Recently I had the privilege of speaking to over 400 Filipino kids' ministry pastors, coordinators and volunteers at our annual Victory National Kids Ministry Summit. The delegates came to Island Cove from 50 Philippine cities, plus Singapore, Cambodia and Dubai.
My topic was the “why” of kids' ministry. I told some stories, read some Bible verses and asked four questions. Here are the Bible verses and questions.
Question 1: Are we bringing kids to church or to Jesus? Getting kids to church is a good start, but it is only a start. The goal is to get them to Jesus. Let’s not be like the disciples in Mark 10:13 who completely missed the point: “People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them” (NIV).
Recently, I had the privilege of speaking to more than 400 Filipino children's ministry pastors, coordinators and volunteers at our annual Victory National Kids Ministry Summit. The delegates came to Island Cove from fifty Philippine cities, plus Singapore, Cambodia and Dubai.
My topic was the “why” of kids ministry. I told some stories, read some Bible verses, and asked four questions. Here are the Bible verses and questions:
Are we bringing kids to church or to Jesus? Getting kids to church is a good start, but it is only a start. The goal is to get them to Jesus. Let’s not be like the disciples in Mark 10:13 who completely missed the point: "People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them" (NIV).
As our church ramps up to plant a church a year for the next several years, I’ve had conversations with five of my key guys about becoming church planters. Church planting is one of the most challenging sub-categories of pastoral ministry.
One of my guys confessed recently, “I’m struggling with this potential call. I don’t know if I’m willing for my son to grow up hating the church.”
His statement took me back to dozens of pastoral nightmare stories of pastors' kids (PKs) who have walked away from God and the church because they felt forgotten and forsaken by parents who loved the church more than they loved their children.
Why a strategic plan, not just random activity, is needed to disciple kids
In a world of video games, sports, social networking and self-centeredness, it might be easy to overlook this simple reality: Even kids want to know, “What on earth am I here for?” It doesn’t surface as a deep theological discussion, and you rarely have a child come up to you and articulate that question. But kids want to know that their life means something. They want to know that they matter.
I have given my life to helping kids make this connection, to helping them understand they are God’s masterpiece and that God has a specific plan and purpose just for them.
Think about it—what if all our kids embraced this truth at a young age? At Saddleback Kids, we have a simple ministry objective that gives kids the opportunity to know what on earth they are here for. That objective is reflected in our vision statement: “Connecting kids to God and others.”
Churches need men who will mentor the next generation
On a recent mission trip to Sri Lanka, I had a most memorable conversation with a young man I had met more than 11 years ago. Then a 14-year-old Tamil boy, he struggled to survive amidst a bloody civil war raging a few miles from his village.
He recounted some of the most difficult times in his formative years that included living in a nation at war. He had deep appreciation for his father, a converted Hindu, who went to great lengths to protect him from the Tamil Tigers that reportedly forced families to sacrifice their sons for the cause. He recounted the indoctrination and the pressure he faced at the hands of school officials with direct ties to the Tamil Tigers on a daily basis in the classroom.
He spoke of the Tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people. He told of the war’s violent end that forced hundreds of thousands of people into refugee camps just a few miles outside of his village.
Raising up strong children requires transparency and authenticity
A time-worn Christian cliche’ says that family decline is the root cause of much of the devastation in the nation today. From broken families, broken children emerge to create broken communities, broken churches and even broken nations. If we are going to turn America around, we must heal our families. Our families and homes are the first school house and the first church.
When my husband talks about a spiritual reformation within our nation, I often think about the practical aspects of training the next generation. I know several strong Christian leaders whose children have wound up doing prison time or they are stuck in nonproductive jobs, or even worse: They hate the idea of being engaged in ministry. This is often because the leaders did not pass the baton on to the next generation.
Years ago I looked at my life. I saw how wounded and dysfunctional I really was personally. Born an illegitimate child, the descendant of three generations of broken homes. Sexually abused before the age of 5 and brought up in a ghetto that led to me getting involved with drugs, alcohol and premarital sex. I even had two abortions.
Practical help for pastors and lay leaders in selecting the best outreach program
Vacation Bible School (VBS) has come a long way since 1923 when Standard Publishing produced the first printed faith-based curriculum for children, which was designed as a five-week course. Today, VBS has morphed and expanded into the largest church outreach program of the year for kids, though it only lasts a few days of their summer.
Churches nationwide gear up during the winter and spring months for the summer event by investing precious time, money and resources for a number of reasons. The most obvious one is the opportunity to reach out to the local community with the love of Christ and the message of hope. VBS is a non-threatening way for families to walk onto a church campus and experience firsthand a church’s commitment to loving and ministering to people.
VBS also creates a great opportunity for the entire congregation to support and highlight its children’s ministry. VBS should always be a big deal. The exposure it creates for children’s ministry is invaluable.
How can your church become a child’s favorite place to go?
A few months ago I conducted a water baptism interview in my office with a 10-year-old girl. We talked about all the reasons that Christians should be baptized, and I walked her through how and why we immerse kids and adults into the “big bath tub” and what it means.
The interview continued, and then she asked if she could share something with me. While in chapel at school a few days earlier, she said, a teacher asked the students where their favorite place was to go. One of the kids in the front of the room raised his hand and exclaimed, “Church!” Enthusiastically, the little girl in my office added, “Church is my favorite place too!”
