Some years ago, when I served as a pastor, a girl in our church said something that profoundly affected the Sunday School teachers and their ministry. What could a child say that would deeply influence what was said and done in the Sunday School? According to the girl’s mother, she asked her daughter, “Did you have a good time in Sunday School today?” To which she replied, “I didn’t hear Jesus today!”
When the mother told the teachers, it pierced their hearts. They were doing the best they could do. They were preparing their lessons, teaching the Word, facilitating experiential learning, and making it fun. Yet, despite the good things they were doing, they’d come up short. For they knew that Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice” John 10:27.
In many local churches, the emphasis in children’s ministry is on teaching Bible stories, developing values, forming relationships, responding to the needs of children, encouraging children to be part of the church, equipping parents, and sharing God’s love. Churches usually try to make children’s ministry appealing through good organization and communications, supporting teachers and helpers, nurturing a positive culture, providing resources, creating safe environments, and doing effective follow-ups. But when all is said and done, if children don’t hear Jesus, we can do all these good things yet miss the mark.Children’s ministry can be Bible-based, child-friendly, or program rich, but if it’s not Jesus-focused, it falls short of God’s intent. Click To Tweet
A children’s pastor said, “Most of the kidmin crowd doesn’t seem too concerned about experiencing Jesus. Rather just learning about Him.” That’s a deeply troubling observation. Children’s ministry should, first and foremost, be about connecting with Jesus. When children’s ministry in the church is focused on engaging with Jesus, that’s when, and only when, it’s on track. Children’s ministry can be Bible-based, child-friendly, or program rich, but if it’s not helping children meet Jesus, it falls short of God’s intent.
[Note: The Bible clearly teaches Jesus first, not Jesus-only ministry. To state it in trinitarian terms: Children’s ministry should be about the Son, who reveals the Father’s love, which is experienced through the Holy Spirit]
So what does Jesus-focused children’s ministry in the church look like?
Here are ten primers:
- Jesus is the all-or-nothing, irresistible, compelling, and obsessive reason for children’s ministry. Jesus is never an appendix to what’s taught or done in children’s ministry – He’s the reason for every theme and activity.
- Children’s ministry involves Christians of all ages, from all walks of life, joining up with Jesus to connect children with Him.
- The dynamic, earth-shaking, transforming Gospel of the King and His kingdom is taught and lived out.
- Children are invited to follow Jesus and live for Him with a devotion that’s determined, entire and unreserved. As a seven-year-old boy said, “Faith in Jesus is counting on Him 100% … no matter what!”
- Program planning and curriculum development are geared toward helping children taste and see the mind-boggling, heart-stopping, life-giving love of Jesus.
- Children come to properly know, enjoy, love and be captivated by Jesus before they’re taught to obey and serve Him.
- Jesus’ Story supremely inspires and informs every facet of children’s ministry. That is, Jesus directs the principles, practices, and paradigms of children’s ministry through His Word.
- Jesus is the provision, enjoyment, and security of children’s ministry.
- Children are rejecting the ways of the world to grab hold of their inheritance in Jesus and transform the world through His power.
- Successful children’s ministry has only occurred when children have radically embraced Jesus, bear His image, willingly submit to His rule, and live solely for Him.
Veteran researcher George Barna discovered in 2015 that more than fifty percent of American children under thirteen years of age in Evangelical churches had never felt God’s presence or heard His voice. That’s tragic. That’s religion without a relationship. If actual encounters with Jesus are absent, how will children ever know He’s real? As Pentecostal children’s ministry pastor Becky Fischer says, “Unless children have their own personal experiences with God and can feel His presence for themselves, their salvation experience will never really be cemented. It will be an intellectual exercise only – just theory!”
Is it on your radar to teach your children how to hear God’s voice? Author and pastor Mark Harper says, “If I could get a do-over on my parenting, I would focus less on teaching my kids to obey me and more on teaching my kids to hear God’s voice … There is so much confusion in the world and so many other voices. The most important skill we can teach our kids is giving them the confidence they can hear God’s voice. At the end of the day, the one thing that really matters is that our kids hear and obey God.”
Much more can and should be said on this subject. We need to teach children that God speaks to them through His Word, through their conscience, and through their spirit. His voice isn’t necessarily an audible voice; it’s more often a feeling in their hearts. Teaching children how to discern between God’s voice and Satan’s voice is essential. Failure to teach children how to distinguish God’s voice from other voices leaves them vulnerable to the lies and deception of the enemy who comes to kill, steal and destroy (cf. John 10:10).
God speaks to children. Are your children experiencing His presence? Is your ministry truly Jesus-focused? Do your children recognize His voice? If not, what does He want you to do so that the children in your church or home get to “hear” Jesus?
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© Scripture Union, 2019