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Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation 2013â"2016 - Children's Ministries
Ministries That Help Children Grow in Faith
By Melanie C. Gordon
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2012 Cokesbury
All rights reserved.
Called to a Ministry of Faithfulness and Vitality
You are so important to the life of the Christian church! You have consented to join with other people of faith who, through the millennia, have sustained the church by extending God's love to others. You have been called and have committed your unique passions, gifts, and abilities to a position of leadership. This Guideline will help you understand the basic elements of that ministry within your own church and within The United Methodist Church.
Leadership in Vital Ministry
Each person is called to ministry by virtue of his or her baptism, and that ministry takes place in all aspects of daily life, both in and outside of the church. Your leadership role requires that you will be a faithful participant in the mission of the church , which is to partner with God to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. You will not only engage in your area of ministry, but will also work to empower others to be in ministry as well. The vitality of your church, and the Church as a whole, depends upon the faith, abilities, and actions of all who work together for the glory of God.
Clearly then, as a pastoral leader or leader among the laity, your ministry is not just a "job," but a spiritual endeavor. You are a spiritual leader now, and others will look to you for spiritual leadership. What does this mean?
All persons who follow Jesus are called to grow spiritually through the practice of various Christian habits (or "means of grace") such as prayer, Bible study, private and corporate worship, acts of service, Christian conferencing, and so on. Jesus taught his disciples practices of spiritual growth and leadership that you will model as you guide others. As members of the congregation grow through the means of grace, they will assume their own role in ministry and help others in the same way. This is the cycle of disciple making.
The Church's Vision
While there is one mission—to make disciples of Jesus Christ—the portrait of a successful mission will differ from one congregation to the next. One of your roles is to listen deeply for the guidance and call of God in your own context. In your church, neighborhood, or greater community, what are the greatest needs? How is God calling your congregation to be in a ministry of service and witness where they are? What does vital ministry look like in the life of your congregation and its neighbors? What are the characteristics, traits, and actions that identify a person as a faithful disciple in your context? This portrait, or vision, is formed when you and the other leaders discern together how your gifts from God come together to fulfill the will of God.
Assessing Your Efforts
We are generally good at deciding what to do, but we sometimes skip the more important first question of what we want to accomplish. Knowing your task (the mission of disciple making) and knowing what results you want (the vision of your church) are the first two steps in a vital ministry. The third step is in knowing how you will assess or measure the results of what you do and who you are (and become) because of what you do. Those measures relate directly to mission and vision, and they are more than just numbers.
One of your leadership tasks will be to take a hard look, with your team, at all the things your ministry area does or plans to do. No doubt they are good and worthy activities; the question is, "Do these activities and experiences lead people into a mature relationship with God and a life of deeper discipleship?" That is the business of the church, and the church needs to do what only the church can do. You may need to eliminate or alter some of what you do if it does not measure up to the standard of faithful disciple making. It will be up to your ministry team to establish the specific standards against which you compare all that you do and hope to do. (This Guideline includes further help in establishing goals, strategies, and measures for this area of ministry.)
The Mission of The United Methodist Church
Each local church is unique, yet it is a part of a connection, a living organism of the body of Christ. Being a connectional Church means in part that all United Methodist churches are interrelated through the structure and organization of districts, conferences, and jurisdictions in the larger "family" of the denomination. The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church describes, among other things, the ministry of all United Methodist Christians, the essence of servant ministry and leadership, how to organize and accomplish that ministry, and how our connectional structure works (see especially ¶¶126–138).
Our Church extends way beyond your doorstep; it is a global Church with both local and international presence. You are not alone. The resources of the entire denomination are intended to assist you in ministry. With this help and the partnership of God and one another, the mission continues. You are an integral part of God's church and God's plan!
(For help in addition to this Guideline and the Book of Discipline, see "Resources" at the end of your Guideline, www.umc.org, and the other websites listed on the inside back cover.)CHAPTER 2
Guidelines in Children's Ministries
You have answered the call to serve as a minister to children. Calls come in a variety of ways, yet here you are. You may be wondering where to begin. Begin with the prayer and knowledge of the Psalmist: "O God, from my youth you have taught me / and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. / So even to old age and grey hairs, / O God, do not forsake me, / until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come" (71:17-18).
