An encouragement for those who serve in children's ministry

If you want big-souled, large-hearted men or women, look for them among those who are much engaged among the young, bearing with their follies, and sympathizing with their weaknesses for Jesus’ sake.
— Charles Spurgeon

Children’s ministry is unique in the life of the church. It is simultaneously one of the most challenging and rewarding ministries. There are few ministries in the life of a church that can leave you exhausted and refreshed quite like working with kids. On any given week, children’s ministry leaders and servants can be found running, crawling, jumping, shouting, whispering, laughing, crying, smiling, and frowning.

Leaders in children’s ministry are caretakers, teachers, playmates, mediators, parental figures, and role models. These roles, when fulfilled, produce tired bodies and full souls. Ministering to kids is exhausting. Yet, there is nothing so satisfying as seeing kids learn deep biblical truths for the first time, begin to trust Christ, and grow in intimacy with him.

But the labors of children’s ministry often go unnoticed and volunteers can feel unappreciated. It is tempting to feel like serving in children’s ministry is nothing more than a glorified babysitting service so the rest of the congregation can do real ministry. This couldn't be further from the truth. Children’s ministry is foundational in the spiritual, theological, and worldview formation of a person. As Paul encouraged Timothy:

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:14-15).

John Calvin agreed. He believed the teaching of children was fundamental to the future of the church. He once wrote, "Believe me, the Church of God will never be preserved without catechesis," that is, the teaching of basic bible doctrine to children. Likewise, Puritan Thomas Watson once said, "To preach and not to catechize [teach] is to build without foundation."

If you lead or serve in children’s ministry, Lord knows you aren’t in it for personal glory.

If you serve in children’s ministry, know that your work is most valuable not only for the spiritual formation of the kids you teach, but also for the future of the church. You are not just a babysitter. For some kids, you are a trusted and invaluable partner with their parents as they disciple. For other kids, you may just be the only source of love, grace, and truth they will ever see. Your labors will, for better or worse, shape the way children view the Bible, God, and the church for many years to come. Not many of us forget our teachers.

If you lead or serve in children’s ministry, Lord knows you aren't in it for personal glory. But never forget that you are in children's ministry for glory. Children's ministers and servants are laboring for the glory of the Lord in the little hearts and minds of boys and girls. We are praying, teaching, loving, and leading children for the praise of the glory of the grace of God in Christ.

So, I pray my fellow children's ministry leaders and servants find deep satisfaction in our often difficult and thankless work. I pray we find satisfaction in presenting the gospel to kids. I pray we find satisfaction in teaching small kids big truths to blow their minds and ground their feet. In a culture that is constantly shifting, I pray we resolve to continue teach children the immovable truth of the gospel even if we don't see any results in our time with them. As Charles Spurgeon wrote said, "Oh, that the Spirit of God may help us to do this! The more the young are taught the better; it will keep them from being misled" (Come Ye Children: Practical Help Telling Children About Jesus, pp. 10-11).

We Must Be Bad News Teachers

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Before we can understand who God is and what he has done, we’ve got to see our sin. That’s the only way we can see how costly his grace is.

Early on in my ministry when I was leading a children's ministry at another church , I evaluated and changed our curriculum. The old curriculum was lacking in several areas and a change was needed. One teacher in the preschool area was very unhappy about the change. I asked her why she was not a fan. Her response was interesting.

She explained the curriculum started out well enough by teaching about creation. “But,” she said, “it quickly went downhill, because all the following lessons talked about sin…..the sin of Adam and Eve, the sin of Cain killing Abel and Noah and the flood…” I was surprised by her response, and I asked her,  “Isn’t that the Bible?” Her response was, “Well yeah, but it is so negative. I mean Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and Noah…...all the sin. It’s so negative for kids to hear.” Taken aback by her observation I responded, “You are right. In fact, I think it is negative for adults to hear. Sin has to be part of the conversation if we are to see our great need for Jesus.”

Sin is negative. Sin is bad, bad news! That is why the gospel is such good news. Kids, like adults, need to hear about our sin. Kids know that they do wrong, but they need to understand how great an offense our sin is against a holy and loving God. Parents must address not only their child’s behavior, but to delve into the underlying issues of the heart. They need to help their child understand we all have a sinful nature, just like the people read about in the Bible, and we need Jesus. Our kids need Jesus!

What has been your experience teaching kids about sin?

Should my child get baptized?

