Read an Excerpt
Building Children's MinistryA Practical Guide
By Tina Houser
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2008 Tina Houser
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePREPARING THE SITE
Let me roll out the red carpet and welcome you to the world of children's ministry. Since you've picked up this book, children must be important to you. That means you and I are on the same page and I am thrilled to be working arm-in-arm with you.
The set of blueprints that are laid before you in the Table of Contents are not for a dream house or a new shopping center or any other building made of bricks and mortar. Instead, these blueprints are for building people-people who will be a big part of your life for years to come, as well as people you will never even meet. This is where the dreams you have for children's ministry can begin to take form, and then prosper. God has a plan for you as well as the children's ministry you are part of, and it's a good plan. Jeremiah 29:11 assures us that God has a plan for each of us-a good plan, not for disaster-a plan that opens up the future and gives us hope. When that verse runs through my head and I think about it in terms of children's ministry, I can feel my heart begin to pound and my blood start to run faster through my veins.
When I was in third grade, my parents decided to build a home in a new subdivision. The huge roll ofblueprints that the builders kept looking at made no sense to me. What I wanted was to have my very own bedroom, to have beautiful new furniture, and a recreation room where my friends could come over to hang out. What I envisioned was the end result. Fortunately, there were key people who paid great attention to the little lines and markings on those blueprints so that my end result wishes could happen.
What I want to do in the pages of this book is help you think through the blueprints of children's ministry. What steps should we take to assure that we are offering a comprehensive scriptural foundation for children? Coming up with programs before the foundation is laid, if you will pardon the old adage, is like "putting the cart before the horse." For instance, someone wants to start a puppet team and calls it children's ministry. Another person works with a group of children to memorize Scripture and calls it children's ministry. But no one has stopped to make a plan, to draw up the blueprints. Consequently, what happens is that the different programs are happening without a connection or understandable objective. These programs are good things to do, but their purpose in the body of Christ is not understood.
Every night my entire family drove out to the site of our new house to check on that day's progress. Sometimes weeks passed and I didn't notice any changes. At other times, the change in one day would be remarkable, like the day the landscaping was put in. Our new house took on a completely different look. That's how it's going to be with creating a children's ministry. The Table of Contents shows you what's involved in laying the foundation. It involves things like understanding the purpose of the ministry, setting objectives, raising up trained workers, designing a security plan, and creating a budget. All these things take place mostly behind the scenes. It will seem as though there's no progress for long periods of time, but when the foundation is laid correctly, the finished work-the exciting and attractive programs-will have a definite role to play in the entire plan. Can you work for a while behind the scenes laying the foundation? If you invest the time now, I can assure you that the children's ministry you are creating will have fewer loose ends, a sense of purpose, and less conflict. (And don't we all want that!) That's the outcome when the boundaries are set and the foundation is laid, so let's look at putting things in the right order. A house that does not have a good foundation will not stand the test of time.
Every day I spend time talking with children's pastors who are new to this field of ministry. Many of their questions are the same. We chat via e-mail or over the phone and discuss this incredible calling that God has given us. In an attempt to be more effective personally, this book is my way of sitting down to chat about some of the issues that those of you who are new to children's ministry will face. Be encouraged! It's been a wonderful venture for me and I know it can be the same for you.
WHY CHILDREN'S MINISTRY IS IMPORTANT
It's time to step out of the shadows of what children's ministry has been in the past. We're no longer just talking about childcare; we're talking about touching the hearts and minds of children so that they will desire to live godly lives. Children's ministry is about building followers of Christ from physical infancy, rather than waiting until children become adults and having to tear down the building and rebuild. Why is it important? Because God says so, that's why!
It Is Close to God's Heart
Children's ministry is important because it's close to the heart of God. Get a concordance and look up the references to children. There are so many! Some of the verses are simply listing "women and children" involved in an event, but most are referring to God's people. These are not necessarily references to the young age of people, but rather show that children are so highly regarded that God even refers to adults who possess childlike qualities as children. In Matthew 18:3, God elevates children by saying "unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven." The scripture is telling us that we should aspire to be like children, because the traits they possess are what God is looking for in His people. Believers are lovingly called children in 1 John 5:1: "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too." Yes indeed, children are close to the heart of God!
God Commanded It
God has commanded us to reach children. Deuteronomy 32:46 says, "Pass them on as a command to your children so they will obey every word of these instructions." And, Deuteronomy 11:19 tells us, "Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up." We have our orders. This is the core of how we do children's ministry. It happens anywhere, at any time, using anything to get the point across. There is a plea for everyone to help raise up a godly generation. We must just do it because God tells us to.
We Learn from the Past
Children's ministry is one huge way that we pass on the faith to others. God told Joshua to build a stone memorial at the campsite next to the Jordan River, so that when the next generation saw the memorial they would ask what it stood for. (God was setting up an object lesson for future generations!) Then, the children could be told how the Israelites crossed the Jordan and how the walls of Jericho fell to God's glory (Josh. 4). What happened in the faith journey of generations past is important to the children of this generation. We learn from and are inspired by the successes and failures of our faithful ancestors. Children must be told.
It's a Source of Joy
Getting kids to connect on a spiritual level is important and a source of joy. Proverbs 23:24 tells us, "The father of godly children has cause for joy. What a pleasure to have children who are wise." God wants to give us joy, and one way He does that is through raising up godly children. They bless Him, and they bless us.
