Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Do you have a good children’s ministry? by Jill Kayser

A minister of a church with a once “thriving” children’s ministry shared with me today how they now only have about five children attending church on a Sunday. “We need help!” he exclaimed. It’s not an uncommon story and one that certainly challenges me in my role as the Kids Friendly advisor and coach as I seek to be “helpful” to churches around the country.

The reality is that children’s ministry, like any ministry, is not a constant. Too often we think all we need to do is offer lots of attractive programmes and all will be well. And to be fair that has seemed to work (on the surface anyway) in the past. But effective ministry with children requires so much more than programmes and unlike programmes, its success cannot be measured in tangible ways.

While still reflecting on this church’s situation I came across this blog “Good Children’s Ministry”. It seemed like a message straight from God. The minister/author shares his “humble learnings on the joys and challenges of forming faith in children.”

He suggests that rather than judging our ministry with children as good or bad, we should view ministry to and with children through a different set of lenses.

· Alternative Lens #1: Children’s ministry does not consist of only the programmes a congregation offers for children, but is the sum of all its collective interactions with children in the name of Jesus. When an adult or a young person extends welcome, friendship and care to children before, after or during Sunday worship, that is children’s ministry. When a child experiences a non-parent adult as a living model of faith in a cross-generational small group, that is children’s ministry. When a pastor extends a personal blessing to each and every child at the Communion table, that is children’s ministry.

· Alternative Lens #2: The most important ministry to children a congregation can engage in is ministry to their parents. Parents are the most significant “faith shapers” in the lives of children. When parents are equipped and supported to share their faith with their children and the parents are themselves growing in faith, then a great deal of children’s ministry will be taking place in “non- gathered” ways. Even if a congregation had no Sunday children’s programme, but was investing in supporting faith-at-home, it would still have a very significant children’s ministry.

· Alternative Lens #3: Children’s ministry is when persons of all ages and stages are nurtured as disciples of Jesus Christ. Healthy, vibrant, spiritually mature communities of faith reproduce themselves as people of all ages “do” faith together. Intentional, strategic efforts to develop the faith lives of adults are an important building block for children’s ministry, particularly where these encourage adults to take more seriously their role as spiritual role models, mentors and elders for children.

· Alternative Lens #4: Authentic and respectful inclusion of children into the 
worship life of the congregation is an extremely significant component of a congregation’s ministry to them and with them. Because faith is more “caught than taught” and the gathered worship of the congregation is its primary faith practice, it is vital that children are encouraged, assisted and enabled to take their place alongside persons of other generations as fellow worshipers. Children, youth and adults alike are formed as worshipers by worshiping. Excluding children from the primary gathered activity of the church, or constructing worship that does not acknowledge their presence and their capacities to give and receive, diminishes both them and the wider faith community. While children may not fully understand everything that is said and done in worship services (do adults?), they take in and apply much more than adults realise. They can also contribute in more ways than adults often realise and appreciate. It is my personal observation that sustained involvement and inclusion of children in worship into their youth produces greater maturity of faith than exclusion of children into separate “children’s church” activities.

· Alternative Lens #5: Cross-generational activities enable ministry to children by creating space for relationships to flourish across generations. The Sticky Faith research emphasises how important it is for children of the church to know and be known by five or more non-parent Christian adults who are invested in their growth and wellbeing. Cross-age fellowship gatherings, cross-generational learning events and cross-generational service and mission activities can be fertile soil for the Holy Spirit to work in the “space between” people of different ages and stages. Mentoring, buddy or adoptive grandparenting initiatives can also be very effective means of tending the faith journeys of children.

“So, does my congregation have a “good” children’s ministry?” asks the writer. “It’s a matter of perception. It certainly is by no means all we might hope it to be. But perhaps what we are aiming for is somewhat different too. Our goal, in my view, is to not be merely a church with a children’s ministry, but to be a church of children’s ministry.”

Amen. Amen. Amen! Thanks to this unnamed Lutheran Pastor from Queensland, Australia and to the Forming Faith blog.

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