A few weeks ago, I experienced a rite of passage with my oldest
son. He and a buddy were heading for England and Scotland -- just
the two of them. As we were driving to the airport, my son asked
for any last-minute advice. After joking around, I thought about
all the things we had done as parents to help prepare him for this
independent endeavor. At 19 he had everything he needed to launch
out on this adventure. It was still tough to let go, though.
Letting go of our own children reminds me of our responsibility
to the children in our churches. We must prepare to release them
into ministry in the same way that we release our own children into
life. Yet like letting my son step onto that plane, the releasing
part seems to be the hardest.
What can we do to make sure we're releasing kids to be the
church? How can we experience how God uses the entire body of
Christ -- adults, youth, and children? Take these four steps.
Model A Servant's Heart
You've heard it before: "The only Bible some people will ever read
is your life." Consider that truth as you serve in children's
ministry. Children have an uncanny ability to recognize the
difference between obligation and servanthood.
Serve with joy at all times. Do you reflect the
same kind of servant's heart when you're teaching, leading worship,
greeting, helping a newcomer, or showing someone where the restroom
is located? A servant's heart knows no levels -- no ministry or job
is more important than another.
Offer many opportunities. Allow kids to
experience a variety of opportunities to serve. Even in adult
church there are opportunities to serve beyond preaching or leading
worship. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:12, "The body is
a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its
parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ." A
healthy church is one where all the members work together to reach
their community for Christ. This means more than just certain gifts
and abilities in operation, and it definitely means different ages
serving throughout the church.
Identify Gifts And Abilities
A question I frequently ask those who minister to children is, "How
many eyes did you look into today?" It seems we often get so caught
up in our ministry that we forget about who we're ministering to.
Our programs, plans, and procedures may go well, but what about the
lives of our children? Are we spending enough time looking into
their eyes and listening to their hearts? When we listen, we'll
know our children, we'll see their strengths and weaknesses, and
we'll understand how we can help them grow.
Observe children. Thinking back to my own
children, what if my wife and I had only told them about how
important it is to keep a checkbook, use their finances wisely, and
learn how to save without having them experience these things
firsthand? Before our son left for his trip, we observed him and
how he handled his finances. We were able to help him in his areas
of weakness to ensure that he wouldn't end up calling us and
saying, "Help! I'm out of cash."
As we teach our children in Sunday school, children's church,
and midweek programs, we need to watch them and identify the
varying gifts God has given each of them. As you worship, note
those who seem to easily enter into praise. Notice which ones rise
to the occasion as leaders. Observe children with mercy and grace
toward others. Identify kids with artistic abilities. Keep a
notepad handy to record the strengths and abilities you recognize
in each child. You'll be able to use this knowledge as you provide
ministry opportunities for children.
Think outside of the usual church "box." There
are plenty of ministries in the church, but there are also
opportunities throughout your community. Match children's gifts and
abilities with the opportunities you discover. Breaking out of the
normal church ministries can help kids see that the Christian faith
goes far beyond the four walls of the church.
Do you really believe that a child can do anything you do in
ministry? If not, why not? The same Holy Spirit who lives in an
adult lives in a child. It isn't a person's age that determines
abilities; it's training. If you've modeled a heart for ministry
and identified children's gifts and abilities, the next step is to
give children proper training.
Offer varied training options. What kind of
training opportunities do you have? Consider offering training for
children during your weekend or midweek services. Lead children
with musical talents in a worship-team practice, choir rehearsal,
or band rehearsal. Invite children with teaching gifts to come to
your teacher-training classes. Offer Sunday school classes on
drama, puppetry, and other creative arts.
Randy Turner, associate pastor at Trinity Church in Lubbock,
Texas, gives an example of how his children's ministry staff has
trained children to pray. "How do we train? First we lead by
example. Next we walk beside them, helping them to know how to
pray. Then we release them to do the ministry. In a prayer time
recently, we prayed for children struggling in school. We called
for the oldest group to come forward -- in our case, the
sixth-graders. The leaders prayed for them and then we asked them
to pray for the fifth-graders. The fifth-graders prayed for the
fourth-graders, and so on. That very week we began to hear how God
had touched some of the kids and how they had felt the Lord help
them in school."
Create mentoring relationships. Pair up your
kids with "big church" ushers, greeters, check-in people, parking
lot attendants, and other service people. This gives the kids and
the adults a chance to serve in an intergenerational setting.
Worship teams, choirs, bands, greeters, ushers, prayer teams, and
other areas of ministry will benefit when children, youth, and
adults serve side by side.
