Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Foundational Issues for God-Centered Children's Ministry

When recently speaking to a church about their opening for a children's minister I presented six foundational issues to guide the ministry. Here they are in abstract form. These themes were drawn from many teachers. They have grown out of my personal struggle to build my ministry on a solid theological foundation. They are not exhaustive or complete. I only pray that they will be helpful to the church and bring glory to God.

  • Children’s Ministry must be God-centered: Our aim is that kids will know God, not merely know about God. The Bible is a book about God. He is the main character. All of creation points to his power and love. Only by knowing Him can our children know real joy.
  • Children have value to God: As parents we cherish our children and desire the best for them. But our parental love does not compare to the love that God has for children. We are excited to join in God’s plans to bless our children.
  • Children’s Ministry begins at home: The great commission starts at home. God has commissioned parents to raise children who love him. The most effective context for teaching children is the home. This ministry must encourage and equip parents to fulfill God’s design.
  • Bible teaching must aim to change the heart: We must not only teach our children truth. We must train their hearts to love God and others. The Pharisees had an outward religion. But the gospel calls us to an inward change that produces love from the heart.
  • Children’s ministry must be taken seriously: Simply having “something” for the children is not enough. God has given a unique opportunity for discipleship in the “teachable years” of childhood. Jesus said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:37)
  • Children’s ministry must be age-appropriate: This ministry will be sensitive to the developmental stages of childhood. Every effort will be made to accommodate the maturity levels present. Bible truths will be taught in words that children can understand. We will look at the long term and realize that the fruits of this ministry are seen over a lifetime.

12 comments:

Shawn L said...

Awesome quote
"Children’s Ministry begins at home: The great commission starts at home. God has commissioned parents to raise children who love him. The most effective context for teaching children is the home. This ministry must encourage and equip parents to fulfill God’s design. "


It seems to me this is lacking in most children's ministry. Encouraging parents to do their duty. Maybe I'm worng, but it seems to be lacking in the avereage church


Awesome statements and very focused. I'm still trying to understand the belief that it all has to be age appropriate. I'm not certain where that principle should be used.

For example, at my church the children are involved in all of worship (we don't have a children's church) and they listen to the sermons as well and the children's sermon, but they don't understand most of the sermon, but learn to love God together as a family and listen.

Russell said...

Shawn,

In responce to why a church may conduct a seperate children's church, have you considered the covenantal aspect of God's people. We are called as God's people out of darkness (world) into the light (church)and we are added to the body of Christ. We are a covenanted people, united in our call to make disciples, even of our children.
The church I attend highly stresses the responcibility of parents to evangelize and train their children in and with the scriptures. But at the same time we recognize the need to work together to support each other in this call. Our children's ministry supports this effort in many ways. Two of the most prominant being
1) exposing kids to other parents and children. This exposure gives the children a broader base of teaching on the scriptures from other church members that I trust and believe to be competant to bring out nuances of the text I may not have seen myself.
2) Although all parents are capable of training their children, not all are exceptionally gifted in this area. Children's church provides an opportunity for those who are gifted to serve others in the call to train children.
Here is an excerpt from our CM manual I put together:

"Introduction
The Bible is clear that the call of Christian parents is to train and teach their children the gospel. We eagerly desire as a church to support parents in this effort. Teaching and training children in the gospel is the greatest privilege and challenge parents have been given, and God has provided many promises and reasons for faith in the process. God has also provided the local church to train parents and to join with them in this responsibility. Several ministries exist in our church to help parents fulfill their calling."

Sorry to post such a huge comment. I hope this helps give you a beeter understanding of where some folks may be commin from.

BTW- I would not have any problem with parents who decide it was better for their children to remain with them throughout the entire service.

Shawn L said...

Russell,

Your church seems to have this right!! Amen!!! We want to stress both desire to have parents train up children and also that we are part of a community of faith.

However there is quite a large benefit to have the kids worshipping with the whole community of faith in some or most of the service in my opinion (please forgive me if I sound legalistic since in reality I am not and am fine with children's church).

Why is this? The scriptures seem to over and over stress intergenerational worship and worship from varied background and tribes and tongues that means we don't come to church because we have the same football team we like or anything, but because of Christ is the best of all beings.

The fact that we need to train children as parents, but really kids are part of the community of the faith.

However, how do you keep parents training their children as that seems to be the primary emphasis in scripture above the other of other people training up kids. I think the best bet is to equip the parents and focus on ways to teach them to pass on their faith. Our church has a "Faith Training Seminar" for parents and grandparents and those who want to be an encouragement to others in the congregation.


Have you read Parenting in the Pew? Awesome book.

Russell said...

Shawn,

Thanks for a gracious reply, and no I don't think you're legalistic. I very much appriciate folks who have strong convictions. It's refreshing in this postmodern, relativistic world.

I suppose it would be good to define what we're talking about when we say children's church. I should clarify that I do not advocate an entirely seperate service created for just the children. I agree children should be "worshipping with the whole community of faith in some or most of the service". Our church has adopted a practice of including children in the "singing songs" part of the worship service. Then during a short break the children move to smaller classrooms for "children's church" (Bible lesson probably from Desiring God Ministries)as the adults remain and here the primary teaching from the pastor.

