Sunday I sat with other kids ministry leaders at my church to plan and pray for our kids and families. One of the concerns we have is the way we teach kids.
This generation is born into the world of the cloud. They learn via visual images on screens that change quickly to keep their attention. This is what our kids are used to. This is the air they breathe. But I think it’s important that we do not trade in matter for the cloud when it comes to how we teach our kids.
I think there’s something spiritual that pushes back against the zeitgeist of AI, virtual reality, and screens when things you can touch are upheld as good and necessary.
Our kids need to touch books, open pages, hold their tiny fingers under the lines of scripture in paper bibles. They need to sit with us on the floor and sing together and dance and clap. They don’t need flashy attention-getting images on a screen. They need dirt in their hands. Leaves under their toes. Arms that are safe to hold good boundaries and love them well.
They need matter.
The Christian’s faith in God in the flesh, bodily risen from the dead is a tangible hope and solid ground for a generation confused and lost in screens.
God made the earth and all that is in it. And he said it’s good.
I fear our children and grandchild are facing an age that believes matter doesn’t matter.
They need the body Christ to have hands and feet and books and gardens and songs and stories told face to face. They need the security of the good creation of God.
Whether your church calls it family ministry, children’s ministry, kids ministry… whatever it’s called, here are three reasons people often give for why they shouldn’t serve in a ministry that involves children. I propose these three reasons are exactly why you should sign up this Sunday to serve in your church’s ministry to the next generation.
Because You Aren’t a Kid Person
I hear this a lot. As a kids ministry leader at my church, I often hear people say they aren’t kid people. That’s why they don’t serve in kids ministry. And to a point there’s good reasoning there.
Not everyone is suited for holding babies, singing Jesus Loves Me with toddlers, and teaching elementary students to discern Jesus from the Bible lesson. In fact, there are some really good reasons a person should have no contact with kids in church. But just because you don’t feel all warm and fuzzy when kids are around, and you don’t talk to babies like you’re in a cartoon, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t serve in your church’s ministry to the next generation.
In fact, if you are quick to say, “I’m not a kid person,” you should sign up to serve in kids ministry. Let God take that aversion you have to kids and the chaos they may make you feel, and use it to lower yourself and listen to Jesus say, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
If you’re not a kid person, you don’t have to be the lead teacher or the one who guides the toddlers in a game of follow the leader. But get on the ground next to a kid playing with the Noah’s ark play set. Let God use those kids to show you how much he loves and accepts you as you are, and is leading you to grow up to be like Jesus.
Because You Work With Kids All Day Long
A reason many give for not serving in a ministry to children is that they work with kids every day during the week. They don’t want to work with kids at church too.
Teachers, daycare workers, preschool aides… you all are the pros! Your church’s kids ministry needs you to help them learn how to manage a classroom. We need your skills!
In Exodus 35, when Moses called the people of Israel to build the tabernacle as God instructed, he called for people with different skills to use their abilities not just for their own homes, but for the house God was having them build.
“Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the LORD has commanded… All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair… ‘See the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Juday; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship…” Exodus 35:10, 26, 30-31
Jesus is building his church. And one way he does that is by calling people with different abilities in the church to serve one another using those skills. There’s an ability needed to guide a group of kids to listen and learn together. If you have that skill, sign up this Sunday to serve in your church’s ministry to the next generation. Build Jesus’ kingdom with your classroom management talents.
Towards the end of his message, Piper responds to Paul’s desire to go to Jerusalem in Acts 20:22, as a fictional American trying to talk some sense into the elderly apostle:
But Paul, you’re getting old. How ’bout a little cottage on the Aegean Sea? You’ve already done more in your ministry than most people could do in five lifetimes. It’s time to rest. Let the last twenty years of your life be travel and golf, shuffleboard and putzing around the garage and digging in the garden. Let Timothy have a chance. He’s young. Don’t go to Jerusalem. Agabus the prophet has told you, they are going to bind your hands and feet and hand you over to the Gentiles (Acts 21:11). And whatever you do, don’t go to Rome. And get out of your head the crazy plan of going to Spain at your age. You could get yourself killed. It isn’t American! It’s not the American Dream of ‘the sunset years.
