tells us, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3b). Right after he says this, he begins to list the gifts from the Holy Spirit in verse 4 and beyond that are distributed to believers in Christ. So, like all believers, children receive the Holy Spirit at new birth, and they receive spiritual gift from the Holy Spirit as well.
4. We are called to equip them for ministry: Here was the kicker for me. My role changed in a significant way as I began to understand Ephesians 4:11-13. Paul tells us, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, Church Not So Far Away 2some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” For the first 13 years of ministry, I focused on equipping the older saints (adults). What makes a person a saint? Paul wrote to the believers in Christ at the church in Ephesus saying, “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Every believer in Christ is considered a saint by what God did for them, not by what they did for God. When I began to recognize what God’s Word says about salvation, the Holy Spirit, and His gifts, I began to realize that my role was not just to equip adults, but children, too.
This was my eye-opening moment. No longer did I teach them according to their learning styles, but I engaged them in ministry according to their gifts and taught in ways that made the Word of God come alive. There is an old saying, “Faith is caught, not taught.” This is true with children. If you want to move from concrete to abstract very quickly, the next time you teach a child about prayer, you pray with them. The next time you tell them about the Great Commission and missionaries, allow them to become a missionary by teaching them how to share their faith and taking them outside the church to share the Gospel. They were created for a purpose, and that purpose is to serve their King in His church today. Service and ministry for children are not future privileges in the church. Every believer in Christ, young and old, has this privilege and calling today. Adam Stadtmiller says it best, “Our spiritual gifts are the thrill ride of faith, and they are one of the most dynamic ways we come to know Christ and mature in our relationship with Him. When we walk in our spiritual gifts, we get our hands and feet dirty for Jesus, and we start to look and act like the Christians of the Bible.”

[1] Adam Stadtmiller, Discover Your Kid’s Spiritual Gifts: A Journey into Your Child’s Unique Identity in Christ (Ventura: Regal Books: 2012), 17.