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7 Essential Imperatives for Successful Children's Ministry: How The GMC Can Get This Right (Hint: Wording Matters)

For at least five decades, ministry and solid discipleship for children have been pushed further back on most congregations' priority lists. This error of judgment has resulted in a decline in our collective understanding of the gospel. Righting this wrong will take time and intentionality, but we can do it!

If you've been more than a casual observer in a Methodist congregation, you've likely witnessed a stark decline not just in the number of children, but also in their basic biblical knowledge. It's truly disheartening to encounter silence when you pose even the simplest questions about familiar figures and events like Noah, Abraham, Jesus, or Paul to fifth graders.

This lack of knowledge can be traced back to a single, glaring truth: they haven't been properly taught. Children's ministries and discipleship have been reduced to mere babysitting, with children given coloring sheets or entertained with videos of cartoon depictions of sacred events. The question that begs to be asked is: where are the teachers? Where are those who are truly dedicated to nurturing the next generation?

We must begin to turn this critical situation around. The good news is that Christians who believe in repentance are skilled at this. We know what it is to recognize our mistakes and turn our backs on them. The other piece of good news is that we can start today. All that we need to make the necessary changes are at our fingertips. Success is within reach.

Seven essential imperatives, when we take them to heart, will help our children become true believers and followers of Christ, shaping the next great awakening. There can be a revival in our time and theirs.

These are the seven things we must do:

  1. Know that children love Jesus and want to learn about Him. The greatest myth that Satan has persuaded churches to believe is that children don't like to learn about the Bible. This lie comes straight from hell. I can smell the smoke on it. Children have always loved Jesus because He loved them first. Children love everyone who loves them with pure and unconditional love. Accept this as an indisputable, axiomatic truth: children want to learn the Gospel.

  2. Remember that the Gospel is Good News that is best shared with joy! Somewhere along the line, maybe around the same time Jonathan Edwards penned "Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God," we stopped believing that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News. The word gospel means "good news" or "good story". Tell it the same way you share other good news. Be excited! Joyful! Active! Enthusiastic! At least put a smile on your face. Ditch the grumpy demeanor and share the good news with the children,

  3. Raise the bar. Children can learn a great deal of information. Their brains are ever-expanding sponges that can take in and retain astounding amounts of knowledge. Begin with the basic facts of who, what, when, where, how, and, most importantly, why God has chosen us to be His people. Teach more than you think they can learn. Let them surprise you. If you feel inadequate, learn more. You only have to be one step ahead.

  4. Activate Christian education. Sitting in a hard chair at a hard table with a pre-printed worksheet is the worst learning environment created by modern man. Whoever designed this teaching technique (Thomas Dewey?) should have done jail time. Children learn better when moving their bodies in a comfortable, intimate space. Meeting in a small space works best because an expansive open room invites distraction. Use storytelling techniques that include dialog and responses. Those coloring sheets? Throw. Them. Away.

  5. Sing aloud without canned music. Before you even say it, here's my response: Yes. You can sing. If you still have a larynx, you are capable of singing. Singing is what makes you a singer. So sing. Sing the scriptures. Sing the stories. Sing the words of love that God wants His children to experience. Music, especially singing, can simultaneously touch the heart and mind in a fantastic and mysterious way. We don't understand it. It is a mystery. But we don't have to understand the power of music to use it for teaching. Please don't ignore this piece. Music is a great educational tool.

  6. See the individual child in the crowd. Each face in your church has a story. Each child has had experiences that have brought them to you. They each have fears, joys, and questions. They are unique and perfectly loved by God. Love each one as if they were the only one. But pour the most love into the child that is hardest to love. The child that is hardest to love needs to be loved the hardest. You know the kid I'm talking about. The one with the sassy mouth, the out-of-control movements, the uncombed hair, the ill-fitting clothes, the restless, anxious eyes. I love that one the most. You should, too.

  7. Create reasons for the children in your community to take part. Anything you can do to create a welcoming atmosphere is better than just sitting around wondering where the children are. If your church looks like an empty shell during the week, do something about it. Offer a ministry for mommies and babies to play in your fellowship hall. Provide toys, a climate-controlled open area, and a friendly facilitator who directs a few circle games and songs. And yes, mommies are still at home with babies. They don't all work. Trust me. Make certain that you offer a special invitation to mommies who don't speak English. They are genuinely isolated and need community. Don't just sit there. Do something. Offer hospitality. Offer joy. Offer friendship.

One last word about words: Children matter to Jesus. They are important enough to merit a ministry focus in your congregation and our new Wesleyan denomination, Global Methodist. One work area must be renamed in our provisional Global Methodist Lay Ministry work areas. Currently, this work area is called "Age Level". This is a term that is ambiguous to the point of being meaningless.

In theory, this term implies educational experiences for everyone across all age levels. However, this is not how it works in practice. Combining children's education with that of teens and adults will always shortchange the children. Their needs are different and specific. Loving and teaching children is the key to lifetime discipleship and lasting faith.

In the Global Methodist Church, I propose that we remove the phrase Age Level Ministries from our vocabulary and congregational organization. It should be replaced with specific areas of education/discipleship ministries: young children, elementary children, youth, and adults. These areas could be further broken down if needed in a larger church.

There is currently no imperative for the local church to have a ministry focus on children. We can change that easily. Once we set a higher expectation for ourselves, we can work to meet it. Our mandate from God is clearly stated in Deuteronomy 6:7:

"Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."

Continuing to allow this area of our community to slip further and further away is to keep losing generations until our faithlessness means that Christ has no Bride to receive. Find the children and teach them.

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