We can involve children in the life of the church in many ways. Children’s ministry programs are vital—things such as Vacation Bible School, Sunday School classes and camps—but such programs are not ends in themselves.
Ministry to children, as is true of all effective Christian ministry, is relational. It’s about building relationships among people who are growing together in relating to God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. It’s about people sharing together in community the life and love of the triune God.
As we’ve been discussing in this series, ministry to children starts when caring, believing adults, teens and older children reach out to bless children with Jesus’ love. It continues as they together get involved in the lives of those children—relating to them at their level. And it develops as the third principle of effective ministry to children is lived out: together they involve those children in their lives.
Children’s ministry programs are vital—things such as Vacation Bible School, Sunday School classes and camps—but such programs are not ends in themselves. Rather, they are tools to start and then grow relationships among people and with God.
We see this relational principle lived out in Jesus’ earthly disciplemaking ministry. In John 3:22 we are told that Jesus took his disciples into the Judean countryside where (in old King James language) he “tarried with them.” By involving these disciples in his life, Jesus was creating the opportunity through which he could “rub off” on his followers. This is ministry where the teacher (Jesus in this case) pours his life into the disciple. I urge you to approach children’s ministry using this same life-on-life approach. How can you invite children to share your life in ways that interest them and that create the time and space in which you can rub off on them?
Let’s think this through together. Where do you live? Well, various places. One place is at your church’s weekly worship service. I hope you consistently live there. Indeed, the author of Hebrews admonished some early Christians who, for various reasons, were growing lax in this discipline: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works,” he wrote. “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NLT).
At church we assemble to worship God—to share his life and his love together. As we do, let’s involve children actively, meaningfully and fully.
We can involve children in the life of the church in many ways as it assembles. I’ve been to churches where the children serve with adults as ushers, where they help in receiving the offering, where they help serve Communion. I’ve seen pastors call children to the front of the church and, sitting down with them (getting down on their level), giving a short children’s sermon—a biblical message tailor-made for the children. Kids love it (and so do the adults who are listening in)!
I’ve seen congregations that often have children on stage with the worship team, helping lead the congregation in praying, singing, reading Scripture and the like. This involves adults sharing their lives (in this case their worship lives) with the children—and in ways the children relate to. The net effect of this involvement is the building of relationships among the adults and children and among the children and the church and with God. The children come away feeling that this is MY church —MY God—MY family of faith.
Where else do you live? Can you involve the children you’re ministering to at those places? Some of the most important “rubbing off” places in Jesus’ ministry were the times he shared with his disciples traveling the roads of Judea, Galilee and Samaria. He often took them with him into the wilderness—kind of like us taking kids with us to camp. Time away. Time together. Camp ministries provide fabulous opportunities for life-on-life sharing.
What if you were to take a bunch of kids to camp with you? Perhaps you can’t stay the whole time, but what if you drove them there, then picked them up and drove them home—sharing the experience with them?
What hobbies do you have? Fishing? Playing piano? Computers? How about sharing that part of your life with a child or two? Such sharing provides opportunities to cultivate relationships. As you do, you can plant into those relationships information about your own relationship with God. Look out! You may just reap a lifelong follower of Jesus who can walk with Christ right along with you.
In such sharing of your interests, you may also help equip a child for a career. When my son was about 12 or 13, a young man in our church went out of his way to partner with my son and his 12-year-old friend to teach them to program computers. Both of those young men now have careers that involve computer science. If I could go back in time, I’d teach that young mentor how he could have also shared Christ with my son and his friend as they talked computerese.
Where else do you live? Well, you get the idea. We live unique lives—with specific interests, gifts and passions. How can you share these with a child or two (or 20)? Why don’t you think about it? Why don’t you pray persistently about it? Seek God’s direction—ask him to open windows of opportunity. Share your passion and intention with some other adults in your congregation—consider teaming up to reach out to some children together.
Remember all the appropriate cautions and safeguards in working with children. An adult should never be alone with a child who is not their own. All that you involve a child in should be appropriate legally, ethically and developmentally. But let us not shy away from reaching out—from bringing children to ourselves and with us to Christ.
I close with reminding us all that God has made children dependent upon those who are older so that those who are older may help children become fully dependent upon God. We walk in harmony with God’s created order and in step with Jesus’ way when we involve children in our lives inside and outside the church walls.