How to Part the Hallways in Your Church-The Moses Syndrome

moses syndromeHave you ever heard the phrase, “Hindsight is 20/20”? As I reflect back over the past 28 years of ministry, I always struggled as a minister to find help and volunteers in the church. I remember hearing Jim Wideman years ago talk about the “Moses syndrome.” He said, as a minister, he would walk down the hallway on a Sunday morning looking for volunteers. The adults who saw him would part the hallway on both sides like the Red Sea. They were trying their best to avoid eye contact or being near him because he might ask them to serve. This has been much of my journey. As I began to ponder this problem, I realized it isn’t a problem that can’t be fixed. We just have to change the way we are developing our leaders. The reason that it is difficult to get adult volunteers, even parents, to serve is because they have never served in the church all of their lives. Let me explain. Somewhere along the way in the church’s great history, someone embraced the idea that the way to disciple and equip children is through indoctrination—having them sit and listen while someone teaches. We sit them in a classroom and use different teaching styles to explain to them how to live for Jesus. The problem here is that faith is caught, not taught. You can lecture all day long and never move a child’s heart, but teaching with action changes lives. Recently, I have been looking at trends that might cause a minister to rethink the way to do ministry.

I was talking with a fellow children’s minister this past week. She shared that she started teaching at a very young age. All of her friends also served alongside her during her childhood/youth. Now, they are all in full-time ministry! My former Preschool Director said that she had been teaching since age 12. I have heard this same story multiple times of a child who served because of a shortage of volunteers, but it resulted in them being solid Christian adults. Many times, small churches have a leadership shortage, but this might be a great thing to happen. In their desperation, they invite the children to help out. That child grows up serving in the church from a very young age and continues to serve all of their life. This becomes normal to them. You find them years later being some of the best volunteers (lay ministers) in the church. Why? Because service and ministry helped them develop their faith, it helped them find their gifts, and it helped them find their purpose in the body of Christ. Many of the student leaders I have talked with have said that when they began teaching, they were having to study and prepare. That preparation caused them to search Scripture and rely on God to help them teach, which, in turn, solidified their faith.

I used to play sandlot football with my friends. We would choose captains, and then the captains would toss a coin to see who got to pick first. They would go back and forth until we got to the last person. You know how the story goes. The best player always got picked first, then the second best, and so on. Down to the last person who probably couldn’t hardly play at all. But the difference for us was that we all played because we never had enough players to make a complete team. They never had to sit out of a game. What we found was that the poor players became better and better over time. Could it be that the church today is kind of like a sandlot football team? We try so hard to get as many adults on our team (the best players, we think) as possible. But in the church’s case, we don’t allow the younger ones to play at all. Recent studies indicate that this is our problem. The church is one place where every child should find success. Those students who were engaged in ministry at a very young age found purpose in the body of Christ, while those who were not allowed to serve and be a part found that the church was boring and overprotective. The latter resulted in them leaving the church all together.

Every believing child in our churches has the seal of the Holy Spirit in their life. These younger saints have also received spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit to be used today. The joy for me now is helping children discover their spiritual gifts and use them to build up the body of Christ. I have witnessed this first-hand at my home church for the past 13 years. I have watched children as young as fourth grade grow into solid young adult leaders in our church. Some are now sophomores in college, and they are still serving. They have found their purpose and God’s plan for their life. The challenge for the church today is to break free from the paradigm in which we are trapped. I believe it is causing many of our children to walk away from the church when they get older. My prayer is that the Lord will open our eyes to the full potential of every believing child and that we will invite them to play in the game—serving in the body of Christ right now. Can you imagine a day when you have no leadership voids? That trend can end now if we will only allow them to serve.

Dr. Clint May

President, L.I.T. Ministries