The value and challenges of children’s ministry: Importance, impact, and overcoming obstacles
On a balmy rather busy Saturday, I was enjoying my shopping experience at our local mall, when a young man in his mid-to late thirties spotted me from a distance. His beaming smile indicated one of recognition and delight. The downside to his enthusiasm was that I had no clue of who I was about to meet. Perhaps this has happened to you too.
I can see you don’t know who I am
Now I have a strategy for these situations and my simple plan has failed me on numerous occasions. I try to keep the conversation going for as long as possible, whilst desperately hoping for a moment of recall. As conversation and banter ensued, I realised about half through, that nothing was landing. He picked up on the continued glazed look in my eye and finally let me off the hook with a “I can see you don’t know who I am”. This relief pushed me to a last- ditch further question as to his occupation. He informed me that he was a medical doctor, still holding out for some trigger of remembrance.
Finally, he straightened to his full height and said in a throaty voice with a lump in his throat:
“I came over to say thank you -because you led me to the Lord when I was in grade 5 at a Scripture Union camp”
Having been involved in children and youth ministry for 35 years does have its benefits and on days such as these, I am reminded of the value of the role we play in the lives of our youth. Longevity allows me the luxury of perspective. In the light of this, I would like to pose two questions?
- Why is children/ youth ministry so vital to the kingdom of God?
- Why is it so hard though -and how can I overcome this?
A typical Sunday morning at children’s church
Picture now a typical Sunday morning and the children are out of hand. It feels like you have lost control, the lesson has faded into the cacophony of noise and your artwork paint has resulted in a few “Picasso drawings” on the freshly painted walls of the classroom. One more fight has broken out and a parent has decided to lecture you on your failure to produce effective spiritual formation within their children. The elder/deacon’s report would undoubtedly include the effect children’s church has had upon the adult message that morning. Too many parents had to leave the service during the program. At this point you had asked yourself the question “Why Lord? Why do I do this week after week?"
With this picture and story in mind, perhaps it is time to take a look through a different lens.
Why is children’s ministry so vital to the kingdom of God?
Children are highly esteemed by God himself
The following passages all reflect the high esteem that Jesus placed upon children as opposed to the rejection they experienced at the hands of adults. As proof, I invite you to explore the following passages:
- Matthew 18:1-5 – Jesus uses the moment to invite adults to change and become like little children. Whoever takes this lowly position actually is the greatest in the kingdom. God esteems them so highly that he equates welcoming children as if they were Him.
- Mark 10:13-16 – In the light of the rebuke and rejection of the children, Jesus invited them to come to Him. His reaction of indignation clearly indicates how important children are to Him. He blesses the children.
- Psalm 78:3-7 - A command to ensure that we are passing our faith and principles onto the next generation. This is an awesome responsibility and privilege for us as children’s workers.
- Psalm 8:2 - This verse indicates the power of praise of children to establish a stronghold against our enemies.
Children ministry is the best place for evangelism
According to a survey conducted by the Barna group in the U.S.A. 94% of first-time commitments to the Lord are made before the age of 18. Even though this is specific to the U.S.A., each time I have conducted an exercise asking all standing to take their seats according to the age of decision to serve the Lord – it is most times at around 80%. This factor was such a powerful one for Scripture Union in the U.K. that all of their resources and strategy is now centered upon the 95% of children who do not attend church in their country.
A great ministry to develop future leadership
I was asked to speak at a Youth conference recently where the large percentage of workshops were focused upon how to attract our youth and designing programs that would reach them. At some point I thought about how hard it is to compete for their attention in the light of the entertainment being offered by a secular world. My talk lasted all of 5 minutes and its central message was one of providing opportunity for our teenagers and young adults to serve our children through our activities. Many of those that I have seen in my earlier days are now leading ministries either in their church or the broader kingdom of God.
You get to plant seeds and build memory
Some of my favourite things to do when meeting older children who have participated in our activities is discussing the things that stood out for them. Without a doubt they talk about the creativity, the fun and the memories built to last a lifetime. Children have great recollection but the thing they remember the most is the impact of their small group leader upon their lives.
Why is it so hard though?
The Church’s view of children
Having been in a number of church’s and denominations on a Sunday, I have observed two very different views on children’s ministry. The first and largest group are those that see ministry through adult eyes. Their primary goal is to ensure that the children’s ministry was managed well enough to allow the adults to enjoy the ministry. There is a minority however who place children at the centre, who view children as individuals with an ability to enjoy their own relationship with the Lord
A lack of support from the first group is clearly reflected in their allocation of resources. I wonder how much budget has been allocated to your church’s children’s work. At a recent minister’s workshop, we arrived at an average of between 1 and 2 %. Most workers and volunteers were expected to spend their own money and resources.
Takes a long time to see results
A real challenge for us as children’s workers is that of measurement and definition of success. If you identified with the opening story then you are in the majority as it takes time to see those seeds germinate. It is not a ministry for those who wish to see immediate results, instead it is for those who are in it for the long haul. I take courage from the scripture that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth.
"Stand Firm, let nothing move you! Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Inadequately trained and equipped to deal with issues of the day
That same ministers’ workshop that I was involved in also confessed their lack of training in children’s ministry. They admitted to it not being a part of their theological preparation at seminary.
The second issue we are dealing with is the increased level of compliance. Not that long ago we functioned in a world of hugs and definitely no need for police clearance. How our world has evolved. We are now required to understand the impacts of divorce, views of free choice as to gender, gender-based violence and artificial intelligence. Despite the rise of social media our children are experiencing high levels of anxiety and loneliness.
Sustainability challenge - Rapid turnover of workers
Further evidence is emerging that children’s workers turnover of staff and volunteers is becoming a rapid one. Levels of sustainability is decreasing at an alarming rate and the average length of service is set between 12 and 18 months. Burn out is on the rise and we are finding it harder to retain good quality staff. My Youth professor once encouraged me to first build a strong network of support before I even ran my first program. It took about three months to set up and that group became my life blood. I am still in contact with many of them and I am eternally grateful for the wisdom I received
Celebrating the children’s worker
I take this opportunity for all those who have no voice as yet (children), nor the vocabulary to salute you. You are our hero – our influencers of the next generation. Thank you so very much for what you do, even when no one is looking. You inspire us and we are grateful for what you are doing. Perhaps one day you too will meet your own doctor or mother or president or lawyer or…. And they will say “Do you remember me….”