An encouragement to do children’s ministry with love
Posted on 15 Oct 2020 by Vanessa Ong
(This article was originally written for and published in Moore College’s publication Societas)
I focused on every other ministry but children’s ministry in my entire first year of ministry apprenticeship with my home church in Malaysia. I was formally assigned to taking care of the ministry but effectively neglected to do so in my heart and in my actions. There was always the next university students training session to work on, the high school chapel to plan and a girl from church to speak with urgently.
Sunday School runs as usual every week with or without me expending extra thought into the ministry so why does it matter? As long as children leave Sunday School without learning heresy (and kept alive the entire time at Sunday School), right?
Kids are being taught with or without you.
By screens in their faces, their friends, their own child logic of connecting the dots themselves… We’ve heard it all before: “Kids are like sponges”. Whom or what will you allow to be the greatest influence in the lives of the children in church? Some older children are still very much attached to the “first loves” they’ve discovered when they were little. Some are bad habits that were rewarded, some are hobbies and interests. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” – Prov 22:6.
We don’t want to contribute to graduates to youth ministry who are unmotivated in the things of God.
A waking nightmare I call upon whenever I am tempted to slack on anything related to children’s ministry (only when things get especially tough!): The bored and jaded attitude of Sunday School graduates who’ve finally arrived in the youth group. I’m sure those who speak about God and his gospel to children can contribute both positively and negatively to how children feel about learning and growing for another 5 years at youth group!
Handling God’s word does not suddenly become less of a responsibility when teaching children.
It is common to think that as long as there is an absence of heresy in a single children’s lesson or household, then all is well. Perhaps it is because we think the children are not learning anyway, that a lesson is satisfactory as long as “Jesus died and rose again” is mentioned, or perhaps it is because no adult is present to correct us (if you happen to be the only teacher or your helpers are too new to know how!). However, when we are handling God’s word, we are handling God’s word. The quality and standards that we would maintain in handling the word carefully for an adult congregation is the same as with a small group of toddlers. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” – 2 Tim 2:15.
One of the below always makes the list of “Why I fear or dislike kids ministry”:
- “I cannot control them. Children are scary.”
This is definitely one of my fears. Kids can be so demanding! I have found the below advice so useful and effective in children’s ministry:
Kids can sense if you are not taking charge so don’t be uncertain about what you are doing and why. It’s the way you carry yourself. They respond based on how much they can push. They can always ask questions like “Can I read? Can I have another gobstopper?”. Don’t be too worried about disappointing them because sometimes it is not a big deal to them. – Anna Hu, Moore College Chaplain.
- “I cannot connect with them. I feel awkward.”
Admittedly, some of us are more child-like than others. Some of us can quickly play House and pretend with the children whereas some of us seem to be a school principal or discipline master no matter what we wear or say. However, I have seen truly the best moments of children’s teaching by the most “adult-like” adults I know. More obvious than their “un-child-likeness” was their sincere love for both God and the children. Their personalities remained stoic as ever but there was very little self-consciousness. They only focused on the task.
Spending plenty of time baby-sitting and with children, talking and getting to know them is important for knowing how to communicate with them. However, our job is not to become children. Being the personality for children’s TV does not guarantee that you can communicate theology faithfully to children or show them you love and care for them. The elder of the church I’ve spent most of my time teaching kids told me that there are the three things that encapsulate Sunday School: theology, communication to kids and love and care for the children. Children can see if you’re just doing your job. They know when you’ve put in effort. — Robin Gan.
So, don’t aim for “Playmate of the year” award or the “Child Specialist” award (or any awards!). Just teach and love them!
- “I cannot hold their attention. Any special tricks in the bag or techniques to share?”
I’ve had the great privilege of being trained in children’s ministry with Bruce Linton, Families Pastor at Vine Church, Sydney. Most people would describe him as a magician of sorts when it comes to children’s ministry. He really does have many games and fun for children up his sleeve! However, perhaps something that goes unnoticed is that the “magician” spends a lot of time in careful preparation and thought. Bruce is there early on a Sunday morning before anyone else is preparing everything. He thinks through the kind of “diet” the children regularly need. For example, he has expressed (more than once!) how important the doctrine of God was for children and the fact that they need to hear Jesus from the gospels every so often. Something that he mentioned more than once which stuck with me which I now propagate: Children’s ministry is simply effort put in and enthusiasm. – Bruce Linton.