Psalm 71 reminds us of the importance of learning and knowing the wonders of a relational God from our very beginnings. It reminds us that even as we age, our relationship with God impacts our lives today and those in future generations. The children that your ministry will touch already have a relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and through your leadership it is the hope that they will grow in understanding of what God has called them to be and to do.
The Social Principles (The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, ¶162C) state, "Once considered the property of their parents, children are now acknowledged to be full human beings in their own right, but beings to whom adults and society in general have special obligations...." This Principle calls us to take responsibility for meeting the needs of all children, not just our own, including education and protection. (See also Resolution 3081, "Child Care and the Church," in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church.) Whether your ministry touches three children in a small congregation, three hundred children in a large congregation, or the children who live in the community where you serve, you have been invited to gather dedicated adults and scripturally sound resources to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Remember, you are not alone. You are in ministry with parents, guardians, grandparents, caregivers, and even ancestors who care for and about children:
Members of the congregation who are concerned with creating and maintaining a vital church community.
People in the community who care about the healthy development of children.
The pastor and church leaders who are responsible for the faith development of all people.
People within the United Methodist Connection who are here to support your ministry.
And a story that has sustained the Christian community for thousands of years. May the Lord bless you and keep you.CHAPTER 3
A Biblical and Historical Foundation
Our first glance of Jesus is that of a newborn baby who grew and lived each phase of childhood. We may reason that Jesus experenced the love and comfort of parents and the fears, sorrows, and joys of a child. In this way, children relate to Jesus because he grew as they grow. We can assume that Jesus grew up in a home that reflected the time in which Hebrew parents were obligated to teach their children the Law and to raise them to be responsible members of the faith community. A young Jesus spoke confidently to religious authorities in the Temple, exemplifying the importance of teaching children well (Luke 2:41-52).
In ministry with children, it is important to remember that Jesus loved and honored children. Parents brought their children to be blessed by Jesus, not just in his presence, but also through his touch. Jesus publicly claimed children as models of pureness of heart and joy inherent of the kingdom of God, reminding us that we are to tend graciously to our children, and warning us of the consequences of being a "stumbling block" in our children's growth and development (see, for example, Luke 18:15-17).
Our Connectional Commitment to Children
John Wesley was also committed to the education and formation of children, and traditionally, the United Methodist Church has provided a space for children to not only learn and grow, but to be an active part of the community.
In his sermons and actions, Wesley took up the cause of children's issues, especially their intellectual and spiritual development. The Wesleyan movement inspired the development of health clinics and schools that accommodated children from all walks of life. Wesley personally visited children in workhouses and poor houses, and established Sunday schools, going against the popular writings of the time and actively participating in social justice issues that directly impacted children.
The mission of The United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. This mission, which reflects Jesus' Great Commission, includes children. Faith formation for children is not an option. Leaders in ministry with children live out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) by offering opportunities, resources, and experiences for children that are steeped in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, so this becomes your primary task.
Paragraph 256.1a of the Book of Discipline states that "in each local church, there shall be a church school for the purpose of accomplishing the church's educational ministry." The Book of Resolutions, an official document of the Church, contains three resolutions that address our commitment to children—"Putting Children and Their Families First," "Reducing the Risk of Child Sexual Abuse in the Church," and "Child Care and the Church." All leaders in ministry with children should be familiar with these documents to understand The United Methodist Church's deep commitment to children.
The general boards and agencies of The United Methodist Church take seriously the role of children in the life of the congregation. The General Board of Discipleship, through the Office of Ministry with Children, provides resources for leaders engaged in ministry with children in local congregations. The General Board of Discipleship offers a biannual United Methodist Conference on Ministry with Children [formerly FOCUS], and also holds the responsibility of training leaders; providing research; connecting leaders and congregations; and developing resources for use in local churches, districts, and annual conferences. The United Methodist Publishing House develops the curriculum component for children, and a Curriculum Resources Committee reviews curriculum for alignment with United Methodist theology.
