What to do when the shepherd of the sheep is out of
touch with the lambs
“I let the Sunday school teachers take care of the kids; my
ministry is with adults.”
Senior pastors don’t really think this way, do they?
Actually, as a senior pastor, I know it’s tempting to believe
that ministry to adults is more important than ministry to
children. But pastors are as responsible for the spiritual welfare
of children as they are for adult church members.
There are many ways to build strong relationships with children.
Here are 17 ideas that have been helpful to me. Either suggest one
or two of these ideas or share this article with your senior
1. Pick up the phone. Children love to receive
phone calls. On several occasions, I’ve gathered everyone in the
church office to sing “Happy Birthday” to a child over the phone.
When you have a question a child can help you with, such as “What
should I get my son for his birthday?” call and ask for help.
2. Learn something from a child. Children often
ask the best questions: “Does God wear clothes?” “What face do you
see when you pray?” “Why doesn’t Jesus come to our church?” A
child’s imagination can awaken your imagination.
3. Know names. In some churches, the litmus
test for your skill as a pastor is the ability to tell the twins
apart. In all churches, the worst insult to a child is to receive a
friendly hello-with the wrong name. To be personal and loving,
learn children’s names.
4. Take a picture. Most children and pastors
love having their pictures made. Have someone take your picture
with a group of children. Make a pyramid or wear crazy hats. Pose
with the children for a great bulletin board decoration.
5. Go to a children’s event. Pick something
you’ll enjoy. Several years ago I wanted to see Annie, but I
thought I’d look more mature if I found some children to go with
me. Almost 10 years later, those kids still remember our trip to
Annie. Going to ball games, parties or school events can be a
delightful part of a pastor’s ministry.
6. Attend a children’s class. After beginning a
new pastorate, I visited a different Sunday school class each week.
I was surprised when a children’s teacher asked when I’d be in her
class. My list had originally included only adult classes. I
immediately made plans to visit the children’s classes.
7. Listen to a child. Be genuinely interested
in children and what they have to say. Make sure each conversation
is between you and the child. Kneel down to eye level with younger
children. Caution: Talking with children is habit-forming.
8. Remodel the pastor’s study. Is it for adults
only? You may need to add baseball cards, candy (sugarless, if you
want to be a friend with parents), puzzles and crayons. Fill a file
drawer with balloons.
9. Become an aficionado of children’s art.
Cover the church walls with children’s drawings. Children’s artwork
can be used as a cover for church bulletins. The pastor’s office
can be a museum for promising young artists.
10. Write a note. Children enjoy getting mail.
A pastor friend who has sent birthday cards to children for several
years was surprised to find that one mother had saved them all.
One pastor passed out gum during his Sunday morning children’s
sermon but didn’t have enough for all the children. That week, he
mailed a stick of gum with a personal note to each child who hadn’t
received gum that Sunday.
11. Have a sense of humor. A decade ago, The
Prairie Home Companion radio show included a song I’ve since taught
to countless giggling children. The tune is “The Master Hath Come.”
The words are ridiculous: “Dr. Younger has a bunion, a face like a
pickled onion. He looks like a squashed tomato. He walks like a
12. Review each children’s sermon. Is it really
for the children? Children’s sermons shouldn’t include abstract
platitudes or adult terms and ideas. Keep it at kids’ level.
13. Ask your children’s workers for help. I
sent a letter to our children’s workers asking for ideas on how I
could improve my relationship with the children. Along with praise
for asking (which wasn’t my intention but didn’t hurt), I got
several helpful ideas and a newfound partnership with the
14. Read a big book on children. Robert Coles’
The Spiritual Life of Children (Houghton Mifflin) is a
profound collection of conversations with children. Coles, a
professor of psychiatry at Harvard, allows children to share ideas
and feelings on spirituality in their own terms. This book will
open your eyes to what today’s kids think.
15. Read a magazine article on pastoring
children. Mark an X by this one because you’ve almost
finished this article. Give yourself a pat on the back and sneak a
peek at future issues of Children’s Ministry Magazine to keep
current on kids’ needs.
16. Lead a special event for children. One of
my pastors used to take children on an annual tour of the church’s
bell tower. Another had a pastor- and-children’s party each summer.
I once organized a scavenger hunt for kids in the church. For a fun
party idea, see the “Pastor’s Preschool Pajama Party” box.
17. Pray. Pray for children by name. Pray about
your role as their pastor. Pray for the children’s ministry and all
the people who minister to the children of your church.
Don’t forget your church’s children. Jesus said, “Whoever
receives one such child in my name receives me.” In ministering to
children, you’ll experience Christ in a fresh way.
Brett Younger is a senior pastor in Kansas.
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