Children’s ministry exists for children to be exclusively devoted to Jesus and to be fully committed citizens in His kingdom.
When I typed the above purpose statement, I did so with hesitation. With hesitation, because many children’s ministry purpose statements emphasize evangelism, discipleship, and/or spiritual formation, yet don’t stress the importance of children truly loving Jesus to the point of abandoning their lives to Him.
The approach to children’s ministry should never be one of low-stakes or low expectations. Children’s ministry, rightly conceived, should be life-changing and earth-shaking.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up.
Most children give their allegiance to the world, i.e. order their thinking, decisions, values and actions in line with popular culture. Even Christian children (saved, committed, born-again, believers) seem to identify more with the world than with Jesus.
One reason why Christian children love the world more than they love Jesus is what they’ve mainly known or seen at home or in the church is a diluted, tamed, domesticated, or a limited form of Christian faith. Another reason may be that we’ve failed to offer them a faith that is really meaningful and worthwhile. Yet another reason, in the words of Keith White, Chair of the Child Theology Movement, “What if we have misheard or neglected God’s revealed teaching about children and childhood?”
God’s expectations are always more than we can envisage. For years I’ve felt like God’s been saying, “Let my [children]* go!” (Exodus 5:1) *my insert. Children’s ministry needs to be and can be far more than what it’s been. And to be more than what it’s been, it must be delivered from a captive state.
Presently, the Western world is full of half-hearted double-minded Christians. Lukewarm Christianity seems to be the norm. Unbridled all-out faith in Jesus is rare. And the great enemy of the future of children’s ministry is popular acceptance. It’s saying, “Well, this is the way everyone else is doing it.”
Let’s get serious: If we continue doing what we’ve done before, we’ll continue getting the same results as we’ve had before!
Tragically, despite the efforts of thoughtful Christian parents, good Christian schools, and dedicated children’s workers, there are significantly fewer children (in the Western world) embracing Christ as Lord and Saviour than in previous generations. That is, children are more disconnected from Jesus and His Story than their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents.
But there’s good news: What’s impossible for us is possible with God. “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord” Isaiah 55:8.
This leads me to speculate: Maybe the reasons why we minister to children aren’t God’s primary purpose for children’s ministry. Maybe all the good we’ve been doing in children’s ministry falls short of God’s best. And maybe we need a higher purpose for children’s ministry.
So what could the higher purpose for children’s ministry be? While writing this article, I received e-News from Tom Victor, president of The Great Commission Coalition, in which he said, “God whispered to my heart during a time of worshiping and thanksgiving in Jakarta. ‘Tom, you haven’t seen anything yet!’ Other leaders in the room had similar impressions from God. I believe it’s a word not just for me … but for his Church around the world.”
If we “haven’t seen anything yet,” then what does God want us to see? Is it possible for children’s ministry to be something other than it is right now? I hope it is. For if we stick with what we’ve got, then the future will arguably be no more than an ongoing miserable slide into mediocrity.
Which brings us to a crucial question: What does Jesus want the purpose of children’s ministry to be?
Consider this verse: “Jesus Christ … gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” Titus 2:13-14. Note Paul’s words, “that are his very own.” Jesus wants children who are exclusively His – children He can be proud of. That’s intense! There are no half measures with Jesus. He wants children abandoned to and obsessed with Him. Yes, abandoned and obsessed! For this is what it takes to “belong to him alone” (Titus 2:14 GNT).
By extension, because Jesus wants children to be specially His, He wants them to thrive – to have abundant life (John 10:10b). Just like when Jesus was on earth as a boy, they should grow “in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” Luke 2:52.
That’s only half of it! Children must be consecrated to Him alone and live willingly for Him alone. The word “consecrate” means giving Jesus what is rightfully His (Romans 12:1-2). A partial dedication or a limited commitment is anathema to Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:15). There should be no attachment to the world (1 Corinthians 7:31). He wants children to have real enthusiasm and passion for Him and His kingdom by living “in a right way in undivided devotion” 1 Corinthians 7:35.
Can children have “undivided devotion” to Jesus? Even though they’re stricken with the dysentery of popular culture, can children give themselves completely and unreservedly to Jesus and serving in His kingdom? Absolutely! Though not in their own strength and usually not all at once.
American pastor and author Greg Laurie says, “In God’s economy, small beginnings often lead to greater ends.” Commitment and consecration are a process. It takes time for children to aspire to God’s full will and time to learn how to harness supernatural power. This is why we must encourage children to believe that when Jesus calls them to do something, He’ll equip them to fulfil that calling.
All told, the purpose of children’s ministry is a state of being. Children’s ministry exists to bring children to Jesus so they can be utterly, exclusively and uncompromisingly His. Being totally into Jesus shouldn’t be taken lightly – it’s a life and death decision. Children have to take a stand and answer this question: “Am I for Jesus or against Him?” And then, at this doorstep of faith, children must progress into the ongoing reality of a maturing relationship with Him.
© Scripture Union, 2021