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Many young parents have asked the question, “When is the best time to baptize my child?” It’s an important question, and it’s an important one for both parents and church leaders to be asking. If a child says they love and trust Jesus, we must take it at face value. We know that Jesus loves children and desires to save them (Matt. 19:14), so we should be eager to welcome kids to him and baptize them. At the same time, we don’t want kids to pursue baptism simply because their parents want them to be baptized. The church is responsible to baptize only believers, those whom God has saved and changed. So, as you, parents and church ministry leaders, consider whether or not the child in your care is ready, here are seven things to keep in mind:

1) Your first job is to clearly explain the gospel.

It’s really important that your family sits under biblically faithful, gospel-centered teaching week after week in your local church. It’s also important that you take time to clearly explain the gospel to your child as well. This may mean reading a Bible storybook to them a few times a week. But it also means having intentional times when you simply share the gospel and invite your child to respond by believing it and then obeying the Bible’s command to be baptized.

2) When you share the gospel, emphasize what Jesus has done.

Too often when sharing the gospel with children, we emphasize the ABCs: (A) Admit you are a sinner; (B) Believe in Jesus; and (C) Confess faith in him. There’s nothing wrong with this (see Romans 10:9-10) so long as we’re also clear that salvation is not about what the child does but about what Christ has done for them. If we only talk to kids about what they should do, we run the risk of confusing or discouraging them. When a child becomes aware of their sin, they may become introspective and worry, “Did I do enough? How can Jesus live in my heart when I still get so angry?” What Jesus has done for us through his cross and resurrection is the most important thing—so much more important than what we do. He saves us. We do not save ourselves. So, use a gospel presentation method that emphasizes Christ’s saving work; you might consider Billy Graham’s Steps to Peace With God or my own Are You Close to God? Then, teach kids to look away from themselves to the love and forgiveness that comes because “Christ loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

3) Don’t be intimidated, because salvation belongs to the Lord.

I know many parents feel intimidated by these kinds of conversations. “How do I help my child understand things that are still a mystery to me?” Be encouraged. While you bear some responsibility to teach your children, God is ultimately the author of their faith (Jonah 2:9; Acts 17:26). As much as we may want to speed up their commitment, Jesus ultimately is the one who calls the shots. So, when the moment comes, say a quick prayer. Lean into the Lord and ask him for help, wisdom and discernment as you share the gospel with your child. And if you’re child is taking time to process, keep on being intentional. Invest the time to pray for, study, and sit with them. Your willingness to do so will help them see that their spiritual life and growth is a priority for you.

4) Look for a change of heart

After your child has made a confession of faith in Jesus Christ, look for a change in their heart. Does your child acknowledge and have a distaste for sin that was not there before their confession of faith? Is there a willingness to admit wrongs, apologize, ask for forgiveness, and forgive others when necessary? Is she showing a desire to pray and read her Bible? Does your child look forward to going to church and being with other believers? Conviction about sin, an increased desire to know God, and the practice of spiritual disciplines are all evidences of the Holy Spirit's work.

5) Work with the church to teach your kids the meaning of baptism.

When a child has begun to show an interest and desire to be baptized, dig a little deeper and ask, “Why do you want to be baptized?” Then, take that opportunity to teach them the meaning and right motivation for baptism. Baptism is a covenant sign that symbolizes our faith in Christ and our entrance into God’s family (Col. 2:11-12). Baptism is a picture of Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-11); It shows how our story is connected with Jesus’s story. Baptism is a symbol of cleansing from sin (Acts 22:16); It shows how our sins have been washed away. Baptism is an act of obedience both for the individual (Acts 2:38) and the church community (Matt. 28:18-20). So, the church and family should work together to teach kids these truths. Parents should look to the church to provide clear teaching on the gospel and baptism. They should also look to their pastors and church community for prayer and support as they seek to pass on these truths at home.

6) It’s okay if your child isn’t ready.

After teaching, don’t be discouraged if your child wants to take more time to process. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t saved or that they won’t be saved. Jesus didn’t identify his own faith as separate from his parents until the age of twelve, and he was not baptized until age thirty. Christians are saved by faith, not by baptism. Know and rely on the love that Christ has for you and for your child. And lean on your church leadership or other believers if you have questions about what to say and do next.

7) Finally, when the day comes, celebrate your child’s baptism with joy.