The point of Piper’s message is old age in Jesus’ church isn’t a reason for sitting back and relaxing while younger folks do the work of the ministry. And it isn’t just John Piper preaching this message. In the Bible the psalmist pleads with God to give him a ministry even when he’s old, “So even to old age and grey hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” (Psalm 71:18)
And in Joshua 14:6-15, when 85 year old Caleb finally enters the land God promised Israel, he tells Joshua, “And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.”
Not every person of retirement age can get down on the ground with toddlers, but if you’re a retiree and you can enter a church building, this Sunday you should sign up to serve the next generation of parents and children in your church.
Ok, that’s four, and it’s not a reason people give for not wanting to serve in a ministry to children. But I think it’s a reason many of us serious folks might unconsciously use as a reason we avoid kids ministry.
I tend to be too serious. In fact, it’s a prayer of mine this year that I will laugh more. I know that’s pathetic, but its true. Serving in kids ministry has caused me to laugh and have fun even while the hard things of life happen around us.
Proverbs 31 speaks of the woman who is clothed with strength and dignity. She opens her mouth and teaches others with kindness and wisdom. And she laughs at the time to come.
When you lower yourself to sit criss-cross and sing Jesus Loves Me with toddlers; when you learn to teach Jesus to a child, you will grow in strength and dignity and you’ll find yourself having the best kind of fun. You’ll laugh with a pure heart and it will be good!
I pray this stirs your heart. I pray if you’re not a kid person, and if you’re a teacher person or a retired person, you will turn your reasons for not serving the children and parents in your church into the reasons you sign up to serve them on Sunday.
In recent months I began serving as the kids ministry director at my church. For me, getting on the floor to teach toddlers about Jesus has become a joy. But I’m discovering not everyone feels this way. And actually, I didn’t always feel this way.
I realize there are people who should never work with kids. But the reasons for not serving in a children’s ministry I hear from most people don’t stand to reason. The main explanations I hear for why people don’t want to serve in a ministry to children could be summed up in three categories:
They aren’t “kid” people.
They don’t feel equipped or comfortable teaching.
And they need to be in church not with kids.
I’d like to show you here why those three arguments should not be reasons to not serve children the gospel.
Your theology needs the humility of snotty noses
Ministry to children is not dignified. When I ask people to serve in kids ministry and their response is, “I’m not a kid person,” I want to say, “Well that’s nothing you can’t repent of!” Unless you have a history of abusing children, your aversion to teaching and serving children as a Christian needs repentance, not a refusal to serve.
When Jesus was teaching the adults and crowds who followed him, his disciples were annoyed with people who were bringing their kids to hear Jesus. They thought Jesus was too important for slobbering, loud, disruptive kids. And when Jesus saw that the disciples were shooing the kids away, he was mad! He scolded Peter, James, John and the other men with him. And then he told them no one would even enter the kingdom of heaven, unless they humbled themselves to the position of a snotty-nosed toddler.
There was a time I wanted to lead a women’s ministry. And when I was asked to serve in kids ministry, I felt disappointed. I felt like it was beneath me. And the Holy Spirit convicted me of my desire for an “honorable” position. Not that there’s anything wrong with ministering to women or adults, but if I am not in a posture before God that sees the goodness of bringing children to Jesus as an honorable position from which we grow in the Kingdom of God, I’ve got Jesus’ kingdom values all turned upside-down.
If you know your Bible, and believe sound doctrine, but when it comes to teaching the next generation the good news you know like the back of your hand your response is, “I’m not a kid person!” Repent! You don’t have a personality problem, you have a sin problem. If you won’t lead a child to Jesus because kids get on your nerves, repent of hindering children from knowing Jesus because of your pride, anger, impatience, lack of love, etc. You’re theology needs a dose of snotty-nosed humility. Humble yourself, get down on the floor with some disruptive kids and share your passion about what Jesus has done with them!
