The children enthusiastically gathered for the closing program
of vacation Bible school. Today they’d learn which team had won the
weeklong missions offering contest.
The VBS director excitedly announced that the blue team had beaten
the green team! The winners were given special fast-food coupons.
And the other team?
They got nothing — or so they thought.
One little girl said in the car on the way home, “We’re the
losers!” And her mother quickly replied, “No, you aren’t! You all
won! You all helped to send money to a mission in South America to
build a radio tower. Everyone wins that way!”
It was a weak attempt to remedy the negative messages that had
already been sent.
Why is it that children’s ministers, who are typically passionate
about missions education, sometimes send the wrong messages about
missions? It could be that while they understand the powerful
opportunity to give children a vision for what God is doing in the
world, they’re not sure how to capture the opportunity.
Does current missions education increase kids’ faith development
or does it hinder it? We talked to several children’s ministers to
discover the answer to this question.
Let’s make sure we’re speaking the same language here. By
“missions education,” we mean the informative activities to help
kids know what God’s people are doing around the world to share the
gospel. Making missions education a strong component of your
ministry may be more valuable than you realize, but there are
caveats you need to know to ensure that value.
Dispel the idea that children are “junior Christians.” “I think we
often discount children and what they’re capable of, but when they
become Christians they have everything everyone else does,” says
Nancy Keith, interim children’s director in Richmond, Virginia.
“They aren’t junior Christians; they have full standing before
Second John 1:4 says, “It has given me great joy to
find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father
commanded us.” Kids need to understand that they’re “on mission”
right now. Give kids hands-on opportunities for missions and you’ll
allow them to be messengers for Christ.
Involving children in missions through your church has a direct
impact on how active they’ll remain as adults. Keith says, “In the
average Christian church, we train people from a very early age to
sit still and let others do the ministry. After 20 to 25 years of
this process, we then turn around and tell them, ‘Get up! Minister!
“Children who learn to sit still in church will sit still when
they’re adults,” says Keith, “but children who learn to serve will
continue to do so into adulthood.”
To create lifelong Christians who know the impact they can have,
we must use missions education as an exercise in servanthood — not
as something that happens somewhere else. Involving children at
every age makes the transition to leadership a natural one.
Larry Shallenberger, a children’s pastor in Erie, Pennsylvania,
leads his children to support his church’s short-term mission trips
to Haiti. The children raise money to purchase radios for adults to
give to Haitians. Shallenberger says, “By partnering with our adult
mission program, our children gain a sense that they can contribute
to ‘big church.’ “
Teach children to use their spiritual gifts. “Missions education
is a part of the process. Just as elementary schools have career
days to help children understand where their talents and abilities
fit in, missions education is just another way to show kids where
they might be used,” says Keith.
Children can pray for others: missionaries, their families, and
the church’s effort to spread the good news. Such prayer can open
children’s eyes to vocational opportunities. By learning the
exciting news of how God is at work in our world, children will
know that positive things are happening and there’s a need for
their skills in many parts of the church. While some children may
be able to find a niche in serving fairly easily, creatively design
ways for all kids to be involved in missions.
“Think fun, think exciting, think service. Look for ways your
children can get actively involved in missions by giving of
themselves,” says Keith.
Open children’s hearts to others’ needs. Keith lists four key
reasons that missions education is important to children’s faith
1. To see that there’s more going on in our world besides what we
see on the news every day.
2. To hear the exciting stories of how God is at work in our
3. To learn how to pray for others.
4. To learn how to give.
Hebrews 13:16 reminds us of the call to serve:
“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with
such sacrifices God is pleased.” Missions education is a practical
way to show children how God wants us to live out his Word.
BEST TO FURLOUGH
Be aware that some presentations of missions can undermine
missions education’s benefits. There are messages and motivations
that should be tailored to kids so that missions can be a rewarding
rather than a belabored experience. Here’s what missions education
should not be.
It’s not about the money. Keith Johnson, the former director of
children’s ministries for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
and the current national field services manager for Group
Publishing, says that giving an offering to an adult-oriented
project that’s then never seen discourages kids. Missions education
that focuses on the money raised rather than the impact of the
money derails children from learning about the true purpose of
giving. Asking children to be fund-raisers may seem like an active
role, but it can emphasize a limited approach to missions.
“We teach kids to make the burden of evangelism go away simply by
throwing money at it,” adds Shallenberger.
Johnson also believes we need a little “intellectual honesty”
with kids. Explain to children that we send money and not goods in
some instances because of the customs duty placed on foreign