BACK TO BASICS
In the first of a series of articles Trevor and Thalia Blundell call for Children's ministry to be taken seriously
WHAT IS CHILDREN’S ministry?
In its simplest form ministry is serving others. Therefore, children’s ministry is serving children, which, in a church situation, means leading them into a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Declaring, explaining and living the Word of God must be the foundation of our service to all people, including children.
Our newspapers are full of statements regarding the children and youth of today. The Ridings school has received national coverage relating to a breakdown in relationship between the school and some of its pupils. Other schools have jumped on the publicity bandwagon, declaring that their situation is much worse. Children sound out of control. How long has this being going on?
Children have bad manners and contempt for authority - they no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents and chatter before company - gobble up their food and tyrannise their teachers. Quote 1.
The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. Quote 2.
The sentiments in the above quotes accurately reflect the state of children’s behaviour in our culture today. Do you recognise them?
The first is from Aristotle, who lived circa 322 BC. The second is more modern, coming from Peter the Hermit (1050 - 1115 AD). You can understand why Peter may have become a hermit! So why haven’t things got better over the last 2 millennia? Are we so stupid that we cannot learn from history?
In the run-up to the General Election all the main political parties addressed the issue of the perceived moral decay in our society. We are constantly told of the need to return to traditional family values, which, when articulated, are those that stem from our country’s Christian heritage. There is talk of introducing parenting as part of the high school curriculum; children and the teaching of children are high on society’s agenda.
Where does the Christian church stand in all this? The Bible clearly teaches that children are important to Jesus. He rebuked his disciples when they tried to stop parents bringing their children to him (Luke 18:15-17) and he used a child’s simple trust as a role model for entry to the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1-5).
John Bunyan, in ‘The Life and Death of Mr Badman, wrote:
I remember that I have heard of a good woman, that had, as this old man, a bad and ungodly son, and she prayed for him, counselling him, and carried it motherly to him for several years together; but still he remained bad. At last, upon a time after she had been at prayer, as she was wont, for his conversion, she comes to him, and thus, or to this effect, begins again to admonish him. Son, she said, thou hast been and art a wicked child, thou hast cost me many a prayer and tear, and yet thou remainest wicked. Well, I have done my duty, I have done what I can to save thee; now I am satisfied, that if I shall see thee damned at the day of judgment, I shall be so far off from being grieved for thee, that I shall rejoice to hear the sentence of thy damnation at that day; and it converted him.
I tell you that if parents carry it lovingly towards their children, mixing their mercies with loving rebukes, and their loving rebukes with fatherly and motherly compassions, they are more likely to save their children, than by being churlish and severe to them: but if they do not save them, if their mercy do them no good, yet it will greatly ease them at the day of death, to consider: I have done by love as much as I could , to save and deliver my child from hell. (Extract from ‘The Life and Death of Mr Badman by John Bunyan SBN 460 00815 3)
Bunyan saw that the primary responsibility for the spiritual education of children rests with the parents. I will say that again, for the reading parent, so that it has the opportunity to bite into our memories and challenge our laziness. The primary responsibility for the spiritual education of children rests with the parents. This is the unambiguous teaching of the Bible (Deuteronomy 4:9-10; 6:4-9; 20-25; 11:18-21; 32:46, Proverbs 1:8; 4:3-5; 6:20; 22:6, Ephesians 6:4, 2 Timothy 3:14-15). However, the disappointing fact is that, less than 20% of Christian parents are regularly (daily) engaged in prayer and Bible reading with their children. There is no doubt that current lifestyles conspire against this happening, but that does not remove their responsibility.
The secular education of our children has been delegated to government or independent agencies and so parents delegate the spiritual education to the church and para church organisations. However, Brunner states ”... education is not primarily the concern of the school, or even of the state, but of the family.” (E. Brunner, The Divine Imperative [Lutterworth Press, London, 1958], p. 512).
This is reinforced by Woolley:
... instruction is a family matter. It begins in the house with the father and mother themselves. The time come, of course, when instruction reaches a level where it can no longer be conducted by the parents themselves. But this does not lessen their responsibility in the matter. The parents are the agents of education so long as the process continues and the child is a child.” (Paul Woolley, Family, State And Church [Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1965], p.16).
Parents must come to terms with the great truths of Hebrews 9:27 and 1 Corinthians 5:10, that they should be preparing their children for judgment. Therefore, the spiritual education of children has a clear purpose, which applies not only to parents, but to everyone involved in children’s ministry.
The secondary responsibility for the spiritual education of children belongs with the church and para church organisations. These groups are responsible for complementing what goes on in the home. However, reality dictates that in the majority of cases the church provides all the spiritual education of children, both from believing and non-believing families. Therefore, it is self-evident that the spiritual education of children is a partnership between the parents, both believing and non-believing, and the church. There must be a declaration of responsibilities and a communication of agreed strategies between the parties for any children’s ministry to prosper.
The parents must be given every assistance in formulating and implementing a teaching/devotional programme in the home. It is acknowledged that some parents will not be interested in their children’s salvation. This presents a wonderful opportunity for evangelism. Conversely, the church should understand what is happening in the home and devise a programme to build on that foundation, recognising that this exercise is time sensitive. Historically, almost all spiritual education of children, i.e. children’s ministry, is developed not as a partnership but as independent groups working in isolation and ignorance of other interested parties. This is evident when the children’s ministry in a church situation is seriously reviewed.
