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The One Thing

Seasoned children's ministry experts tell how to keep kids' faith on track for a lifetime.

If developing children's faith is the primary thing we do as children's ministers, then we need to ensure that we are on track with that. Could it be that -- even unknowingly -- we might derail children's faith? Children's Ministry Magazine asked children's ministry experts to answer the question "What is the one thing that could derail a child's faith?" and to tell us what we can do to ensure that children's faith is on track.

ALAN ROOT

Alan Root has traveled the northern hemisphere ministering the love of Jesus with rock 'n' roll, cartoons, stories, and spontaneous laughter. He's been signed as an artist for Word and Starsong Records, and he did the music behind Sandi Patti's reading of the International Children's Bible. He's the winner of the 2001 Telly Award, and he co-wrote three musicals for Sony/Tree: Shortstops, Arkeology, and Hymnology. He's performed with Psalty, The Kids' Touring Company, Barry McGuire, Gerbert, and the Billy Graham Children's Crusade. He has five CDs and two videos that zero in on older kids and their families.

My pastor teaches kindergarten through fourth grade. I'm so proud of him! He's not waiting to get the kids after they've been through their formative years. He's not waiting to undo years of damage the world can inflict on the unprepared. He's proactively rolling up his sleeves in a timely manner. An ounce of prevention beats all the cures ever miraculously achieved. He can find any number of willing and gifted people to teach the adults, but he's not leaving the kids as an afterthought.

I think a critical issue in the church today that could hinder a child's faith is adults having low expectations of the kids -- unlike my pastor. Paul told Timothy, "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young." Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me." If the kids aren't getting the best ministry we have to offer, the church is wasting its time and resources. One hundred percent of kids are receptive to the love of Jesus and the call to discipleship. The percentage drops drastically with kids' increased age. Kids are not the church of tomorrow. They're people, albeit age-challenged, and they're the church of today. Low expectations will entertain kids and get them back to their parents in one piece. A visionary church will equip them and get them back to their parents ready to take on a world that needs the One they have come to know.

An adult can derail a child's faith by being phony. Jesus saved his anger for the hypocrites, not the inadequates. James said true religion means helping orphans and widows and keeping oneself unstained by the world. There's a price we adults must pay to be effective with children, and it's a disciplined life of worship, prayer, being in the Word, listening for the Shepherd's voice, watching, waiting, obeying, and producing fruit by the power of the Spirit.

When the kids see in us the grace of God at work, there will be no hindrance to their faith. When they see us mess up and then fess up and then get back up and keep going, they'll be encouraged. When they see us go through hard times with tears and praise, they'll catch a glimpse of what's unshakable and be drawn to Jesus-our rock. When they see us act as peacemakers, extra-mile goers, fair dealers, and word keepers, they'll see the difference Christ really makes in the life of the believer. But if we fake a life of following Jesus, we'll be found out, and we'll cause great harm to those kids who are watching us closely.

This past weekend I was running to catch a plane, and five going on 300 kids wanted autographs. I took time to make sure they understood why I couldn't sign anything. I still think their little hearts were deflated. Instead of using the time to explain my refusal, I could've used the time to speed-scribble my name five times and give five quick hugs. Jesus brought it to my attention at 30,000 feet, and although I couldn't fix the situation, I now know to be more gracious than driven.

I would challenge us all, me included of course, to walk in the awareness of the fact that Christ is present moment by moment in our lives. There's no burden on us to perform, only a call to participate in the life of Jesus. Juan Carlos Ortiz drilled into my heart the fact of the indwelling of Jesus. Jesus permeates my whole existence, not because I'm trying really hard, but because he's actually and factually living within me. The constant awareness of the presence of Jesus is life-changing. To derail a child's faith with Jesus present is hard to do because Jesus immediately brings my transgression to my attention and expects me to own up to whatever stupid thing I just did or said.

Kids come to faith easier than anyone else on the planet. And kids need heroes of the faith that are still breathing oxygen and walking around. The old Bible guys are great, but they can't inspire faith better than an on-fire follower of Christ. So, yes, guard against derailing the faith of a child, remembering with reverent fear the warning of Jesus that it would be better to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around your neck than to do that. But at the same time, be encouraged that you can't spend your talent, time, and money better than to lavish them all on a kid. And to be a kid's hero is the greatest accomplishment achievable.

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