Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16). Our passion and commitment in children’s ministry is to not only to let them come, but to bend down, gently take them by the hand, and lead them to Jesus, who already is reaching out to them with open arms.
Wonderful reports come in each year from our youth camps telling of hundreds of teens and children experiencing Jesus and learning to walk with him as his disciples. This is our primary mission at camp. We also work to equip dozens of youth ministry workers to be even more effective in ministering to these precious young ones back home. This article addresses that equipping—specifically equipping ministry workers and parents for ministry to children.
Children’s ministry (like all ministry, really) is about two relationships: First, as parents and ministry workers, we seek to have a loving relationship with the children. Second, we seek to help children have a devoted relationship with Jesus.
In this second relationship, we have a four-part strategy. First we introduce children to Jesus (seeking the lost). Then we build them up in Jesus (nuture believers). Then we equip them to minister with Jesus (equipping workers). And then we equip some to be leaders among their peers (multiplying leaders). In this article I’ll discuss equipping children to be active workers with Jesus in his ministry in our world.
Such equipping is not merely about programs—it’s about a relational life-style where we (parents and children’s ministry workers) walk hand-in-hand with the children through life—focused on participating with Jesus in his ongoing ministry as we go. One might compare this equipping relationship to apprenticeship. The adult in the relationship is the experienced worker, and the child is the enthusiastic apprentice.
Perhaps you’re wondering, “What kind of work can a child do with Jesus?” I’m glad you asked. Based on what I read in Scripture and in my own ministry experience with children, I think the answer is that a child can do a great deal.
But it seems that we adults often overlook the potential for children to be active in serving God. Remember David, king of Israel? When he was a young boy, his father Jesse overlooked him when it came time to anoint King Saul’s replacement (1 Samuel 16:5-13). Jesse was blind to David’s potential for this assignment. Fortunately, Samuel was open to hear from God on this matter. Perhaps that openness was related to his own experience when God called Samuel to serve him as a young boy (1 Samuel 3:1-21).
My prayer is that when we look at our children, we will see what God sees, hear what God says, and act accordingly to equip our children for God’s calling in their lives. We know, in general, that he calls them to be disciplemaking followers of Jesus—working in that calling as an important part of the body of Christ, called to fulfill the great commission.
What can a child do to advance the great commission? They can contribute in meaningful and active ways. Let’s think this through together. We can equip our children to minister alongside adults at church. Can a child read Scripture? Sure. Can a child help receive the offering or serve Communion? Sure.
As parents and children’s ministry workers, we need to equip children for two types of ministry in Jesus’ service. First is their ministry to other believers. I have seen children at church (who were clearly equipped for this), taking time to talk to an elderly member—and thus extending Jesus’ loving touch to another believer. What joy that can bring!
I was visiting a congregation on the East coast and a couple of young girls about age 10 circulated through the congregation, receiving the offering in baskets. They then brought the baskets to the front and joined an adult to offer a prayer of thanksgiving. They did a marvelous job—clearly they had been equipped for this work.
In another congregation I saw children on stage with the rest of the worship team, leading the congregation in singing praises to God. In another I saw a preteen playing drums in the worship band. Someone had taken the time and paid some expenses to see that this young man was equipped to minister to the Lord and to his people in this way.
Second, we need to equip children to minister to others outside of church. One of my pastor friends tells the story of his 11 year-old granddaughter who gave her life to Christ and was being equipped to share her faith with nonbelieving friends. Early in this equipping process she entered into the ministry of seeking the lost. She passed out flyers, inviting neighborhood children to a worship service to be conducted in her front yard. Right there in her front yard she and a believing friend shared Christ with several non-churched children.
That’s disciplemaking ministry, and children can be equipped to take an active part. But who will apprentice them for their part? Who will be their equippers? Parents (and grandparents), the primary responsibility is yours. The church wants to partner with you in this—equipping you for your vital job and co-ministering with you in the lives of your children.
Pastors, you set the pace for this in your congregation. Make it a place that highly values children and actively involves them in the ministry of the congregation. Often, children are mere spectators in worship services. It’s great (essential, really) that the children have their own classes, but it’s vital that they be equipped and then allowed to take an active up-front role in the main worship service. This sends the message to the children, and to the adults watching, that children are an important part of the congregation.
Youth ministry workers, you are called to be primary equippers of children in your congregation. Invite the children in your care to be your apprentices, and then work to impart to them the ministry skills you have developed. Make young disciples who will, in turn, make other young disciples.
All of us, let’s show an active concern for every child in our congregation and every child in our lives outside the church walls. Children need our gifts of love, time and equipping.
We give to children in these ways because of Christ and for their sake.