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.” And God commands his people, all of his people, to proclaim his goodness to the next generation.
You learn the best when you teach another
A very well-known fact about learning is that when you teach someone what you’re learning, it sticks. I work in a hospital as a nurse and the gold-standard for teaching patients and families is what they call teach-back. In teach-back, the patient or family member teaches the nurse what they are learning. This demonstrates that the patient comprehends what they were taught and can apply it to their life.
One of the more common replies I get when inviting people to serve the church in teaching kids about Jesus is, “I don’t feel comfortable teaching.” Upon further discussion I find what’s behind that is a feeling that they don’t know the Bible enough or don’t know how to teach. But the very thing they’re avoiding doing is keeping them from growing in the area they feel insecure about.
The best way to get a handle on the message of the Bible is to spend time reading it, wrestling with God about it and telling someone else what you’re learning. I know for me, if I’m not teaching kids or telling someone else what I’m learning as I read the Bible, I won’t read it nearly as much. Teaching kids the Bible forces me to study the scriptures like I otherwise wouldn’t have .
The reasons behind God’s command to teach the coming generation about what he has done in Christ is not singular. It’s not just so the next generation will know. It’s also so we will know! Telling others what God has done helps us grow. Jesus’ final command to us was to go make disciples and to teach them all that he has taught us. Surely this is meant to grow us up in Christ as well as lead others to follow him with us.
Teaching kids what you are learning from the Bible as you follow Jesus is one of the best ways to learn your Bible and grow in knowing Jesus.
Jesus is there
“I need to be in church, not with kids.” This is the third most common reason for not serving in kids ministry I hear from tired and weary people who are depending on Sunday’s preaching and singing to be the gas that fills their tank for the week.
We suburban, American Christians tend to use church like Burger King. We go to church to get our dose of worship and Bible and then head out into our week, running on spiritual fumes till the next week. We treat the church like consumers instead of a covenant body.
We are to come to God hungry and desperate, but he feeds us more than just for an hour on Sunday listening to good preaching and good singing. We are to consume what God feeds us, but he doesn’t feed his church the way the teenage cashier at Burger King feeds us, giving us what we want and sending us on our way.
Jesus said to his disciples once, “I have food you know nothing about.” He was talking about the time he had just spent telling a woman their society pushed to the margins that he was the living water she was looking for. Jesus was fed where he poured himself out. The same goes for us.
Jesus is not just in the sanctuary, or big room gathering on Sunday. He is on the floor with kids in the nursery and in the elementary room opening Bibles to find out what God has been doing. He’s at home, and in the office, and at the grocery store and on the street. He’s with us. He’s with his people. And he wants to feed us. He wants to help us grow strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. But this spiritual muscle and healthy growth in Christ happens in obeying what the Father tells us to do.
The strength our weary souls desire is not found in escaping the denial of ourselves. It’s found in embracing the denial of ourselves to serve others in Jesus’ name.
In my Bible, Psalm 78 has a title over it that reads, “Tell the Coming Generation.” In it, the psalmist is charging the people of God to hear him. He’s admonishing them not to hide the wonders God has done from the next generation. One thing that strikes me about this psalm is in verse four. It says, “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” It strikes me that this isn’t a plea for parents to teach their children, as in Deuteronomy 6. But it’s a plea for God’s people to teach the children of other people in the congregation. We are to teach other people’s children.
Teaching kids the gospel of Christ through the Bible opened with young children, through songs in the nursery, through stories about Jesus to toddlers, is for all of us in the church. May the Spirit turn the hearts of the adults in his church to the children.
We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
and that they should not be like their fathers,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.
Kids are rowdy, they knock over our shiny religious teacups filled with anger, impatience and selfishness. But their rowdiness is no excuse for our complacency. Protecting our whitewashed lives is not what God has called us to.