The General Board of Global Ministries advocates for children worldwide and supports United Methodist Women in the Campaign for Children, which focuses on advocating for greater support for public schools in the United States. The General Board of Church and Society advocates for children in legislative issues. The Commission on United Methodist Men supports the office of Civic Youth Agencies/Scouting. The General Commission on Finance and Administration provides support for congregations in matters of risk and in keeping children safe.
Most annual conferences have a children's council and a person responsible for children's ministries. There are also people within each district who are knowledgeable about district and annual conference programs and support for those who work with children. Christian Educators Fellowship will share their knowledge and skills in ministry with children.
God loves all children and desires relationship with all children, and as Christians we are called to cultivate that relationship. John Wesley desired for children to know and love God. Our heritage as United Methodists has shown a commitment to children through baptism, Sunday school, Bethlehem Centers, daycare centers for working parents, and homes for children. The United Methodist Church continues to name children as vital participants in the community whom God calls us to love, protect, and nurture.
Your Role as a Spiritual Leader
You are a vital part of the Connection, and how you live out your life in accord with the biblical and historical principles of the Church will have a direct impact on children and their families. In Paul's letter to the community at Ephesus, he appealed to his sisters and brothers to live into the unity of Spirit that God desires of us through Jesus Christ—One body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Ephesians 4:1-7). Those called in children's ministry live into this unity, and they use their gifts to serve the children of the congregation and the larger community in a multitude of ways. It is important to remember that God has given each of us gifts to be used to build up the community of faith (4:11-13).
As a leader in The United Methodist Church, you set the example for the people that you lead—the children. Your life both publically and privately should reflect the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. It is difficult to teach that which we do not practice or understand. The General Rules (Discipline, ¶104) set forth a rule of life to aid in that practice. Marjorie Thompson, in Soul Feast, tells us that "a rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness.... It fosters gifts of the Spirit in personal life and human community, helping to form us into the persons God intends us to be" (p. 138, italics added). The General Rules expect us to begin by doing no harm and doing good, then to attend upon the ordinances of God by loving God through regular practice of the public worship of God; the ministry of the Word, either read or expounded; the Supper of the Lord; family and private prayer; searching the Scriptures; and fasting or abstinence.
While they are not specifically mentioned in this section of the Discipline, Wesley would include works of advocacy, service, and justice among them. All these practices will direct your life and support your ministry "to witness to Jesus Christ in the world, and to follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit" (Discipline, ¶1117.2).
Self-care is your gift to God, those you serve, and to you. Jesus visited Mary, Martha, and Lazarus when he needed to take respite. It is important to follow this model. Plan wisely. Set boundaries. Take time to care for yourself. Taking time for renewal is a discipline that will allow you to grow in holiness.CHAPTER 4
Ministry with Children
A vital, disciple-making congregation provides multiple opportunities for children to participate in the life of the church. "As people of faith, we are called to teach children through scripture, our tradition as Methodists, the Social Principles, the ritual of baptism, and our concern for families. In responding to the call set before us, we will provide environments for children to be nurtured in the faith and to grow as children of God" ("Child Care and the Church," #3081, Book of Resolutions).
The Spiritual Lives of Children
Children are spiritual beings born with the essential knowledge of God's presence, and with the potential for spiritual experiences with God to activate that potential. The role of those who are responsible for their faith development is to help children on their spiritual journey. Scripture gives the example of Jesus growing strong and gaining in wisdom in his community (Luke 2:40). A congregation that intentionally fulfills this role actively:
creates experiences that support children in the knowledge and awareness of God
models God's unconditional love for all of God's children
provides opportunities that support children in discovering, developing, and sharing their unique gifts from God
listens and responds to the needs of children
Excerpted from Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation 2013â"2016 - Children's Ministries by Melanie C. Gordon. Copyright © 2012 Cokesbury. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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