How is your church helping parents who are running on empty?
Almost all parents feel at times like a person who’s run out of gas—they’re going on empty. Desperately they look around to find “parent fuel” that fills them and gives them confidence in raising their kids.
Parents look to the church as the gas station for the parent fuel they need. But often even the best churches have little to offer. How can your church fuel parents so they can move down the road toward God’s parenting destination?
Begin by looking candidly at the parent fuel your church provides—or doesn’t provide. Ask the hard question: Why are your parents out of gas? Picture them on the side of the road staring at an empty tank. Could they have filled up at your gas station when they drove by?
Church leaders often complain about uncommitted parents dropping off their kids at church, yet they continue with the usual superficial fare: A yearly family sermon series. A meeting for parents to get them excited about upcoming activities. A pleading announcement for help in the children/youth ministry. A seminar on the evils of culture, music and the Internet.
What about your church? Does the pastor meet with and mentor younger generation leaders? Do youth pastors cycle through every year or two? Do younger generation volunteers relationally disciple kids? Does antagonism exist between parents and youth/children’s leaders? If your church is not yet a “full-service gas station,” answering these questions is the first step toward offering the fuel your parents need.
Next, envision a refueling place for parents. Imagine your church as that place—a ministry environment that equips parents to max out their influence with their kids.
Begin by acknowledging this fact: Parents are the No. 1 youth leaders in the world! Parents, beyond all others, have the most dramatic personal influence on their children. George Barna confirms this truth in his book Revolutionary Parenting, in which he reports that an AP-MTV Youth Happiness Poll found two-thirds of 1,280 teenagers surveyed listed parents as their greatest heroes, and 47 percent of teens say that their parents have the greatest influence on their spiritual development.
However, most parents lack the fuel to max out their influence. Barna goes on to say that parents are “desperate ... parenting by default, lacking self-confidence ... turning over their parenting responsibilities to others. This crisis is seriously undermining the potential of our next generation to become spiritual champions.”
Envision the solution to this dilemma by holding one hand over your head and one hand out from your side. Imagine every parent reaching with one hand to connect with God and reaching with the other hand to connect with their kids. Through parents, kids connect to God.
You can turn this vision into reality with:
• A process that focuses parents on pursuing their relationship with Jesus and on fulfilling God’s parenting purpose.
• A Spirit-led experience with other parents to pray over and discuss their kids’ issues.
• A set of relationship and discipleship-building tools that connects parents with their kids’ hearts. (For specific direction for fueling your parents, go toparentfuel.org.)
Imagine your church’s influence when the No. 1 youth leaders in the world fill up on fuel that leads their kids to follow Jesus!
12 ways to make your church ‘middle school friendly’
Parents can do a great job of being the primary spiritual nurturers of their children, but they can be much more effective if the church is supporting them in the endeavor. Here are 12 suggestions for how you can help families with kids in middle school, ages 11 to 14.
1. Encourage families to participate in activities with their teenagers. Plan church family activities for everyone. Make sure single parents know they’re welcome. Invite singles to help plan and organize so they, too, feel part of the church family.
2. Make your church middle school friendly.This is the age so many kids drop out of church. Make your teenagers feel wanted and needed and a valuable part of your church.
3. Choose your teachers and ministry leaders wisely. Middle schoolers especially need adults in their lives who will teach God’s Word in a gentle manner—not preaching or judging, but relating to, respecting and encouraging them.
4. Develop a resource library for parents to help them teach a biblical response to abortion, homosexuality, racism, premarital sex, drugs, etc. Sometimes parents who desire to teach their kids about difficult subjects don’t know how to do it or have so little knowledge about the subject that they hesitate.
5. Offer a purity seminar. Make it optional for those families that prefer to teach this at home. A thought: Even if parents teach purity at home, having their teenagers attend the class will support what they’ve been taught. Teenagers will also recognize that they’re in this together—with their friends. Remember, peer pressure isn’t always bad.
6. Make a DVD of a Bible character who has a sense of destiny in doing God’s will.Students will learn about the person in a way that they will remember for years to come.
7. Encourage teamwork. Instead of asking one teenager to set up the Sunday school room, ask two or three. Instead of having an individual Bible memory contest, divide into teams.
8. Stock the church library with books and DVDs for this age group. Supply books about creation/evolution, devotionals, fiction, missionary biographies, etc.
9. Involve middle schoolers in a mission project. They need to meet ordinary people doing extraordinary service for the Lord. Focus on missionaries who occasionally visit the church (so the teenagers can get to know them). Choose tangible mission projects such as saving money for a specific need.
10. Plan a middle school Sunday. Allow your middle schoolers to do as much of the service as possible.
11. Write letters or send e-mails to your teenagers. Communicate to each middle schooler how much she’s appreciated as part of the church family. Make each letter different (because they will compare) and mention specific circumstances.
12. Appreciate them. When a group of kids was surveyed as to how they thought the adults perceived them, they answered: “They don’t like us.” I had a young teenager tell me: “They can’t find a Sunday school teacher for our class because adults are afraid of us.”
Change the perception of middle schoolers in your church. Get to know them by name. Ask how they’re doing. What are their interests? You might be surprised at the maturity some of them possess.