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How You Can Let Kids Take the Lead at Church

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These children’s ministers believe kids are the church’s ministers and leaders — of today. Here’s how they’re growing kids’ gifts and skills for power-packed ministry.

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There’s a great and familiar story in the Bible about a crowd of 5,000 gathered near where Jesus was teaching. You remember — everyone in the crowd was hungry. As a test, Jesus asked his disciples how they could help this sea of starving people. The disciples didn’t know. While they were trying to figure out a logical way to deal with the crisis, a young boy came forward with great sincerity and gave them all the food he had — five loaves of bread and two fish. The disciples, possibly in a fairly patronizing way, said, “Thanks, kid, but this little bit of food isn’t going to help.”

Jesus saw things differently. He recognized this little boy’s trust and childlike faith. He saw that the boy believed his gift of food would help. And did it ever. Through that boy’s faith and sacrifice, Jesus performed the famous miracle of feeding thousands — with 12 basketfuls of food left over. Imagine how that boy must’ve felt!

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Today, some ministries are guilty of treating children as the disciples did that day. Instead of assuming a child has something valid to offer Jesus, there’s a tendency to believe that children should stay seated and observe in church. Our philosophy, though, is a bit different. We believe kids have an important and welcome position in ministry. We also believe it’s our role to equip kids and create opportunities for them to use their unique gifts as they learn to become leaders in ministry. We have to answer some big questions.

Can God work through children, even when they’re small?

Some may say no. Perhaps they believe that children are too young, or that they haven’t grown socially mature enough to do ministry for God. Others may say kids need to learn more about Jesus before they can do anything on his behalf.

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We disagree. God can minister both in and through the life of a child — and he does regularly. We’ve been involved in children’s ministry for more than a decade, and we’ve created an atmosphere where children are encouraged and equipped to minister for God while being ministered to themselves. The big question we ask isn’t “Can children minister?” but “Why can children minister for God?” and “How do we provide kids with opportunities to minister?”

Why can children minister for God?

In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Paul writes that anyone who’s a follower of Jesus is part of the body of Christ. That passage focuses on the importance of every part of the body of Christ-without mentioning special requirements about age, sex, race, or other differences. Paul says every person has gifts and talents, which were given by Jesus for the purpose of blessing the body of Christ and building the kingdom of heaven. In a nutshell, children are as much a part of the body of Christ as any of us.

God blessed all children with gifts and talent. And while kids may not know what their gifts are yet, it’s important to remember that many adults don’t recognize or understand their own gifts and talents either. What an awesome privilege it is to provide kids with a safe environment in our ministries to discover and utilize their talents at a young age. When children apply what they learn from God’s Word early, they have a strong, healthy balance of both head and heart knowledge. When we neglect to offer opportunities for children to minister for God, we make the body of Christ dysfunctional, similar to implying that a part of the human body is useless and unnecessary. That’s not healthy thinking.

By providing children with opportunities, they’ll experience God’s work in and through them. For anyone — regardless of age — that experience can be powerful and life changing.

How do we provide children with opportunities to minister?

Helping children discover and use their gifts and talents for God is simpler than you might think. Here are practical ways churches have been successful in this area.

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Discipleship Program-Our church created a program called Discipleship Factory for Sunday evenings. Children complete a commitment form, agreeing to be present at all training sessions and to keep a good attitude throughout the program. If kids can’t attend a session, they’re expected to call ahead. We also require parents or guardians to sign this commitment, acknowledging they’ll get their children to the program for each session. This commitment instills responsibility in kids, helping them understand that with commitment comes…commitment.

This program costs virtually nothing to put into practice, and any size church can implement it. A Discipleship Factory program can run weekly, biweekly, or even monthly. Our program is for kids ages 7 to 13. During Discipleship Factory evenings, we begin with a short devotional highlighting leadership traits from a biblical perspective. Then we do 45 minutes of hands-on training that kids will implement in our weekly programs. By focusing on a couple of ministry areas at a time before introducing something new, kids and leaders don’t feel overwhelmed. The following are ministry areas children learn so they can partner with adults during weekly church programs.

• Animal balloons-Make animal balloons at services or special events.

• Face painting-Learn to paint simple designs for special events.

• Greeting-Learn to welcome other kids, help them find seats, and be a buddy to new or shy kids.

• Multimedia-Learn how to run sound and PowerPoint for multimedia experiences.

• Object lessons-Videotape kids doing object lessons, or let them practice something they’ll do live during the service.

• Public prayer-Learn to lead prayer from the front.

• Puppetry-Do puppet skits or puppet plays to music.

• Prayer team-Pray during an altar or prayer time.

• Registration-Help others find their nametags and sign in for programs.

• Testimony-Talk about what God’s done in their lives.

• Worship-Demonstrate actions during worship time.

Ministry Weekends-We also host an Extreme Ministry Training Weekend where kids learn what it means to minister. On Saturday we provide a couple of workshops focusing on topics from the Discipleship Program list or other areas we’d like kids to learn about. Then on Sunday morning, we either have a family service for the entire church or our regular Sunday morning kids program, and we incorporate the kids and what they learned right into the service.

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Coaching Classes-Dale Ruttan, children’s pastor at Essex Gospel Tabernacle in Essex, Ontario, has wonderful success leading a coaching class for kids. He selects kids who meet with him monthly for an entire year. The group meets at a restaurant where they have coaching classes, all designed to teach kids leadership skills. Ruttan follows up by providing the kids with specific ministry opportunities in his church’s programs. Service Projects-Service projects are some of the most powerful and wonderful ways to get kids involved in hands-on ministry. Whether it’s weeding an elderly person’s yard, painting a fence, or collecting winter coats for the homeless, kids have proven time and time again that service projects are some of their most powerful ministry opportunities. This is a great area to get kids’ input on the types of projects they’d like to do.

How can we help children put their faith into action?

Empowering children with opportunities to be involved in hands-on ministry is important. Obviously, though, this needs to be balanced. The little boy who gave Jesus his food saw a miracle happen through his gift of giving — but he was still hungry and needed to be fed. We’re not advocating child labor. It’s very important that children receive good, solid biblical teaching. It’s equally important that they have opportunities to put their faith and teaching into action, just as adults do during “big church” services through helping in worship, greeting, and ushering.

We’ve been impacted by children as they’ve ministered to us in remarkable ways. One child’s actions in particular impacted his life, the lives of his peers, and our lives.

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