Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). We see this admonition lived out proactively in the early church. Children were such an integral part of the church in Ephesus that Paul, writing to that congregation, addresses the children directly (Ephesians 6:1-3). That Paul would do so is exceptional, particularly in a culture that viewed children more as property than as valued persons.
In Ephesians Paul wrote: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (6:4). Parents have the primary responsibility for teaching their children. For that reason, children’s ministry should involve, wherever possible, ministry to and through parents.
Sadly, however, many children are missing one or both parents. To make matters worse, many parents who are physically present are either unwilling or unable to nurture their children in the Lord.
In such a setting, what can an individual Christian do to minister effectively to children? What can a congregation do? Research by the Barna Research Group indicates that 75 to 85 percent of adult Christians in North America made their initial faith commitment before age 15. Children are particularly open to Jesus and his love. It is an opportunity that the church must not miss.
While there are no magic formulas or programs, some key principles can be derived from Scripture and ministry experience, summarized in the acronym B.R.I.N.G. Together, we can BRING children into a relationship with their Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Bless them with Jesus’ love
Christian ministry is Jesus’ love in action. Christ’s love is the motive, the method and the hoped-for result. Children’s ministry seeks to show Jesus’ love to children, so they can know him and come to love him too.
Relate to them at their level
God has created children to develop in a particular way intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and physically. For us to be effective in ministering to children, we need to reach out to them in ways that are appropriate to their stages of development.
Involve them and Nurture them
Children’s ministry is not merely programs (such as Sunday School classes and nurseries, as helpful and essential as such programs are). Children’s ministry is about positive, supportive and encouraging relationships in the love of Christ.
Inside the church, we can share the life of the congregation with them, involving them fully in the church’s worship, fellowship and outreach. Outside the church we can involve them in our recreation, our jobs and our hobbies—we let them see us living life as Christ’s followers. In this way, they learn from us as an apprentice learns from a master craftsman.
This is Christian disciplemaking. It involves modeling and instruction—and it takes lots of time and focused attention.
Grant them increasing ministry opportunity
Children’s ministry is ministry to, with and through children. Effective children’s ministries equip children to minister to others—to peers and even to those who are older. By involving children actively in the ministries of the congregation, children develop a sense of ownership, a sense of responsibility to the congregation and to its disciplemaking mission.
Many tools are available to help us in children’s ministry. But no tool is more important than prayer. May we all pray that God will impress upon our hearts the high calling to BRING children to Christ. It’s for God’s glory and for the children’s everlasting benefit.