The 18 Year Time Line
Generally churches divide the children’s ministry into age groups, relevant for each church’s needs, the beginning point being zero years and the end point being the time when the young adults leave home for tertiary education, employment (or sometimes long-term unemployment) or travel (16-18 years). It is of inestimable value for leaders in children’s ministry to depict the children’s work graphically/diagramatically on this 0 to 18 year line. This will be referred to as ‘The 18 Year Time Line’. Here’s one I made a little earlier.
Once the details of the children’s and youth ministries have been populated on to the time line, it will be evident that at least three or four different people (or groups) will be responsible for the various sections, e.g. the creche will be run by one person, the 3-7s by another, 8-11s by a third and junior Teens by yet another or in conjunction with the senior teenagers leader(s).
Key questions for directors in children’s work
Is there an integrated strategy for the spiritual education of all children i.e. 0 to 18 years old in your church?
Have you a philosophy for your children’s ministry? If so, do all the teachers/helpers have a written copy? How often do you review your philosophy?
Do the respective leaders understand what the other groups are teaching?
Do the respective leaders recognise that they are part of a team responsible for the spiritual education of children in their church?
Do the teachers accept responsibility for bringing the children up to the minimum required attainment targets defined in the strategy for children’s ministry?
During the course of training over 1,000 teachers throughout the United Kingdom, we can say empirically that few directors in children’s ministry could answer the above questions positively. The reason for this is that the spiritual education of children is not integrated; groups act independently and work in isolation. This cannot be in the long-term interests of the children, the parents or the church.
Some of the common deficiencies of a non-integrated teaching programme are:
- Popular stories are over-taught, alienating (boring) the children.
- Important doctrines are omitted.
- Great pools of ignorance result.
- Home and church spiritual education programmes can clash.
- Parents assume the church is teaching what the church assumes the parents are teaching, and neither is doing it.
- The church can unwittingly put teaching pressures on teenagers when it should be easing off, especially at GCSE and A Level examination times.
- There is an absence of leadership training and preparing the teens for life after leaving home.
People or structures?
Given that the spiritual education strategy in your church is fully integrated, is an endorsed partnership with the parents and has a dynamic syllabus for 0-18 year olds, what comes next? No, not an MBE for services to the kingdom but a principle that is a key to Christian ministry - ‘People support ministry, structures do not. Structures support and protect the people (ministers).’ Never allow structures for Christian ministry, children’s or otherwise, to be more important than, or to replace, the minister. Stephen R. Covey in his book, ‘The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People’ published by Simon & Schuster Inc. in dealing with ‘A “People” Dimension’ states that efficiency deals with time and effectiveness deals with people.
He uses the example of his son who was deeply into time management (scheduling) and one item on his busy schedule involved “dropping” his long time girlfriend, Carol. He allowed a ten - to fifteen minute telephone call to tell her. The news was traumatic for Carol and one-and-a-half hours later they were still deep in conversation. The situation required more visits and it was very frustrating for both of them. Covey noted - you can’t think efficiency with people. You think effectiveness with people and efficiency with things. He goes on to state the principle that people are more important than things.
This then leads naturally onto the subject of ‘Who runs the ministry?’ If you take into account that a church with 50 children in it’s children’s ministry programme, representing 30 different families and maintaining a teaching team of 10 to 15 leaders/helpers amounts to, in real terms, a small to average size church membership. A church of say 100 members would demand the employment of a full-time ordained person to supervise the spiritual and pastoral needs of the group. Not so in children’s ministry. Almost without exception the directors in children’s ministry are unpaid volunteers, usually with busy week day jobs and heavy family responsibilities. We all know of churches with full-time youth workers, but how many churches do you know that have a full-time children’s worker?
Questions for church leaders:
Why do you place so much responsibility on unpaid volunteers?
Do you understand the time involved in administering a successful children’s ministry?
On a scale of 1 - 10 how high would your rate children’s ministry in relation to all other ministries within your church?
Do you understand the pastoral demands of people involved in children’s ministry?
Do you have a vision for evangelism through children’s ministry?
How often do you meet with the teachers/helpers to discuss and pray for the children’s/youth ministry?
When volunteers leave the children’s ministry in your church, do you find out why?
Over the last 10 years has the number of children increased, decreased or remained static?
For children’s ministry to be effective it must be integrated into the overall strategy of preaching, teaching and living the gospel both in the church and the community (world). It is only one of a number of equally important ministries within a church so it should not dominate the strategy. Equally, it must not be treated as the poor relation and ignored. A look at the church’s budget will give a reasonably clear picture of where the children’s ministry stands in relation to the other church activities. Until children are seen as being as much a part of the congregation as are the adults, children’s work will continue to be viewed as an inferior ministry.
Children’s ministry in this country will continue to decline, until church leaders have a major change in attitude to it and start allocating proper resources to it as an integral foundation to church re-development.
Trevor and Thalia Blundell run TnT (Teaching’n’Training) Ministries. For ten years they have developed the young peoples' work at St Helen’s Bishopsgate.
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