This is a common question asked of me by many leaders as they begin a path toward discipling children in their churches. They are very concerned that certain kids in their groups are just not where everyone else is. The main temptation here is to target or focus on those who are behind or not ready. In other situations, we might focus on getting kids saved as our top priority. Which is best? I admit I have struggled with the same questions. Several years ago, I came to peace with the idea that I am called to make disciples, not converts only. Let me explain. If I focus all my attention on reaching lost children in my church, when will I have time to disciple those who know Christ? Getting a child to accept Christ is one the greatest joys of my life. For years I would lead them to Christ and I would go after the next kids who did not know the Lord. The problem was that I was sending preteens into the student ministry who were still “baby” Christians. They prayed the prayer, but that was it. As we look at Scripture, we have a mandate to make disciples (Matt. 28:190-20). So, the church is a place where we make it our top priority to disciple children. Lost children will continue to be saved, but the children in our ministries will grow in their faith and have a solid foundation in their lives before they hit the student ministry.
So here is how we turned the corner:
I remember at the end of the school year being relieved that another year was completed in children’s and preteen ministry. If you are like me, I hoped to see preteens transition into student ministry by the end of the summer with a good spiritual foundation. The problem I was facing was a lot of my preteens started dropping off the map before they hit the end of their fifth or sixth grade years. Then I discovered a new way to keep them on track. We developed a leadership training process. This came in two major parts:
I attended a preteen bridge conference several years ago. George Barna was speaking and shared something that really caught my attention. He said, “The spiritual battle for our children is won or lost in the children’s ministry.” This struck a nerve with me. If you are a children’s pastor, children’s director, preschool minister, or anyone involved in children’s ministry as a whole, you are in a battle. Barna, like many other leaders, is realizing how serious the battle for our children is today. During his 20+ years of research, he targeted adult behavior in the church. Then one day, reality struck. He shared, “Somehow, God managed to lift the veil from my eyes long enough for me to gain wisdom…It became painfully clear to me that I had been operating on the basis of some very faulty assumptions.” What Barna found was the most successful ministries can be traced back to those who were wholeheartedly had an effective plan for children’s ministry.
This means that what you do is the most significant thing in your church. It’s not student ministry; it’s not adult ministry. It’s in the children’s ministry where the battle lines are forming. Knowing this, what should you do as a children’s pastor, children’s director, or ministry leader?