Share your duties. What are you doing that
would make your job easier if someone else were doing it? I
remember a boy named Brian who was a little more than active in our
church. Instead of teachers straining to keep him calm before and
after class, he became my "crayon checker." Each week he'd go
through the crayon boxes in the classrooms and determine if they
needed more crayons. If so, he went to the supply room, filled the
boxes, and returned them to the classroom.
Perhaps you have a Brian who needs to put his energy to work.
He'll long remember filling those crayon boxes as a positive thing,
which is a much better memory than teachers getting on his
Release Them Into Ministry
Start somewhere. Perhaps it's as simple as letting kids check other
kids into classrooms during Sunday school. If you have children's
church, start with greeters and move kids toward leading your
worship time or being part of the worship band if you have one.
Find kids who can come early to help with setup or collecting
supplies. Whatever you choose, start now.
Once you get comfortable with kids in these first-phase
ministries, venture out beyond these areas. Let kids with teaching
gifts help in younger kids' classrooms. Develop a kids' prayer team
for your children's ministry. They can either pray before or during
your Sunday school or children's church.
What's next? Tell your senior pastor what you've been doing with
your kids. Ask for permission to have kids participate in adult
church services. Randy Turner says, "Gone are the days when only
adults led children. God is using kids to lead others in worship.
Not only are our kids being leaders in children's church but in the
adult services as well."
Many pastors say our kids are the church of tomorrow. God says
they're the church of today. It's time for us to move beyond just
preparing them for ministry tomorrow; we must prepare them for
ministry today. Fortunately most churches have moved beyond the
child-care-only level. Yet it's time for us to move from creating
spectator Christians to releasing participating Christians.
Several years ago my son, who took the trip to England, made a
profound comment about my children's ministry that he'd experienced
as a child. He commented that we had a great children's church,
interesting Sunday school, and great summer activities. "Even
though we came from a big church with lots of cool stuff, and you
were a great children's pastor," he said, "you rarely let us
participate in ministry. We weren't sure how to get involved as we
From that point on, his statement challenged me to change my
ministry style. I realize that kids who serve while they're young
will most likely become adults who serve when they're older.
The church of tomorrow starts with our kids today. Take the time
to identify the gifts and abilities within your kids as you lead
them. Give them proper training that'll release them into ministry.
Then the Apostle Paul's statement to Timothy will also ring true in
their lives: "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are
young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in
love, in faith, and in purity" -- 1 Timothy 4:12.
PAUL ALLEN is the executive pastor of Southbrook Church in
Weddington, North Carolina. He's also a writer, editor, and church
Children's ministry is about molding and shaping disciples for
Christ. It's about building up, motivating, encouraging, and
strengthening the character of Christian leaders. That's why I
answered God's call to create the S.O.L.I.D. (Seek Out Leaders In
Discipleship) Team with third- to sixth-graders in our
In the past three years, our young disciples have packaged more
than 15,000 Bibles that were mailed around the world. They've
worked with food-service agencies who've helped feed thousands of
people, done service projects for our local church, personally
shared their love with elderly people, planned for and led Sonshine
clubs, and painted churches. And the S.O.L.I.D. Team has had fun
with special treats such as going to water parks and outdoor
When children want to join our S.O.L.I.D. Team, they have to
make a commitment to three things: regular attendance, memorizing
Scripture, and reading certain books. Regular attendance is
expected, though absences do of course happen.
When the kids come in for their commitment interview, at least
one parent is required to attend. I hold the kids accountable for
their commitment, but obviously the parents have to understand and
agree, since it'll be their responsibility to get kids to the
activities. Any child who chooses to make the commitment is allowed
to be on the team.
Children have an opportunity to join the S.O.L.I.D. Team at the
beginning of the summer and fall school year. Children aren't
allowed to join halfway through, even if they move to the church
during the middle of the school year or the middle of the summer.
This keeps the standard of commitment high and is very
During the summer the S.O.L.I.D. Team meets weekly, and during
the school year we meet on the second Saturday of every month. The
S.O.L.I.D. Team gets approximately 10 regularly scheduled times to
be together during each unit. Each time we've been together, we've
talked about who Jesus is and what it means to be his disciple.
For our activities, we focus about 70 percent of our effort on
service and 30 percent on "privileged" fun. I don't duplicate the
fun activities with any of the other children in the church because
I want the S.O.L.I.D. Team to have privileged fun! They deserve
Investing in children takes time, but it's worth it. I find
myself often telling the kids I work with that I believe in them
and I'm thankful for the opportunity I have to be with them.
Disciple your children to be leaders in the kingdom of God. As you
do, you'll become the person who places courage in the lives of
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