In the late 1970’s I was at Bible College and was unimpressed to learn that a whole week would be devoted to kids ministry. As an educated adult, keen to engage the grown-up minds of my audiences, I thought the week would be a low point in the course.
I was so impacted by that week that the short study on Kids Ministry probably had the most lasting impact of anything I learned that year.
It was pointed out to us that most ministers ignore the children in their congregation. Children are easily discounted, taken for granted and overlooked for various reasons. They are less mature than their parents. They don’t have any money to put in the offering. They can’t run programs or plan next year’s budget.
Children are also given to shuffling and wriggling, mumbling and giggling.
Yet these overlooked members of the church community are truly a hidden congregation. They are listening and being impacted by their experiences in the congregation and the life of the church.
Life Long Decisions
The youngsters who run down the corridor or footpaths around the church are complete individuals, despite their youthfulness. They are quite capable of making lasting decisions, while you dismiss them or speak to them in your condescending (“You aren’t really a very important person”) tone.
I was told back in the 1970’s that some 60% or so of people on the mission field had decided to be missionaries while they were young children, sitting in church, hearing the Bible readings, listening to the sermon and so on.
That doesn’t mean that every child who decided to be a missionary actually followed through. But it does mean that a life of Christian service can often be traced back to decisions made when others around that child probably didn’t take them seriously.
Sadly, some children decide when they are young that the church is irrelevant to them, or that they don’t want to identify with the values and attitudes they encounter in the local church. Many people are still living out those early decisions, a lifetime later.
Reaching the Children
We were all encouraged to take a second look at the children in our meetings. We were challenged to stop seeing them as the irrelevant ones, who can’t drive or help fund the meetings, but to see them as the vital lives which need to be reached and directed toward a life of Christian commitment.
That challenge presented some problems for me. Firstly, I could not remember their names. It was going to be a discipline to actually remember which of the nippers was which. I had to remember which one had the cat and which had the dog, and which was in this grade and which was in that.
I then had to take the time to connect with the children, shaking their hand, asking them a question, taking interest in the bandage on their arm, and so on.
On Their Level
I found I could connect best when I put myself on the child’s level. That meant crouching down or kneeling while I talked with them. By taking the effort to get on their level I dissolved some of my own internal sense of being in a different world, at a different level.
In the decades since I often crouched to talk with a child, sat beside them to listen to them, asked them for their version of an event even though the parents had already told me the details, and so on.
My intention is to give honour to the child, rather than dishonouring them by being dismissive about who they are and what they think.
Learning to Listen
The next huge lesson for me was learning to listen. That same year, while on a ministry practicum, I heard a presentation about “listening”. Once again I did not think I needed to hear the lesson, but it challenged me deeply.
I was far more ready to talk than listen. My listening was often simply measuring the right time to jump back in and say my piece. I had much to learn about listening.
So now, when I talk to children and adults, I seek to give them the honour of my full attention as they tell me something. While I am often distracted by people who want to catch my eye or interrupt, I try to always get back to where we left off so the child knows I was not only listening, but interested in what they had to say.
Another lesson I value when dealing with children is to be real with them. They are little adults, taking stock of the world as they see it and making life long decisions as a consequence. With that in mind, children want to know what is really going on. They need a clear picture of the reality they encounter.
I think of the mother whose child complained that a sibling had a larger share of something. The mother simply turned to the child and advised, “That’s life! Get used to it!”
Now that response doesn’t excuse neglect or abuse, rejection or other offences, but it is a dose of reality. People lie. Others are bullies. Some cheat and steal. Some want to spoil your fun. Knowing that gives you better hope of navigating life than ignoring those realities.
Along with the idea of being real, using Spiritual Truth releases power into a child’s life. Jesus Christ told us that when we know Truth the truth will liberate us from the inside out.
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:32
So don’t be afraid to tell children about spiritual realities, such as how sin enslaves, how the enemy seeks to deceive and trap them, and how suffering creates positive qualities in our life. Those ugly truths happen to be Truths. If you tell children something else then you are lying to them, or keeping them in ignorance about the very things they have to face in life.
Look at how Jesus did this Himself. He told His followers an ugly truth, that they would suffer persecution. But He immediately followed that by a wonderful, truthful reassurance, that Jesus has power over all things.
“These things I told you so you will have peace in me. In the world you will have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Another aspect of ministering to children that I see as very important is to sow godly seeds into their lives. The Bible is living seed (1Peter 1:23) so helping them listen to, memorise, think about and apply Bible truth helps wonderful seed take root in their life.
Other great seeds are seeds of faith and encouragement. Seeds of hope, peace, joy and love can bring beautiful harvests in children’s lives.
You can tell a child things like: “I am confident God has a great plan for your life”; “I know that when you work through this challenge you are going to be very strong”; “The fact that God has allowed you to face such challenges now means He has some important things for you to be prepared for in the future”; “God has made you unique, and even though others won’t always appreciate that you are special, God is very pleased with what He created. So make sure you stay close to God and fulfil the unique purpose He has for your life.”
Multiply Your Impact
If you will learn to reach children in an effective way you will multiply your impact, not just on them, but on the families they raise in the future and the people they impact along the way.
If you stick to just ministering to adults you will miss a powerful means of multiplying your effectiveness and impact for God’s Kingdom.