Children’s’ Ministry Lessons From Around the World
Robert & Jane Choun
God is doing amazing things in children’s ministry around the world. What can we learn from those who minister to kids around the globe?
God is doing amazing things around the world in children’s ministry. Look, listen, and learn 10 important lessons from our Christian brothers and sisters who minister to children in other parts of the globe.
As a young child in Sunday school, the adventure stories of courageous missionaries serving in foreign, exotic lands thrilled me. The missionaries were always daring North Americans (with a few British-born exceptions). Some of the scenarios in my childhood Sunday school classes still take place, but as our world changes, so do the challenges facing the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Many of the problems confronting long — established North American churches are now the same ones faced by our sister churches abroad.
God’s work in children’s ministry throughout the world reveals that the picture of missions has changed. It’s time for North American churches to take a look at our sister churches around the world and learn from them.
A new generation of Singapore Christians has grown up and brought their children to church, reports May Lim Chong, who’s currently a graduate student at Dallas Theological Seminary with her husband Gary.
“Because the church in Singapore is young, vibrant, and willing to innovate, it has the potential and attraction to draw many young lives to Christ,” says May. “The church portrays a generally positive image — disciplined, yet fun; relaxed, yet respectful of God and individuals.”
Lesson #1: Adapt your curriculum and facilities to meet your learners’ needs–and not the other way around.
There are congregations with long histories of service, but many churches are just getting started and use temporary facilities in public buildings and hotels. Because culturally-relevant curriculum is hard to find, many teachers must adapt lessons from American publishers. Although the Singapore classroom is usually very traditional in its methods, May’s church encourages teachers to use more active learning.
Lesson #2: Be flexible.
Singapore’s churches are coping with inadequate facilities, curriculum that must be adapted to meet special needs, and opposition to new teaching methods. These are all challenges familiar to most people who minister to children.
Koh Siang Kiang lives and ministers in Jalan Keria, Singapore. She reports that the educational system in Singapore, which starts children in school at the age of 3 and encourages private tutoring during evenings and weekends, leaves little time for children to be involved in church programs.
“Can you imagine: there are examinations for kindergarten kids! Talk about stress! And once they reach first grade, they must do a second language,” writes Koh.
Lesson #3: Go where the kids are.
To accommodate the children’s demanding schedule, Koh’s church has extended its children’s ministry beyond the traditional Sunday school time and location. Her church has reached out into neighborhoods of unchurched children through parachurch programs, clubs, correspondence courses, and camps.
Lesson #4: Teach to change lives
Philip Co is the pastor of the United Evangelical Church of the Philippines in Manila. Philip says that his church’s children’s ministry recently set this goal: “To nurture children to have assurance of salvation, having an in-depth and holistic knowledge of God, living a well-balanced Christian life, understanding the meaning of worship, experiencing the power of prayer, continuously growing in the family of God, to become a true Christian soldier manifesting the beauty of Christ for the glory of God.”
Philip’s church employs a traditional Sunday school format using Taiwan’s Toh Kuang Sunday school curriculum. This curriculum is designed to take children through the entire Bible in six years. Philip’s church is currently innovating by experimenting with a team-teaching approach. To expand their children’s ministry, his church uses vacation Bible schools and camps.
“We’re not just going around doing activities,” Philip says. “We’re hoping and praying that the children will really be reached and affect our society now as well as in the future.”
Lesson #5: Aim high and do the best you can with the resources God makes available, but make the gospel of Christ your primary curriculum.
In Dinah Muttai’s church in Nairobi, Kenya, Sunday morning is directed mostly toward adults. Those churches with children’s classes, more than likely hold classes under a tree. In Dinah’s church, children attend special age-appropriate instruction and then rush home to care for their family’s animals so their parents can come to church. Teachers have few curriculum resources and usually have to create their lessons. Sometimes an entire group of teachers shares a single dog-eared book of lessons.
