by Susi Albrecht and Nancy Akers
Leading children’s ministry or teaching children’s church is an important calling with lasting rewards. But let’s be honest, it can also feel overwhelming. Kids nowadays have higher expectations than ever when it comes to being entertained. Of course we want our children to enjoy church, but we have to be clear that our main job is to plant lasting seeds, not entertain, though as we know, children are quite honest in assessing our “performance” as children’s church leaders.
Let me (Susi Albrecht) illustrate our point: I taught children’s church on Easter in the GCI congregation I attend, and we were blessed with six new children that day, all dressed up in their Easter best. That is double our regular attendance, and I was thrilled. I had prepared resurrection eggs, an interactive way to explain and review the Holy Week and Easter stories. I had filled the twelve colorful plastic eggs with items like a little plastic donkey, coins, a thorny crown, spices, etc. The children each had a turn opening a numbered egg to discover the surprise inside. We then talked about the significance of each item. As we came to the last egg and the boy who had to wait patiently for his turn, he was understandably anxious to see what treasure he would discover. As he cracked open the egg with anticipation, he found nothing inside, symbolizing the empty tomb. Not understanding this point, his disappointment was pretty clear by his response, “Well, that’s lame!” He was fighting back tears.
I cringed for a moment at his honest, and understandable reaction, and I felt bad. I had left him disappointed—on Easter no less! A wave of self-doubt crept in. Maybe he was right, maybe my demonstration was lame. My focus in that moment was not on Jesus, but on my failure to have properly entertained and pleased my little pupils.
It took a quick prayer to realize the children just experienced a powerful lesson as they felt the disappointment and sadness of the empty tomb (or egg, in our case)! Together we were privileged to experience the Bible by feeling the momentary devastation of an empty tomb. It was a powerful teaching moment for me. I had assumed the boy knew the story of the empty tomb and resurrected Jesus, and he would understand the significance of the empty egg. Although momentarily disappointed with his empty egg, he received the life-changing truth of Jesus’ love for him instead. He became part of the story, part of the church.
We are shaping the future of the church in children’s ministry today. Because Jesus placed children in the midst of his ministry, we should put them in the midst of our church. Jesus knew how vital the season of childhood was, and the importance of laying a strong foundation in him. He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). This is arguably the most quoted scripture pertaining to children’s ministry. Over 2,000 years later, these words still go viral.
Jesus was teaching a fundamental truth about childhood. There is a season in a person’s life when they are most open to learning what it means to trust God. Consider this statistic: Nearly 80% of people in our churches today decided to follow Jesus before age 18; 50% of them decided to follow Jesus before age 12.
Childhood provides fertile ground for learning about relationships, how the world operates, right from wrong, trust and love. In this short time of innocence and impressionable vulnerability, God is calling us to demonstrate his perfect love to the smallest ones in our church.
In 1922, Albert Gage said, “God intends that we should win people in the days of their youth while their hearts are young and sensitive. But we are apt to let the springtime pass and then with great effort create a religious fervor by our own efforts to win men to Christ. We work hard, spend thousands of dollars and at the best get disappointingly small returns. We have waited too long. That which we should do is to work with God in His seasons.” Let’s not let the springtime pass!
Note: In the next few issues of Equipper, we will be exploring specific ideas on how children might experience Jesus through servanthood within our congregations. Their involvement is not only necessary for them, but we believe it is vital for the overall health of our churches.
We recently came across the promotional video below from The Gospel Project, which produces an excellent children’s church curriculum. It beautifully sums up the point that the Bible is far more than a collection of stories, but that Jesus is in the forefront of every book. Have a look!
On Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/121265107.