What is the Purpose of Children’s Ministry?
Submitted by Jennifer Power
My Experience Growing Up in Church
Growing up, going to Sunday school and worship at our local small town church was a regular part of our weekly routine. I have positive memories of Sunday school and had some excellent teachers and experiences. I went through confirmation, attending yearly church camps, participated in youth acolyting (lighting and extinguishing candles), received my first Bible in third grade (which I spent many nights reading and underlining), was active in the youth group, attended many lock-ins, helped with Vacation Bible School for many years, attended and later volunteered in children’s church (released after a children’s message before the sermon), participated in dramas, led the youth group for a while with my (now) husband, sang occasional solos, shared birthdays and other joys/concerns during the service’s prayer time, and stayed and played, talked, and sometimes ate meals with other members of the congregation after each service. My husband and I were married and had our wedding reception in this same church and invited the entire congregation to attend, and my husband even did some clerical work there for a time.
I do not remember whether or not I was always excited about getting up and going to Sunday school and church service each week, but my memories of this congregation are warm and positive. For a time in my childhood, it seemed the church was thriving. I can remember one Christmas Eve service in particular where we were setting up chairs in every available space in the sanctuary, but by the time my husband and I left (for better or worse) to find a congregation with more young adults, participation was in decline.
Growing up, I was not so much aware of political issues, cliques, power plays by prominent families, divisive issues, etc., I just enjoyed the community. I was known by all in the congregation and was well-loved. People were aware of my school achievements and would regularly approach me to discuss them. Of course, I did not know any other way, but looking back I still feel the warmth of the community in that small congregation of worshipers. I cannot help but believe my experience in my hometown church contributed significantly to my shaping as a follower of Jesus today.
If my experience is any indication, that small congregation did a lot right, so what happened and what is happening at many of our churches nationwide? These are big questions, and a lot of people are seeking answers and seeking to answer. The conclusion, however, seems a bit illusive, and right smack in the middle of the conversation is the issue of children’s ministry and how it fits into the bigger picture of building up Godly families who follow the teachings of Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Exploring the Questions
This past Sunday, I had my first meeting with my newly formed Children’s Ministry Focus Group, and the first question I posed to them is “what is the purpose of children’s ministry?” I had given them “homework” to help us all think through and discuss this question together, (and they all completed their assignments wonderfully!). We had great discussion even though we did not reach an exact conclusion on the answer. Two main themes, however, emerged in our discussion.
- First, we all agreed children’s ministry needs to help our children have a foundation through which to live a life devoted to Jesus Christ, and that this necessarily included an emphasis on missions and stepping outside ourselves/themselves to serve.
- The second theme revolved around supporting and equipping families to be the primary teachers and modelers of faith for children.
I personally love these two focuses and certainly think community and teaching the Word of God (two additionally important elements to the equation) fit nicely with the first two. Of course, the difficulty lies in the more detailed question of how do we actually bring this all about?
How do we create a thriving, authentic faith community for our families and children? How do we help kids not just know Bible stories but know well the Word of God so they can rely on it when trials come? How do we help kids experience God in their daily lives so their knowledge of God can be strengthened by their experience of the Holy Spirit in their lives? How do we help kids see life in Christ is not just about going to heaven but is about a sacrificial way of living which though initially may sound unappealing is in actuality the best way to live? How do we live as a faith community which draws others in due to our shocking love and care for one another?
How YOU Can Engage in the Discussion
Lately, I have been drawn to the teaching of Francis Chan. I believe God gives specific messages to specific individuals, and have often experienced God using such people to teach me. I go through phases where I spend time really digging in to the message a particular individual has to share, and right now that person is Francis Chan and that message is sacrificial obedience to Jesus Christ.
If you have an hour this week, I encourage you to watch this video which first caught my attention when I googled “How to Help Kids Experience the Presence of God.”
As I wrestle with these questions as Director of Children’s Ministry here at St. Paul’s, I would really love to hear from you. You can comment on the St. Paul’s Decatur Children’s Ministry Facebook group or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts on children’s ministry or with any stories or insights you would like to share.
May God grant us vision, clarity, wisdom, and courage as we wrestle with these questions and strive to minister effectively to children and families.