It’s tempting in today’s church growth culture to target groups that will facilitate rapid growth and financial stability. If we’re only thinking about a target audience that will boost attendance and giving, the last demographic we may be interested in would be children, unless, of course, we’re trying to reach them merely to get to their parents. But children are not a means to an end; they’re not bait. And children’s ministry is not a game; it’s a serious endeavor.
The Bible reminds us that “children are a heritage from the Lord,” and that “the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3). When parents brought their children to Jesus to lay His hands on them and pray, the disciples rebuked them, as if to say, “Jesus’ can’t be bothered with children.” But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:13-14). Jesus was not too busy for children. We shouldn’t be either.
Since children’s ministry is a serious endeavor, we must carefully consider how to minister to and reach children. As one pastor says, “what we win them with is what we win them to.” Though there is much more that could be said, consider with me five ways to strengthen our children’s ministries to better reflect a biblical view of parenting and of children.
1. Equip parents in the church to be the primary disciplers of their children.
The church must never replace parents! God has given parents the primary responsibility to disciple their children (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), and raise them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Our ministry planning and programming must support what we want parents to do at home with their children. So, ensure that parents know what you’re teaching, and encourage them to follow up with their children at home (see point 3 below).
2. Provide parents in the church the models they need to disciple their children.
Neither my wife nor I grew up in Christian homes. Both sets of parents came to faith later in life. Consequently, there was much we didn’t know about raising children as Christians. By God’s grace, though, before we had children, we had front row seats in the home of a godly, loving church couple who raised three daughters. We now have five daughters. Who would’ve guessed?! We also got to see another wonderful family raise two boys. Whenever we were at their house, if it was time for devotions, we were expected to join in. They gave us our first family devotional book, which we used with our girls for the first years of their lives.
Models are important and biblical. As young parents, many of us just don’t know what to do. We need older couples to show us. It’s not wrong for younger couples to get together and encourage one another. Sometimes, though, they’re just pooling their ignorance, and the blind end up leading the blind. So, encourage intergenerational relationships. There’s a reason Paul urges the older women to teach the younger women “to love their husbands and their children” (Titus 2:4).
3. Provide parents in your church the resources they need to disciple their children.
Most parents want to disciple their children; they just don’t know where to start. So, help them by providing good resources. Utilize curriculum in your children’s ministry that provides ways for parents to talk with their children about what they learned. But also provide parents simple tools they can use at home. One of our favorites was A Catechism for Boys and Girls. This Baptist catechism helps children categorize biblical and doctrinal thoughts by memorizing answers to questions. Though younger children may not understand everything they are memorizing, they are building a framework they can use to place biblical truths in appropriate doctrinal categories, categories like God, man, sin, Christ, gospel, salvation, heaven, hell. It’s these biblical truths we pray the Spirit will use to bring our children to conviction of their own sin and need for Christ. Additionally, take the time to ensure that all your children’s curriculum is gospel-saturated and not simply morality motivated. Moralism without the gospel equals legalism.
4. Consider how to reach the spiritually-orphaned children in your community.
Often, churches will host vacation Bible schools or backyard Bible clubs as outreach events for community children. Be sure your teams are presenting a clear gospel in these ministries. Train your children’s workers so they may have a biblical view of conversion, that is, of repentance and faith. For too long, VBS and other children’s outreach events reported many decisions for Christ. Having worked in youth ministry, though, I had too many conversations with teenagers who came to realize later in life that their VBS “decision” was not genuine. It was only after recognizing their sin against God and their need for Christ’s forgiveness that they came to faith in Christ. So, let’s be clear with the gospel and with the biblical response to the gospel.
5. Be sure children understand the gospel and are ready to fulfill all the covenant obligations of church membership before baptizing them.
There is no “junior” or “children’s” membership in the Bible. All who come to faith in Christ, young or old, are incorporated into the new covenant community, the church, through baptism. As members of the church, we have obligations to fulfill to one another, including in members’ meetings.
If a professing Christian no longer lives according to their initial profession, and they continue in unrepentance, then, out of love, we must eventually bring them before the church as the final act of church discipline. If someone is old enough to provide a credible profession of faith, then that person should be recognized as a full member of the church.
Children’s ministry is not a game. So, let’s get serious and equip families and encourage children to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.