(For part 1 click here.)
Of course there are many challenges when it comes to ministry with children and families. As mentioned in the rationale, people have sinned and are separated from God and therefore, need that relationship repaired. So sin is the number one challenge. Leaders, parents, extended families and children are tempted to go after the pleasures of this world while forsaking the eternal pleasures in the next world. This leaves the whole world and our local communities in one large mess. To attempt to minister to children and families and not prioritize countering this human problem is folly.
So I believe one of the greatest truths we can teach our families is repentance. The Bible, over and over, calls people to turn from their sin, back to their Creator. Children are no exception. In fact, if this habit of repentance can be instilled from infancy, it will take hold as a pattern for their life that will lead them to finding hope in God, to fostering healthy relationships, to establishing strong life skills and give them peace for their souls.
Another challenge is to be aware of each child holistically. Dr. Wess Stafford proposes a solid model for this. His perspective is from that of moving children out of extreme poverty, however, it is relevant for all children as well. We cannot be satisfied to only attend to one aspect of a family’s life. We must consider the whole person including economics, health, social, spiritual, learning as well as environment. To do this well we need to know a child’s story, become familiar with their history, their family, their location and their interests. This is critical for positive ministry. This is massive and one leader can’t possibly know all these things or be able to minister in all these areas. Therefore leadership training is essential.
Stafford gives his solution to the challenge of children in poverty. He writes, “I still say that the most loving and strategic thing that can be done for children in poverty is to bring them to their heavenly Father.” That this is true for all children is clear.
In our culture, garnering passion is difficult. Many people are content with the average. Parents don’t think they need help or aren’t interested in asking. Children are satisfied with just having what they deem to be sufficient screen time. Yet, under the surface, is deep pain and need. So the challenge here is tapping into the felt needs of people in order to reach their real needs.
Working with volunteers is an obvious challenge as well. Managing, encouraging, multiplying and training are all massive undertakings that require consistent and strategic effort. Managing requires administration and assimilation. Encouraging involves the tedious yet rewarding work of consistent relationships. Multiplying demonstrates fruitfulness and is the nature of leadership development. Training ties in with leadership development, but also has in mind essential skills volunteers require to advance in their roles.
Role of Children’s and Family Minister
Some view the role of the children’s and family minister to be the one who coordinates and maintains the children’s ministry programs. While there are elements of this that are a normal part of this role, there is something more important to consider. The Apostle Paul refers to the role of leaders in the church in Ephesians 4:11-16:
“And [God] gave…shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
To summarize and contextualize the biblical perspective, the role of the children’s and family minister is to equip volunteers to serve children and families so that they can together have a sure-footed faith that builds up the church in love and have the automatic effect of shining the light of the Gospel to the world.
In the book, Children Matter, there is a chapter sharing an example of a children’s pastor starting out in a new position. It highlights a healthy approach of listening, building relationships, fostering a team mentality, and becoming familiar with the new context before bringing significant change.
Other specifics of this role are providing direction, designing and implementing programs, training and delegating leaders, fostering relationships, providing resources, visiting, running events, teaching and implementing transformational services and more!
Role of Volunteers
Volunteering in ministry is more than doing a good thing. Volunteering in church is being a part of the body of Christ. It is fulfilling the mission of Jesus Christ. Therefore an understanding of gift-based volunteerism is essential for the role of the children’s ministry volunteer.
Each member of the volunteer team is not merely thrust into a role to do a job. They are sent to be a part of something much bigger than that. They are leaving an influential legacy related to whatever they put their hands to do. Each member has a unique role whether that be leading, teaching, shepherding, administrating, helping, showing compassion or constructing. Sue Miller in her book, Making Your Children’s Ministry the Best Hour of Every Kid’s Week, says it this way, “Those who put their spiritual gifts to work in ministry make an important heart shift-they offer a joy-filled sacrifice of time to God.” When all members are doing their role and doing it well, the Good News is spread more effectively and in more far-reaching ways than we can fathom.
Specifically, volunteers do all kinds of things. They are not pawns in a system, rather they are part of an organism that moves together. They are teammates striving for a common win. So whether one volunteer collects and manages supplies or another creatively captivates a young audience, all are in it together and all celebrate together. Some volunteers keep track of data. Still others build meaningful relationships. All work together in the name of Jesus.
Using Personal Strengths
There is sometimes a difficulty in differentiating between a person’s unique bent and how it fits in their job. For example, the nature of a children’s ministry position is one of leadership. Volunteers need to be managed and directed or compelled, encouraged and supported. Often times, however, individuals get into children’s ministry not to lead and manage adults, but because they love being with children.
I find this tension. I love to teach and spend time directly with children, but if I am to take Ephesians 4 seriously, then I need to be ever aware that my job is not simply to do ministry, but to equip others in this. So how can I best use my strengths in this regard?
With teaching as a strength, I can recognize that my teaching can and should come in a variety of forms including adults and children. With one-on-one listening skills, I can make sure that I am more frequently seeking opportunities to meet with volunteers. With a shepherd’s heart, I can compassionately build faith in, not only the children I work with, but also the parents and volunteers as well. I can view my job not simply as filling holes, but being a part of lives transformed.
My dream for children and family ministry is not that my budget would grow or that our programs would increase or even that more kids would come. My dream is simply that families would experience the restoration and hope that God offers them. My heart breaks whenever I hear of a family breaking or fighting or even just coasting by.
I believe this restoration can happen best when the church holds to its love for Jesus and sound teaching. Church’s can come along side families with mentors, small group ministries, preaching, counseling and, of course, transformational children’s ministries. The church, when it is at its best, finds its members using its gifts, serving with passion and faithfully supporting each other, which powerfully works in families and testifies to the transformation and restoration that happens in future generations.
May, Scottie, Beth Posterski, and Catherine Stonehouse. Children Matter. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2005.
Miller, Patrick D. “That the Children May Know: Children in Deuteronomy.” In The Child in the Bible, edited by Marcia Bunge, 45-62. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2008.
Miller, Sue, and David Staal. Making Your Children’s Ministry the Best Hour of Every Kid’s Week. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004.
Stafford, Dr. Wess. Too Small to Ignore. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2007.