The church offers midweek clubs and a vacation Bible school for the children. The Kenyan tradition of respectful attention to elders motivates children to listen and learn, and teachers are determined to make the most of the resources they have rather than bewail the lack of helpful material. Dinah says, “Our main concern in Kenya and Africa as a whole is to reach children with the gospel, not so much of what kind of facilities, materials, teachers, the latest styles of teaching, or how much is the budget. We want to reach children with what we have — not what we don’t have.”
Dinah is currently a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. Her goal is to return to her homeland and reach the children of Kenya and all of Africa with the gospel of Christ.
The high moral values learned at Hengky Chiok’s church prompt many unbelieving parents to send their children for instruction. Church members transport children who must be driven to Sunday school. In a branch church, Sunday school on Sunday proved to be unworkable, so Sunday school is now held on Saturday.
Lesson #6: Raise the status and expectations of the teaching ministry.
Hengky’s Sunday school of 400 children has exacting requirements for teachers. Each teacher candidate must train for approximately 40 hours in simple hermeneutics, methods, doctrine, and child psychology. Candidates are also required to observe experienced teachers at work and can expect to be observed in their first few months. Any teacher who misses the weekly training meeting is prohibited from teaching the following Sunday.
“This is a commitment we ask from our teachers when they express their desire to teach,” says Hengky. “This kind of commitment, especially with the busyness of this world, helps them to be committed to children’s ministry.”
Lesson #7: Minister to the children by ministering to their parents.
Paul and Jenny Johnson, who currently serve as missionaries in San Juan del Rio, Mexico, work primarily with children and their families. The Johnsons report in their newsletter that open-air presentations with puppets have resulted in requests for home Bible studies. Their church’s children’s program includes not only a weekly Awana club for the children but also parenting workshops to develop strong families within the church.
“Mexico is not just a ‘mission field,’ “write the Johnsons. “The Lord is converting Mexico into a ‘missions force’!” The Johnsons have seen several Mexican nationals focusing on mobilizing Bible churches to fulfill the Great Commission in Mexico.
Lesson #8: Challenge and mobilize young people to develop a lifestyle of ministry and service to children.
Dorothy Rempel is a missionary in Costa Rica who has ministered to children and their families for more than 30 years. Dorothy reports that her group’s major outreach to children is through vacation Bible school. They train teenagers and send them out in teams all over Costa Rica. This year, teenagers came from Nicaragua and Panama to be part of the effort. Last year, more than 4,000 chiIdren attended 60 vacation Bible schools. Interested children received free correspondence courses as follow-up. Many of the teenagers have returned to minister five to eight consecutive summers. Some have even gone on to Bible College and are serving the Lord in other mission fields.
Lesson #9: Multiply your ministry through others.
Dorothy did the math and came up with the figures that show the results of her ministry. “In a 10-year investment, 251 youth have been trained. They in turn have worked a total of 976 weeks for a total of 18 years…Our goal is twofold. Of course, we love to see the children taught the Word of God and [given] the opportunity to respond to salvation. Yet we have seen what a wonderful discipleship program this has been for our youth who return to work with us summer after summer.”
My narrow perspective on world missions has expanded since those childhood stories of enlightened Americans bringing civilization to poor savages. Last year I had lunch with Taiwanese-born friends who told me of their plans to minister to the Chinese community in Panama. Just this past summer, I said goodbye to a friend whose Samoan church had just commissioned him to serve in Uganda.
Times have changed. North America has, among so many other material blessings, a wealth of resources and trained personnel to devote to children’s ministry. Yet, let’s not be so sure that we have all the answers. Children’s ministry around the world has grown up, and our colleagues have valuable lessons to teach us.
Lesson #10: Keep an open heart and mind when you think and pray about worldwide ministry to children.
Robert Choun is professor of Christian Education at Dallas Theological Seminary. Jane Choun is a co-librarian and teacher at Pantego Christian Academy in Arlington, Texas.
This article “Children’s Ministry Lessons From Around the World” by Robert & Jane Choun was excerpted from: Children’s Ministry Newsletter. www.childrensministry.com Feb 2008. The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study and research purposes.
“This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”