Once you begin planning your child’s baptism, focus on helping them celebrate it with joy. Invite friends and family to be there to celebrate this day with you. It is a day that should be cherished. And don’t forget that this day is also an opportunity to share the good news of your testimony with others. Baptism is a public expression of our faith. So, convey to your children that their baptism may be used by Jesus to save others.

Any time a child is baptized, there are varying emotions—joy, excitement, and gratitude. It’s a great privilege to teach our children about Jesus, see them come to faith, and participate in their baptism. But don’t just cherish the day of baptism; cherish the entire process.

This post first appeared at the Sojourn Network blog.

Six Questions and Answers about the Clap Your Hands, Stomp Your Feet VBS Curriculum

The Clap Your Hands, Stomp Your Feet: Make a Joyful Noise VBS curriculum teaches children the “why” behind our worship and leads them to respond to God’s grace and goodness through fun, active praise. Each of the five days of curriculum works together to engage kids in lively, responsive praise rooted in the truths of the gospel. Here's six key questions and answers that will help you learn more:

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Why is important to teach kids about responsive worship? Young children love to sing, clap, and dance. Each time we lead kids in worship, we instinctively call them to worship responsively: “Clap your hands! Sing out! Shout Hallelujah!” One of the dangers inherent in teaching kids to worship this way is that we sometimes call for responses without showing kids a clear picture of the Heavenly Father they are responding to. With Clap Your Hands, Stomp Your Feet, our goal is to help kids respond to the grace and goodness God has spoken in his Word. Appropriate for use with churched and unchurched children alike, Clap Your Hands Stomp Your Feet teaches that proactive praise is a lifelong response to the good news of Jesus. Each day connects the truths of the gospel to real-life scenarios through a study of the life of King David, and is written with a heart to call children to contagious, demonstrative praise.

What inspired you to teach responsive worship through the story of David’s life? Fletcher Lang and I used to share a small office at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville. Some of my fondest memories in ministry took place in that one-window room. Fletcher and I would have these curriculum brainstorming sessions where we'd fill up a little white board that hung on the wall at the far end of the office with crazy ideas. This one began with an idea to teach responsive worship using the game Simon Says - God speaks and we respond! I suggested having a Psalm for each day and Fletcher brilliantly suggested using narratives from David's life. 

Is Vacation Bible School still an effective means of reaching un-churched families? Yes. A one-week VBS provides a great opportunity for Christian kids and parents to invite their un-churched friends and neighbors. The un-churched family might see the event simply as a way to get free childcare or as a chance for their child to grow socially. But the child who attends a full week of VBS encounters more intentional Bible teaching than he or she would receive in nearly five months of regular attendance at Sunday School. A well-organized, engaging VBS is a great way to help your church's reputation with un-churched parents as well. Just imagine the kinds of  conversations these parents will have when their children come home after a full morning or evening of engaging the Bible and church community. 

Are there other ways to use the curriculum other than in a week-long VBS? Of course. You could also use the curriculum for a backyard club or for a short-term midweek curriculum taught over the course of five weeks. In addition, a number of our Sojourn congregations in Louisville have shortened the teaching to three or five day programs then finished out the curriculum on the following Sunday. This model both provides an opportunity to celebrate the children who have come to VBS with the entire congregation and gives a clear invite for un-churched families to take a next step toward faith by gathering with the church community. 

What makes your VBS curriculum unique? I think the most unique thing about our curriculum is that the originators and authors are local church leaders. Most VBS curriculums are designed by large publishing houses, and we're certainly indebted to New Growth Press and the work their team has done to make this curriculum available to the larger church community. But we also like to say that our curriculum sets are "by the church and for the church." Our VBS team primarily combines the talents of a local church writing guild that includes moms and dads, local church pastors and Sunday school teachers—all who love kids and want to share God’s good news with them!

What is your favorite activity in the curriculum? I loved making the craft instruments every day. The kids will bring them to worship during the closing assembly and "make a joyful noise." Teaching the to use what they've made to honor God in worship is really fun to me. Also, the giant slingshots in recreation on the day we teach the David and Goliath story are a blast too. I could hang out in that area all day!

The Clap Your Hands, Stomp Your Feet: Make a Joyful Noise VBS starter kit includes a director’s guide, games guide, craft and assembly guide, printables, and much more. It even includes a studio-recorded children’s worship CD and digital songbook produced by Sojourn Music. Purchase now from New Growth Press.