EXCERPT from the newly released book “Your Children’s Ministry Beyond Basics” (Amazon)
How do we know that we have fully equipped a child spiritually to go into youth group?
What is the goal? What does the fully discipled child look like? What does that child sound like? The answer to these questions should guide us in EVERY decision we make in children’s ministry from curriculum, to service structure, to what we choose to emphasize week to week.
Now I realize that this list will not be comprehensive. But when I visualize a child, age 11-12, graduating out of children’s ministries into student ministries, this is what I and my teams are looking for, fighting for and planning for every week, Sunday after Sunday. Here are our goals in no particular order.
By the Grace of GOD: A CHILD GRADUATING OUT OF OUR KIDS MINISTRY:
- Will know what they believe and why. They will be able to accurately and positively defend their faith (apologetics) – A child in grade school, is the best they will ever be in their entire lives at committing things to memory. We should not waste a moment of this key time for helping children learn and memorize what matters most. In fact, a lot of people will tell you that they memorized most of the Scripture they know now, BEFORE the age of 12. One of the most important things we can do for our kids is to teach them what we believe, why we believe it, and how to effectively articulate, defend and share those beliefs. So when they leave our program, we want every child to be able to explain what we believe, and why, and defend it using Scriptures.
I had a talk with a Mom recently, who informed me that she would not be bringing her young son to church. She said that she felt a child was too young to learn things about God and the Bible, and that when he turned 18, she would let him choose for himself if he wanted to start going to church. I looked at her and asked, “So are you keeping him out of school as well? Perhaps when he is 18 you should let him decide if he should start school or not. He is far too young to understand everything they teach in school too. And definitely do not take him to the pediatrician. Just wait until he is 18 and let him decide if he wants to visit the doctor and start his vaccinations.” She instantly snapped, “Well 18 is far too late to start school and WAY too late to start his vaccinations! He has to start now or he’ll be way behind! He may not like school but that’s too bad. He has a lot to learn.” I responded, “Exactly, Mae. Your child’s spiritual health, spiritual journey is the MOST important part of your child’s life.” To my delight, she really thought about what I said, and so far has routinely been bringing her son to church.
- Will be as prepared as possible for a positive transition to student ministries. BOTTOM LINE: it is mission critical that we work together to do our graduation handoffs WELL. Do celebrate and make a big deal of when a child graduates up to student ministries. Let them know you are proud of them, that this is part of growing up, and a whole new exciting chapter in their lives. Do not make it a funeral, or a sad thing. Do NOT make it sound like the end of FUN. Talk up all the great things they will now be able to be a part of!
- Will KNOW their major Bible stories and have a working knowledge of God’s Word. They will be able to search Scripture for themselves to find the answers they need. This is important. We want the children to go from being “fed” beliefs and Scriptures, to digging in and finding these treasures for themselves. We want to instill a lifelong love of God’s Word, and a daily habit of reading and studying it.
- Can spot cults and false doctrine and know why they are false. This goes right along with knowing what we believe and why. More and more cults are targeting children. It is more important now than ever that our kids can search the Bible for themselves, and know a false doctrine when they come across it.
- Has solid Christian friendships that hopefully will go with him into student ministries. One common denominator that has kept kids in church longer is having a network of kids their age that they identify with and surround themselves with. We want each child to make solid Christian friends, and to learn to be a positive Christian friend to others. Because living in a community of believers, growing together in Jesus is what CHURCH is all about! We intentionally work to foster these friendships, to provide positive peer pressure, accountability and a “net” to keep kids from slipping through the cracks and out of our doors. We want “normal life” for every child as they grow up to include worshipping together with their friends.
- Is actively serving in the church. We want our kids to love their church, and feel very much a part of it- right now. We will help each child to know what their giftings are and how to use them in ministry! We should always be looking for new ways to use our talents for God and others, at church, at home, and in our community. Over and over again, I have found this to be true: The children you INVOLVE will be the children you KEEP. You cannot expect them to sit around until they are 25 staring at the wall, and then suddenly join the deacon board. If you wait too long, they are already gone. Children that are involved in serving are much more likely to stay in church, and stay committed even through rocky church times and transitions. Involve them right now! Create opportunities for the kids and their families in your ministry to reach out using their giftings. A life of serving should be the routine for every Christian- it should be NORMAL for these kids to join student ministries and immediately look for their place to help out. The child who is graduating up, should be a child excited to minister!
- Has surrendered their life to Jesus. This includes a dynamic commitment to live life God’s way. This child will have Biblical view of the world, of right and wrong and of the family. In everything, this child will be thinking, “What does God want?” When they consider their future, they are thinking, “What does God have for me to do?” God takes center stage over all else. This also translates into the child’s attitude and actions reflecting the fruit of the Spirit. This is a child working to be more and more like Jesus.
- Has had SEVERAL EXPERIENCES of God’s Presence. God is a very real Person in their life, on a daily basis. Not an impersonal, historical or mythical figure. This is a vibrant relationship with a living God. This is just as crucial, if not more so than making sure each child has the “head knowledge” of God. Heart knowledge needs to be happening week to week as well. The child who is graduating up knows how to pray for themselves and others. They will have had prayers answered. They cannot be convinced that God does not exist, because they have SEEN God in action in their lives and on their behalf. The desire will be there for more of God’s Presence in their lives through worship, water and Spirit baptism, Scripture, serving and more. When crisis hits, they will turn to God for help. This child believes and has an active vital relationship with a BIG God, Who listens, cares and ACTS on their behalf.
- Is missions minded-A Giver. We want our kids to leave our programs with a giving nature that runs directly counter-culture to our mainly selfish, materialistic human nature. Each child will learn to tithe and to give. They will make it a habit to give to and serve the poor, the hurting, the hungry, soldiers, the imprisoned, Christians suffering around the world for their faith, those in the hospital and more. When there is a natural disaster or community crisis, these kids will be thinking, “How can I show the love of Christ? How can I help?” These are kids who will give sacrificially of time, money, things and service. Instead of hoarding “stuff” for themselves, they will think of their possessions as gifts God has entrusted to them to use for good.
When we sit down to plan our year of ministry, we have all of the above in our minds when we pick out curriculum, plan events and evaluate our progress.
You cannot ever get “there” if you do not know where you are going.
What about the children graduating up from YOUR kid’s ministry into student ministries?
What is the most important to you and the culture of your church?
What are your non-negotiables? How will you know that you “got all the bases covered”?
Hoping for some good input/discussion here!
- Trisha Peach