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Heart Matters: Here Am I

I found a seat in the back of our church after the service had already begun, the pressing issues in the children's department at last put to rest. As I settled in, our missions pastor was introducing the people who were going on various short-term mission trips in the coming summer. As he described the sacrifice these people were making to go overseas to minister for a week, I was touched by their desire to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. Then a thought struck me: Why don't we ask people to volunteer for a missions trip to our children's department?

It made sense from many perspectives: These missionaries wouldn't need passports, they wouldn't have to raise financial support, and the only travel required was down the hall to spread the gospel to an entirely different culture.

Children's ministry, a different culture?

Yes, indeed. A culture, after all, is defined as a group of people sharing a set of attitudes, values, goals, and social norms. And the kids in our ministries fit that description perfectly. In fact, they represent a variety of cultures within the very walls of our Sunday schools. We have cultures where a preschooler's biggest concern is that someone just stole his toy and now he's seeking "frontier" justice. In another culture, a preteen struggles with new feelings she's having toward boys and doesn't know if they're okay. And in yet another culture, elementary kids sift through Harry Potter and SpongeBob SquarePants and wonder where Jesus fits in and whether he's too different from them.

Talk about crossing cultures and stepping into a mission field! Add the language barrier of understanding a preverbal toddler's request or trying to communicate with a sixth-grader who speaks fluent "teenese," and you have a full-blown, cross-cultural experience happening right here, right now. And just like the people overseas, these kids all need Jesus in their culture. Unfortunately, though, Jesus is being crowded out by the world swirling around them. What a mission field!

Children's culture is vastly different from ours. With kids living in broken homes, media bombarding them with fast-food values, and overcrowded schools that are no longer a safe harbor, they need adventurous adults who are willing to risk loving them. They need people who see the treasure in one tiny soul that far outweighs the most precious gold.

How do we find missionaries willing to venture into the unknown land down our hallways? Just as people hear the call to travel the globe to spread God's Word, we must help them hear our vision for reaching the mission field right before them. So speak often of your heart for children's ministry, and cast that vision continually to your pastor, staff, friends, and congregation. Challenge others to travel with you to the children's ministry.

Hold an official send-off for children's ministry missionaries with hugs and fond farewells. Anticipate what the fruit of their labor will be, and offer support for their bravery and efforts. A grand heroes' celebration belongs to the wonderful, adventurous missionaries who venture into our children's ministries, willing to cross into unfamiliar cultures to share Jesus' love. When God asks, "Who will go to my children?" may many respond, "Here am I! Send me down the hall!"

Tim McCracken is a children's pastor in Birmingham, Alabama.

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