We will treat each child as a unique individual: whilst ‘ages and stages of development’ material can provide some general help, they do not describe a real child – just trends. We will take the time, and make the effort, to ‘tune in’ to the life of each child it is our privilege to minister with.
We will delight in every response a child makes: Every human being, of any age, who receives information or has an experience, responds to it. The question is not, ‘can a child respond to the gospel’, but ‘what does a child’s response mean?’
We will teach so that no unlearning is needed: We will work hard to teach at a level, and in a language, the child can understand – so that what they learn remains true, however more complex the truth might become.
We will not demand too much from a child: Adults who demand too much from children are the one who have one set way of operating. We need adults in ministry with children who can be relaxed in God, committed to finding out what the starting point for each child is.
We will not expect too little from the child. We will not underestimate what children are capable of, in relation to God. One side of not expecting too little from a child is based on the capacity of the child. The other side is to include some kind of opportunity for the child to respond to the gospel. Some have pulled back from doing this, because they have seen children being manipulated into ‘decisions’. But the challenge is to encourage responses that are based in integrity – not to avoid the challenge to respond altogether.
We will see each child as ‘family-related.’ When we approach a child in ministry, we also approach the web of relationships around the child, called ‘family’. To be in children’s ministry is to be in family ministry: the two are locked together.
We will encourage and help each child in regular Bible reading. Perhaps the main way to do this is to model for children how much this book means to us. ‘Do what I do, not just what I say’, becomes very important in the fulfilment of this principle.
We will seek to follow Jesus in our understanding of children and the Kingdom of God. What we believe about children and God shapes out attitude towards them and our ministry with them. So we will do the work needed to be clear about what Jesus said about children, and let him shape the theology behind our ministry.
We will be realistic about human rebellion against God. Humanity has rebelled against God and children are somehow caught up in it. We will hold that reality in tension with our understanding of the grace of God, and the standing of the young child with God.
We will work hard to strengthen nurture, especially in the home and in the church. When these two sources of nurture work together, Christian nurture is a wonderful adventure. If both are failing, nurture is absent. If they are pulling against each other, the result is confusion.
We will nurture our own walk with Christ. The sensitivity that comes from a close walk with Christ; the discernment that flows from being in tune with the Spirit; the love that comes out of a heart full of the love of God – enhance and enable excellence in ministry.
We will depend, finally, on the Holy Spirit, not techniques. We will develop whatever skills that will make us better communicators. But we know that we will need to subordinate skills and techniques to the work of the Holy Spirit, if anything truly lasting is going to happen.
We will improve our storytelling ability. Storytelling goes well beyond skill or technique: it is one of the most powerful mediums of human communication. So we will do the work that will enable us to go beyond ‘telling a story’ to ‘becoming a storyteller’.
We will study the world of children and the world of the Bible. Our aim, under God, is to bring these two worlds together. As far as we can, to the best of our ability, we want to know these two worlds.
We will seek to develop critical openness in each child. We want to leave children with an attitude of expectancy about God [openness]. We also want children to be questioners, and to know that God, and we, welcome their questions [critical]. The two go together in a balanced Christian.
We will discipline, in the context of love. The key to preventing discipline problems is to be interesting. But that will not ‘solve’ all problems, and we will model something significant when we respond to pressure. The ‘love’ which will shape our discipline is the ‘God-love’ of the Bible, which demands the best from people [including us!].
We will include fun and feelings in our ministry with children. Some Christians in ministry are so serious they are like chloroform to enjoyment. ‘Enjoyment’ is not the sole goal of ministry with children, but without any of it we are drifting towards trouble. Some people think their way to discipleship; others feel their way in. Jesus never bored people!
We will model the gospel, as well as teach it. That is a statement of fact, not a goal. All Christians model a version of the gospel through their lives. What version of the gospel do you want your children to see?
We will be alert to special problems, and know how to refer. Sometimes in our ministry with children we will reach the boundary of our knowledge, or skill. It might be a disclosure about abuse; it might be depression; it might be a hyperactive child. We will know our boundaries, and we will know where to go for information or help.
We will pursue excellence in or ministry with children. There is a big difference between perfection and excellence. We will face moments of deep satisfaction; we will also have moments of frustration and disappointment. The test of the direction of our ministry comes at such times. If we are pursuing perfection, we will keep failing. If we pursue excellence, we can absorb failure, allow God to train us in it, then continue the pursuit. Pursue excellence!
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