by Susi Albrecht and Nancy Akers
Summertime is here, and children are happy! Carefree days without homework and rigid schedules, staying up late, family vacations and summer camps … what’s not to love! As children and their families enjoy their summer break, children’s church leaders and volunteers face unique challenges. Attendance tends to fluctuate, making planning challenging. Volunteers are on vacation. Some children’s church teachers take a well-deserved break. On the other hand, many children’s ministry leaders are busier than ever, conducting VBS and other outreach events.
One thing remains: Children’s church ministries contribute to young people’s spiritual growth. Helping children develop a personal relationship with God is a delicate balance between guidance and personal exploration. As we teach our kids Scripture, doctrine and values, we also need to encourage them to discover God, fueled by their own motivation and initiatives. When their relationship with Jesus develops organically through understanding and experiences, their faith grows from the inside.
Encourage independent study
In 2 Corinthians 5:20, the apostle Paul talks about how he and his protégé Timothy were Christ’s ambassadors. Children need to be taught that these verses speak to all of us, including them—God seeks to use us all (children included) as his ambassadors. Explain to children repeatedly that studying God’s Holy Bible is a way of listening to God. Learning who God is, who we are in him, and what purpose he has for our lives prepares us to be his ambassadors to others.
Help children read the Bible and other spiritually rich books on their own. Set small goals such as remembering Bible verses and spiritual concepts, then provide rewards and acknowledgement for their efforts. A while back, a children’s church teacher gave Susi’s two children fun bookmarks with the books of the Bible printed on them. He promised them a king-size candy bar if they could memorize the names of the books by the end of summer. This simple gesture led to a fun challenge with a delicious king-size reward! There are a host of children’s Bibles available for all ages, many include devotionals and guided studies.
Encourage two-way communication
Prayer can be intimidating to children. Naturally we want to model prayer as we share needs, feelings, thanksgiving, fears and joys with God. But we also want them to learn to listen to and hear God.
Journaling is a great way to help kids hear God. In our church we bought inexpensive, blank-papered journals, and allowed the kids to decorate and personalize the outside. Each week we journaled after the lesson (journals remained at church). Children of all ages participated, whether they could read and write or not. We encouraged creativity, assisting the youngest with writing down their thoughts. With time, the kids realized how God was answering their prayers, easing their worries and revealing himself to them. If you’d like to explore the topic of kids journaling, here are two helpful books: Writing to God: Kids’ Edition, by Rachel G. Hackenberg, and Praying in Colors: Kids’ Edition, by Sybil MacBeth.
Break the routine
Summertime is perfect for breaking the Sunday school routine. Allow for discovery and exploration that encourages children to experience God anew. Take them outside to observe the busy ants, marvel at flowers and plants, find shapes in the clouds, listen to the birds; all along teaching them about God the creator (Matthew 6:26-28; Psalm 50:11-12, and Genesis 1:20-23).
Surprise the children with a Popsicle party. Have them guess the flavor, then point out how awesome God is to give us taste buds, allowing us to feel cold, hot and sticky. Ask them what they think God’s favorite color is, and what flavor he might have picked. Help them see how interesting they are to God (Psalm 139:13-18).
All because he loves
Children who are encouraged and taught to seek, discover, communicate with, think and learn about God on their own build an important foundation that provides a life-long anchor. God who is Father, Son and Spirit, is a real, living God that invites children of all ages into a loving, personal relationship. Helping children see the world, themselves and others through God-colored lenses is a precious calling.
Happy and safe summer!
P.S. Looking for a fun summer activity for the kids in your children’s church or Sunday school? Click here for one Susi recommends (adjust the questions to match the age-group you’re working with).