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Aim Higher

I should have walked out or cried out, but I stayed where I was and stewed with frustration. The cause of my agitation was the content of a plenary message at a children’s ministry conference. The thesis was that children, in and of themselves, are the raison d’être for children’s ministry. It was gruelling. Jesus was only mentioned once, a few scriptures were quoted out of context as proof texts, and there was a big dose of child psychology to support the contention that children are the sole cause, justification, and focus for children’s ministry.

Children are not and should not be the raison d’être for children’s ministry. The reason why children’s ministry exists is Jesus. Jesus is the inspiration, motivation, and justification for children’s ministry. Eliminate Jesus, and you eradicate the source, content, and purpose of children’s ministry. Sideline or negate Jesus, and you’re left with no one to inform, direct, or empower children’s ministry.

Now I know, there’d be no children’s ministry if there were no children. But children are not the primary reason for children’s ministry. That’s because everything ensues, not from children, but from Jesus. As it says in Colossians 1:16, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”

Note the phrase “created through him and for him.” Everything, including children’s ministry, got started in Jesus and discovers its purpose in Him. And that’s why children’s ministry needs to aim higher, not lower. The target must always be Jesus. We need to set our sights on Him and help children set their sights on Him too.

We can’t have it both ways. Children’s ministry can’t aim to be child-centred and Jesus-centred at the same time. There’s only one bull’s eye in a target. And Jesus makes it crystal clear that He’s the bull’s eye when he says, “Let the little children come to me …” Matthew 19:14. Note the phrase “come to me.” Jesus must be the message, the mediator, and the One who gives meaning to children’s ministry.

In practice, this means that children’s ministry should be more about children loving Jesus than us loving children. It should be more about children coming to Jesus than children coming to church. It should be more about children encountering the character of Jesus than children learning about characters in the Bible. And it should be more about children serving Jesus than children being served.

Aiming higher isn’t an option, it’s essential. If we don’t aim higher, mission drift occurs. Mission drift happens when we meander away or compromise the core purpose of children’s ministry (keeping Jesus at the center of it all). Tragically, mission drift happens all the time. Here are ten signs of mission drift:

  • values-based teaching is prioritized
  • denominational/parental expectations are the compass
  • leaders don’t know the way to Jesus
  • curriculums are consulted more than God’s Word
  • behaviour modification is a measure of success
  • leaders feel burnt-out
  • programs are on autopilot
  • fun events predominate over faith-oriented activities
  • prayer is an afterthought
  • children don’t meet Jesus every time you meet (and nor do you)

Are there signs of mission drift in your ministry? There’s only one way to counter mission drift – to aim higher – to scrupulously and faithfully centre every children’s ministry activity on Jesus.

© Scripture Union, 2021

2 Corinthians 4:5

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7 Comment

  1. Wow! So well said, brother Murray. Thanks for articulating the reason for children’s ministry and for that matter, all ministry that it’s all primarily about Jesus first.

    Besides all the signs of mission drift that you have mentioned, one is also when Scripture is quoted out of context to try and contextualise/Christianise cultural practices.

    God bless you brother for your convictions and courage to speak out with Christ-like love!

    1. Thanks David. I appreciate you adding the quoting of Scripture out of context (to try and Christianise cultural practices) as another sign of mission drift … children’s ministry is disturbingly side-tracked or weakened when this happens. Blessings on your ministry! Warmly in Jesus.

      1. Thanks Lawson for a succinct presentation of the heart of children’s ministry. In response to David’s comments re Christianising worldly events, what would be your thoughts regarding the way Christmas and “Easter” are generally “celebrated” by the Christian world at large? Secondly, how, in your opinion, would/could this approach be implemented in the “Christian school” setting? I would be interested to read your thoughts.

        1. Thanks for a great question Kathy … probably one that’s best discussed over the course of an afternoon with a cup of tea in hand and an open Bible on one’s lap. Many people have written on this subject and some have offered useful insights. The challenge is to identify what, in these celebrations is pagan, what is syncretistic, and what is Christian. The things that are pagan or syncretistic must be rejected. The things that elevate and draw worship to Christ should be embraced.

        2. Concerning the celebration of Christmas and Easter in the Christian School setting … this is another question that requires a lengthy considered response that doesn’t fit in a comments forum. Suffice to say, I would always emphasize an approach that majors on the Word … one that opens up the biblical account of Jesus’ birth or death/resurrection and invites children to “enter” into the story using contemplation, questioning, analysis and sanctified imagination. The objective in engaging with the biblical account should always be to encounter Jesus.

  2. Thank you so much for your article Dr Murray. It resonates the very heart of the Gospel.
    “That Christ is the critical issue is indisputable. He made Himself the issue when He confronted the disciples at Caesarea Philippi with the fundamental question, the answer to which is the foundation upon which He builds His church:”But who do you say I am? Mathew 16:15-17.
    Godbless you for speaking out not only for children’s ministry but for all Christian ministries in this day and age.

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