When my boys were little I felt the tension between what I wanted to do with my days and what I was actually doing. Tending to my screaming toddler, appologizing to the parent of the child my child just bit and disciplining my child what felt like a thousand times a day was not in my plans. When your kids are little the days are full of unseen tasks that help them stay healthy, precious moments of firsts and tender affection. As Christians, we set out with creative ideas and plans to do what can feel like futile attempts to model loving Jesus and teaching them to say his name.
When your kids are older the days are packed with resolving conflict, long talks, hours of pleading in prayer, and casting vision for what you see God doing in their life. At this age you attend concerts that sound similar to nails scratching a chalkboard, but clap like it’s a professional orchestra. You attend baseketball games yelling, “Get your hands up! Get down by the hoop! Good try!” And all the challenging days of raising kids can feel they are keeping you from your real life. But as my pastor Jason Vance says to parents, spending all day working out problems with your kids is your real life.
Among parents and grandparents and non-parents in the church I see the same disillusion about kids. We tend to think of kids in the church as the people someone else will teach. Some of us think we’re too old, or not good with kids. Some of us think we’re too young and don’t know what to do with kids. Some of us find kids too annoying. Some of us find kids exhausting. But God has not called his people in the church to look at the coming generation and hope someone else is teaching them.
Jesus said we should not “despise” the little ones among us (Matthew 18:10). Despising children is a real problem in the church. It’s easy to say we are pro-life, but refuse to lower ourselves to goldfish, fruit snacks, snotty noses, crying toddlers and telling stories on the floor about the God who made those rowdy kids in his image and sent his Son to lay down his life for their sins so they could be with him forever!
Not everyone is going to bear or adopt children. But all of us are called to pass on the message of the gospel to the generation coming up behind us. There are exceptions of people who should not work with children due to criminal convictions, or cannot work with children due to disability or injury. But for most of us, our excuses for not teaching the next generation of kids in the church the gospel fall short. In reality we despise how children expose our pride and selfishness.
Just as we are facing a tsunami of elderly folks who need the humble-service of gospel bearing lives, we are also facing a generation of children who unless we teach them, will grow up not knowing the ways and delivering work of our God in Christ.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses commands the older generation in Israel to teach the younger generation what God has done, delivering them from slavery in Egypt. He tells them, “Hey you guys, God is telling you all to do all these things and let all He has done for you be on your heart because you’ve seen what he has done for you. But the generation after you hasn’t. So do what I’m telling you to do! And talk to the kids in your everyday life about all God has done” (My paraphrase of Deuteronomy 11).
But in Judges 2:10, after Moses and Joshua are dead and gone, it says, “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” Israel had despised the children. They failed to let what God had done be on their hearts, and they failed to tell the kids among them what God had for them. Oh that we, the church in 2019 would not be guilty of raising a generation we despised, who don’t know the work the Lord has done for us!
Welcoming children in Jesus’ name, teaching them the gospel of Christ is a picture of the position of humility from which we enter the kingdom of heaven- like a little child, wide-eyed and rowdy, needing discipline and self-sacrificing love. We need to get down on the ground with the kids and remember the faithfulness of God to bear with us daily, like a grown up giving up his or her days to love and train a child in the ways of Jesus.
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 18:1-5, 10
Taking up the role of leading the kids ministry at my church was not something on my radar of plans for the future. But the push of the Spirit in my life over the past year or so has been to stop holding on to what God has so graciously poured into me, and start using those gifts and callings to serve others.
Last night I had a speech prepared to deliver to the group of families who came to our first Kids Ministry Parents, Kids and Volunteer Get Together. Although I’m trusting what needed to be said was said and God will continue to be gracious and use my weakness to accomplish his will, looking back over my notes, there was a lot I didn’t say. So I thought I’d share it here. It’s sort of a testimony of my own call out of comfort-lust to life by faith in Christ. And it is a call for others to join me in leaving self-made comfort for the joy of walking wherever Jesus leads.