Our Brains Are Designed that Way
Here's a reason that's going to raise your eyebrows. Children's ministry is important because of the way God designed our brains. As I write this, I am so excited about this discovery that I'm bouncing up and down in my chair. I just hope I can help you see the impact of having this information. While taking a college course a few years ago I made an amazing discovery. The professor showed three pictures of the neuropaths in the same brain at different stages of childhood. The first picture was taken when the child was about six months old. The lines depicting the neuropaths were trailing around the brain, indicating that the infant was beginning to take in information. The second picture was taken at six years old. The brain was a matted mess with neuropaths crisscrossing one another, evidence of the child taking in and holding onto a huge amount of information. This didn't surprise me in the least, as I've witnessed how preschoolers are sponges. The third picture was the one that took me by surprise. It had been taken around the age of fourteen. Many of the lines had disappeared. Where did they go? Where was that mass of information? I was expecting a picture that was completely solid with pathways. Instead, I saw a much less complicated picture. The professor explained that around the age of twelve, the brain begins a very interesting process. It starts doing an inventory and review of the information stored there, keeping what is being used regularly, and filing away information that isn't being used consistently. God made us that way! Incredible! Interesting, but what does that have to do with children's ministry? It has everything to do with children's ministry. Research done by the Barna Group and compiled in Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions indicates that personal moral foundations regarding values, morality, and truth are in place by the age of thirteen and are incredibly difficult to change after that. Understanding the physical development of the brain explains the Barna research results.
Not only do children need to be taught the Bible, they need to be using it regularly for their brains to acknowledge its necessity and not physically discard it. When I looked at different areas of the Christian life, such as service, prayer, and personal time of devotion, I realized that we couldn't just teach about them, we had to make them real for kids. We had to intentionally teach these disciplines. If kids weren't actually being given opportunities to serve, to be engaged in meaningful prayer time, to participate in tithing, and to consistently take time for personal devotions, then around their twelfth birthday, their brains would feel that those aspects of the Christian life weren't worth keeping around. We've got to get desperate about reaching kids. The clock is ticking! Each day they get closer to age twelve and to the time when their brains will begin to discard what's not being used.
We've got to take this seriously because evil influences take it seriously. The world already understands how impressionable and formidable these young years are. The Barna research indicates that the values that become the heart and soul of a child before the teen years are the values most likely kept throughout adulthood. It goes both ways. Those can be godly values or they can be worldly values. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to look around and find evidence of evil at work in our children's lives. Is there evidence as easily found for God's people at work for the sake of children?
I am so thankful that George Barna took the time and yielded to God's prompting to gather these facts and do this research. Read Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions or visit www.barna.org and you'll agree with Barna's conclusion: the church needs to make children's ministry its number one priority!
Ministry to children is a high and holy calling. Because of the faithful ones who refuse to let anything get in the way of bringing children into a relationship with a God who loves them personally, this new generation will hear God's message and make godly decisions. "Our children will also serve him. Future generations will hear about the wonders of the Lord" (Ps. 22:30). What an honor. What a privilege. How humbling it is to be called to pass God's Word on to children.
CREATE A STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
One of the most critical elements of beginning a children's ministry is establishing a statement of purpose. If you are years into children's ministry and don't have a statement of purpose, stop right now and put one together. Your statement of purpose is your blueprint. This is what you gauge all your programs by. It can guide you to move forward with a new venture or it can reveal that you're going in the wrong direction. Some people call this a statement of purpose, others call it a mission statement, overall objectives, a visioning statement, or a philosophy. Some churches think they need to have a mission statement, as well as a visioning statement, and a philosophy. Essentially, what they have done is gotten more specific with each level as they break it down. Whatever term you want to give this statement, you need to have something written down that is going to tell you what your children's ministry is about. Who is it supposed to reach? What types of activities happen within it? And, what are the boundaries that keep it focused as a ministry of your church? What sets it apart from other things happening in your community?
We will talk repeatedly about the fact that children's ministry should be integrated into the church body. The children's ministry statement of purpose should parallel the purpose of the church. If the purpose of the church reflects missions as a high priority, then the children's ministry needs to develop specific programming that will educate children about missions and give them the opportunity to participate. If the church mission statement is weighted toward tackling needs specific to the inner city, then the children's ministry should keep those same needs in mind in everything it does. The church's statement of purpose should not go in one direction while the children's ministry's statement of purpose goes in another. Let me show you how our church's statement of purpose and our children's ministry's statement align.
The purpose of First Church of God, Kokomo, Indiana, is to glorify God by:
* Reaching out to those who don't know Christ with the message of salvation and discipleship.
* Growing up to be like Jesus in our thinking, standards, and maturity.
* Growing together in the fellowship of Christian love for each other.
* Lifting up those in need in our community and world simply because they are in need and we have help to offer.
A well-written purpose statement will be concise and easy to understand. It should be written so people can get it in their heads and in their hearts. It is evident that our church's statement of purpose speaks with passion about what we want to accomplish and it can easily be simplified into: Reach Out, Grow Up, Grow Together, and Lift Up ... and do it all to glorify God. There was no need for us to have a different, reworded statement of purpose. These four points give direction to the church and establish its personality. If the children are truly a vital part of the congregation, then the children's ministry leadership has the huge task of making sure that all four of these purposes are integrated into the children's ministry programming. If the church's statement of purpose feels vague to you, then list what it means to children's ministry under each point, clarifying what kind of actions it requires.
We took each of our four statements and put them on a card on the wall. We then took a close look at each of our children's ministry programs to see what their specific objectives were. Work diligently at understanding that all programs do not have to fulfill all objectives, but all objectives do need to be met through some means. On another card we wrote the name of the program and taped it underneath as many headings as it applied to. This gave us a visual instrument to use in interpreting the weight each of the four points in our statement were getting in the children's ministry. It also helped us identify areas that were weak or nonexistent.
Excerpted from Building Children's Ministry by Tina Houser Copyright © 2008 by Tina Houser. Excerpted by permission.
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