Let Kids Be the Church
By Paul Allen
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.
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 case.
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 got older.”
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.
Excerpted from Rev! Magazine, August, 2003
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“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.”