I have been married for 25 years to my husband James and have two sons, Connor 15 and Ryland 14. I’m a nurse. And my home life is not Pinterest worthy. I love quiet and enjoy writing. I’m an introvert, so the small-talk of Sunday mornings and the business of reaching out to people to cast vision and hear their stories and expend energy bearing the burdens of others who’s lives are at least as messy as mine, is Jesus at work in my life.
Without Jesus, I wouldn’t love God or people. I love my own peace and comfort more than I love others.
Without Jesus I might be nice to people I really hate so as not to disturb my own comfort but I wouldn’t really love them.
Without Jesus I might be a philanthropist, giving tokens to people in need to increase my own comfort and protect myself from my need for Jesus, but I would never lay down my life for them.
Without Jesus I wouldn’t really love my husband or children- I’d do whatever I had to do to protect my comfort.
But Jesus has destroyed my illusion of self-made comfort. He’s led me out here to scary places where people and their problems are, but also where faith in him is.
There’s two main ways I see that Jesus has done this in my life: through his word and his people- especially older people.
Over the years God has used the Bible and older women in my life to help me hear and see this Jesus I have never seen or heard. Reading my Bible and asking it questions, praying for answers, regurgitating what I’ve read with others and praying even more has given me an appetite for the things of God and an ear to hear what he sounds like. And it’s been the church, especially older women in the church, who have come along side me in my day-to-day life and helped me see what Jesus looks like. These older women discipled me and what they’ve poured into me is a treasure I want to pour out on others.
It’s my prayer that as we at Valley Life Church seek to make disciples, and help parents raise kids who love Jesus, God would use his word and his people to draw us out of self-protecting comfort into living by faith more and more.
Our mission at Valley Life Church Surprise in Kids Ministry is: Help parents raise kids who love Jesus. And if you notice, that means kids ministry is really parent ministry. Yes we teach kids for an hour or two on Sunday, but that is just a tiny piece of the mission we have. And the way God has laid out for us to help parents raise kids who love Jesus is by the older folks, as Deuteronomy 6:6 says, having God’s message on their hearts, and by those older folks teaching the younger folks the things God has said and done.
In Deuteronomy, Moses told the adults in Israel to love God with all their hearts and teach their kids what God had done for them and to show them his ways. He told them basically, “Hey, you have seen what God has done for you! This new generation has not. You must tell them!”
The psalmist in Psalm 71 cried to God to strengthen him so he could tell a coming generation the wonders of all God had done.
Jesus told us to let the children come to him and to welcome them in his name.
Paul, in the letter to Titus told the “older” men and women in the church to teach the younger how to follow Jesus and love their spouses and kids.
And so this is central to my main focus this year for kids ministry: That in 2019 we would help parents raise kids who love Jesus not just on Sunday, but by forming relationships of older to younger and welcoming each other into our lives throughout the week.
There is a group of senior adults at Valley Life Church who would tell the younger parents they attribute all of their hope to the grace poured out on them through Christ. They would come along side these parents and encourage them, pray with them, give them wisdom and good counsel and just be there for them. And we need them!
I have had the great privilege of having older women in my life over the years and I know God used them to help me endure living by faith. It’s my prayer that the younger families at Valley Life Church will connect with these folks. They won’t regret it.
Our mission- help parents raise kids who love Jesus- if you notice is really parent ministry. Yes we teach kids for an hour or two on Sunday, but that is just a tiny piece of the mission we have.
All this was on my heart last night as I stood before volunteers, my community group of older adults, noisy toddlers and their parents trying to look at me and listen while keeping their little one’s safe. And it’s on my heart this morning as I leave for work with the geriatric population laying beds at the hospital. It’s a prayer resounding in my heart constantly these days, that God would raise up the senior saints in his church to turn and tell the coming generation His mighty deeds; and that the young families in our churches would turn and listen to the silver-headed folks in their churches and communities who have a testimony of God’s faithfulness we need to hear.