We also provide a room for toddlers since they obviously are not going to get anything out of the message. This gives parents of younger children a chance to enjoy the message undistracted.

I believe this approach works well as families are able to praise and glorify God together in song (which probably lasts 45mn to 1hr), as well as recieve teaching from the scripture.

Lastly, having parental training sounds great, and I advocate this as well. For instance, we would ascribe and recommend "The Case for Kids Seminar" published by the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation". It is excellent. Find it here:
http://ccef.org/store6.asp?sku=SEM000001

"Have you read Parenting in the Pew? Awesome book." No I havn't. I will check it out, thanks for the tip. What impacted you the most about this book?

Tony K. said...

Shawn and Russell,
Great comments! Let me answer briefly here and work the issue out fully in a future post. What I call age-segregation in the church is a real concern. In some larger churches the kids are dropped off at a separate door and pick up three hours later at the same door.

Age-appropriateness for me is a applying the principle of “Gospel accommodation” to the special needs of a child’s age. Let me clarify, this is my standard for the child specific ministries of the church, not corporate worship or other intergenerational settings. My aim is to minimize confusion so that children will not be led to a wrong understanding of God. If I am teaching about the birth of Jesus and a child leaves my class believing that God the Father has a wife – then I was not as clear enough. Age-appropriateness is also essential in presenting the Gospel.

The crux of your discussion appears to be the “children’s church” service. It is important to have the family together in God’s presence. It is also helpful to give younger children a specialized setting to learn God’s Word. I see the wisdom in both approaches. There is a middle ground in having younger children present until the sermon itself. What concerns me is the implication that hearing the Word of God preached is not an essential part of worship. I think every church should wrestle with these issues. At this point I am not sure the scriptures mandate either approach, provided that children are hearing the Word of God.

My pastor told me yesterday about his trip to Saddleback Church several years ago. He had his two children (ages 4 and 1) and the greeters said in a very nice way that they could not be taken into the main auditorium. Even with all the security, he did not want to leave them with nursery workers. So they were directed to sit in an overflow room and watch the service via television. I was a little shocked by the story.

Tony K. said...

"The Case for Kids Seminar" published by the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation"

Great seminar. We used it with our small group last year. It was excellent because we had fifteen children upstairs who came with the eight adults. Every ten minutes one would need correction and it was like a workshop!

Russell said...

Tony,

"Every ten minutes one would need correction and it was like a workshop!" - LOL

Thanks for your insight. You have obviously though on this long and hard. I didn't mean to imply that the preached Word is not worship. I was fumbling for a way to articulate the difference between the "song" and "sermon" portions of worship.

I look forward to the upcoming post:-)

Shawn L said...

Russel & Tony,

It sounds like all of us desire the exact same thing! Good to talk to others about it (sometimes I feel like our church in the community of believers and Christian friends I have in the town have expressed to me that we are just plain weird to them). I've received a 5 page paper about this from a friend at a another church concerned that we are legalistic, etc. Sadly people have the wrong view of us sometimes and it's hard to work past it since the community of faith is important for other evangelistic events and loving attitudes to other Christians in the Town.

I don't believe we are I think it is just the church seems to have lost the desire to worship and train up children (songs, confession, preaching) with their kids.

I'm not saying it always has to be that way, but many evangelical churches never stress the command for parents to train up their children primarily in my view because the body doesn't stress it. All children's ministries that try to remember this are awesome in my opinion since we have got a long way to go!


Good thoughts and something important to any church. I think Saddleback has got it wrong!

It would be interesting to note what Bethlehem Baptist does since they are bigger as well. We have about 200 people in our church so this seems to work well. Newcomers are surprised by some of the kids in the service, but get very used to it.

Plus Desiring God Ministries has some great GOD centered resources for children. Is that where most of you get your stuff?

Shawn L said...

Tony,

I would like to see you write your comment on Youth Ministry and the new Christian without Christian parents. How can we keep our Youth Ministry from being a Christian Getto in the sense of deemphasis on intergenerational discipleship (biblically mandate) and growth that way.

Our church has a ministry called "Next Generation Discipleship", which my pastor said "isn't function well now" since little is being done to have faith filled adults meeting with teens, like was in our vision. He means this as the person leading the group has sort of left it.

I'm praying for the teens in our church and getting together with teen regularly and playing chess some with them and growing with them and in regular bible studies with them, but I also know there may be some teens left out who don't have parents who love Christ.

When I was a child I went to an Episcopalian Church and God saved me at 15 years old. God then discipled me through Youth For Christ. Our Youth For Christ was very discipleship oriented rather than "numbers" oriented like others were.

It's interesting to me as I think about teens in our church who may have friends and they might need a different way to grow in the faith when the parents aren't believers, etc.

This is an important topic and something I think of not as much because my children are young like yours.

Tony K. said...

Great conversation. Shawn, I will be posting some thoughts on your blog this weekend. Russell, keep up the good work and thanks for the encouragement.

Tony K. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bhedr said...

I can't tell you all how much I appreciate your thoughts. This has all been such a blessing to know that there is indeed a remnant left that understands the value of the least of these my brethren and the heart that God has for Children. This is the focus of His Kingdom. Thank you all for your thoughts.