When I started out doing child evangelism meetings I was mainly concerned with program design, event themes, how to dramatize stories, how to capture children’s attention, suitable songs, object lessons, making it fun, prizes and competitions, crafts and games, and getting children saved. A theology of children’s ministry wasn’t even a consideration. That was until I came to the realization that good practice flows out of good theology.
When there’s a comprehensive children’s ministry theology in place we (grandparents, parents, siblings, friends, guardians, child evangelists, counsellors, teachers, coaches, pastors, missionaries, children’s workers, surrogate parents, helpers or ministry teams) will have a clear sense of how to unveil the awesomeness of Christ and the mind-boggling love that He has for children. When we know how to reveal more of Jesus (which good theology helps us do) then the children get a clearer view of Him and the relationship He wants to have with them.
Here are 10 succinct theological assumptions that frame children’s ministry:
- Children’s ministry should have a strong Christological focus. All we believe in, fight for and die for should be Jesus! Children’s ministry isn’t about good morality, good behaviour or good religion. That’s legalism. Nor is it about permissiveness or easy believism. That’s libertinism. It’s about a person. Not any person. Children’s ministry exists to embody Jesus. It’s helping children fix their “eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and know the One who is “the way and the truth and the life” John 14:6.
- Children’s ministry is relational. Children must personally meet with and grow in association with Jesus. Friendship with Jesus involves confession, repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, deliverance, belief, salvation, hope, devotion, intimacy, obedience, and love. The relationship with Jesus should be more important than any other relationship (Luke 14:26). Uniquely, friendship with Jesus is informed by His Story and empowered by His Spirit.
- Children’s ministry is counter-cultural. Children can’t serve two masters. If they try to serve two masters they’ll end up adoring one and having contempt for the other (Matthew 6:24). Children must choose between the world and Jesus (2 Timothy 2:4). This involves a disconnection and reconnection with the world. Children must be guided to “not love the world or anything in the world” (1 John 2:15) while simultaneously being taught how to be salt and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16). There can be no worldly accommodation, compromise, exception or entitlement. Children must fully reject the ways of the world and radically embrace a dynamic allegiance to Jesus (Luke 14:33, James 4:4).
- Children’s ministry is kingdom oriented. It requires children to submit to Jesus’ kingship and be about His kingdom purposes. They need to learn how to be citizens, not of the world, but of the kingdom. Being citizens of the kingdom, according to the author Frank Viola, “was and still is an insurgence against the present order of things.” This because the kingdom of God is embodied in Jesus (Luke 17:21). And this because the manifestation of His rule is exercised in, through and outside of the children’s lives (i.e. personally and communally).
- Children’s ministry integrates four essential ingredients. The four ingredients are: reaching children with the Gospel of the kingdom, rescuing children from the world, rooting children in God’s Story, and releasing children to be kingdom ambassadors in the world (cf. 4/14 Movement). Taken together, reaching and rescuing is evangelism (the front end of children’s ministry), and rooting and releasing is disciple-making (the back end of children’s ministry). The four ingredients are substantive and interconnected.
- Children’s ministry is a process. It’s not random practices, programs or occasional events (though these may be part of a process). It’s a journey – something that should proceed forward incrementally (Psalm 84:5). It takes time and happens cumulatively over the course of days, months and many years. So we must help children (through the empowering of the Spirit) to enter into Jesus’ Story and take hold of their kingdom inheritance in order to grow spiritually and transform the world through His power.
- Children’s ministry has a high view of children. This sounds like an obvious or redundant statement. But sometimes we can be so busy reaching, rescuing, rooting or releasing children; we forget why we’re doing it! Children’s ministry exists because children exist. Children’s ministry should always have one eye open to the fact that children are a gift from God (Psalm 127:3), are intricately made by God (Psalm 139:13), and bear His image (Genesis 1:27). Yes, children are sinners (Romans 5:12-19) and polluted by unbelief when they’re unsaved (Ephesians 2:1-3), but we love them because Jesus treasured them (Luke 18:16).
- Children’s ministry honours parents. God’s given parents the primary responsibility to teach and model the Gospel of the kingdom to their children (Deuteronomy 6:5-9, Psalm 78:1-7, Proverbs 1:8, Ephesians 6:4). This responsibility is to be supported, supplemented and strengthened by the church (not usurped by the church). That is, the main role of the local church in children’s ministry should be to strengthen families by equipping and encouraging parents to help their children acquire what pastor and author A. W. Tozer calls “the lifelong habit of spiritual response” that begins with and continues with Jesus.
- Children’s ministry will encounter opposition. The Gospel of the kingdom, fully taught and enacted, is scandalous and subversive. When we invite and encourage children to totally live out the story of Jesus in their daily lives, ridicule or hostility are inevitable (John 15:18-21). This is a reality. Children will be criticized or persecuted when, as they should, they rebel against everything in the world that distracts or detracts from making Jesus their “one thing” (Philippians 3:13).
- Children’s ministry is essential. Children matter to Jesus, so they should matter to us (Matthew 19:14). In fact, children were such a high priority for Jesus that He intimately identified with them by placing His hands on them and praying for them (Matthew 19:15). He’s also their protector and warns of dire consequences for anyone who causes them to stumble (Luke 17:2).
With the above in mind, it’s imperative that God’s Story is the underlying and unifying purpose for these theological assumptions. That is, everything we do in children’s ministry should align, submit and be subservient to Scripture. Stated slightly differently, God’s Word should inform and permeate every facet of children’s ministry. This because it takes careful and responsible engagement with God’s Word to furnish the content and frame the context for the effective application of these theological assumptions.
© Scripture Union, 2020