This blog piece is the fourth in a series of ministry training articles by Sandy Galea on developing and sustaining an effective children’s ministry. See the others in the series – Becoming a Leader of Leaders in Disciple Making, Partnering with Parents and Character before Competence.
We seem to be good at making little consumers in our churches. Kids who are used to being served rather than serving, receiving rather than giving.
This is by no means the only reason, but when I reflect on the way we train leaders we often emphasise the responsibilities that come with being a leader. We know from scripture how important it is that we teach them faithfully, we engage them with truth, we share Christ with them, we model a godly life, we pray for them, we love them… we… we… we… It’s very easy to think children’s ministry is what we do for the children. (Of course it’s never ‘we’ – it’s always God working through us.)
But, what about the kids… the kids who’ve come to faith… where do they fit into the picture? How do we move them from passive consumers to active contributors?
A few years ago our church spent a term working through 1 Corinthians chapters 12-16. And, as has been our custom for the past 25 years, our school-age children also journeyed these chapters alongside their parents.
As I was writing the program for my leaders to use to teach our children, I was stuck by the verse… Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 1 Corinthians 12:7 …Or, as the International Children’s Bible so simply puts it… Something from the Spirit can be seen in each person, to help everyone.
Three things jumped out at me…
- Everyone (who has the Spirit) has been given something…
- What they’ve been given is plain to see… and …
- What they’ve been given is to benefit others
It struck me that I’d certainly applied this to my Leadership teams. In fact I look to see the gifts God has given my leaders and love to see when they land in a ministry role that fits their gifting. I call it putting round pegs into round holes (unlike what I’d been guilty of in the past… trying to push square pegs into round holes because of my need to fill my rosters).
But as much as I’d applied this to my Junior Leaders (teenagers) and Leaders (adults), I’d never seriously applied it to the children in our church – children who’d clearly come to faith and were growing in their faith. In fact I was not sure what it would look like if I did.
And so began a journey, a journey we’re still on… seeking to move children from being passive consumers in our church, to being active members, using their gifts to benefit others.
The journey for each child begins with looking for evidence of faith in a child. Then follows the identification of each child’s gifts, equipping him/her to use the gifts and creating meaningful ways for the regular use of those gifts for the benefit of others.
Let me tell you a short story as a way of seeing how this can be applied in children’s ministry.
A few years ago I was observing leaders in our Preschool Room. I noticed that every time the door opened and another child entered the room, Eleni was the only child who’d stopped playing and looked up. Not only, that she’d run to the child, throw her arms around them and invited them to come and play.
Eighteen children were welcomed that morning by Eleni. Only one was not.
I called Eleni over and said, “Eleni, I think God has given you a gift.”
“Really!” she said, her eyes widened.
“But it’s not a present. (Eleni looked a little disappointed at this) God has made you good at something… he has made you good at welcoming.” (Gift identified)
Again she said, “Really… what’s that?”
“I think God has made you good at welcoming others.”
And again she said, “Really, what’s welcoming.”
(You can tell I’m not the most natural under-fives Children’s Minister)
“Well, every time the door opens and another child comes in, you stop playing, race over, smile and ask them to come and play. You make every child feel special when they come into Children’s Church. You welcome them in.”
Eleni responded that she thought everyone did that, but agreed with me when I pointed out that no else had stopped playing that day to welcome a child. I continued…
“But I noticed there was one boy you didn’t say hello to.”
Eleni leaned veryclose and whispered, “That’s because I don’t know him.”
I picked up an MBM Kids Welcome sticker that was sitting on the bench (our leaders hand these to new children on their first day). I asked Eleni if, when a new child came to the door, she could pick a sticker off the bench, hand it to the new child while the Team Leader and the parent talked, smile and say, “Hi, my name is Eleni. Would you like a sticker? Would you like to come and play?”
Eleni thought that was a great idea! (Self-identification of the gift)
We then spent the next five minutes role-playing… Eleni pretending to be the new child at the door – me welcoming her in… then me pretending to be the new child at the door – Eleni welcoming me in. (Equipping)
When Eleni’s Dad came to pick her up that day I shared with him what I’d seen in his daughter and he confirmed he’d seen it too. (Gift identification confirmed)
The next week, as Eleni’s Dad dropped her off, I heard him say, “And don’t forget what we’ve been praying about!”
I asked him what he’d been praying about with Eleni.
“That she’d use the gift God has given her and make everyone feel special who comes to Children’s Church today.” (Gift encouraged and valued)
A few weeks later Eleni was standing with her Dad at the front door of our church. She called me over and whispered, “I’m welcoming the adults now!”
What can we learn from this?
Look for evidence of faith in a child, identify their gifts, equip them to use their gifts and create meaningful ways for them to exercise their gifts so that others can benefit.
Sometimes in kid’s ministry the best thing we can do is get out of the way and let kids impact kids to the glory of God.
Eleni is still using her gifts to make children feel special when they come to our church.
Reflection: What might this look like in your ministry?
The next blog will seek to explore practical ways to help kids exercise the gifts God has given them. It will also explore how to effect real change in the culture of a kid’s ministry where kid’s serving becomes core to the DNA of the ministry.
For more on how helping children serve and use their gifts in the church helps make their faith ‘stick’, see the E.M research paper on this site.
Written by Sandy Galea © 2015 Kidswise. Sandy is the Children’s Minister at MBM Rooty Hill Anglican Church.