My heart was and is to see kids loving coming to church, love to be in the house of God and grow in their own faith, not their parent’s faith, not second-handed but their own faith that would impact their lives and their world.
God stirred my heart several years ago, and he continues to do so. I know the journey continues in me and my prayer is it would be the same for you. The verse we have mentioned a few times throughout the day is reflective for you and me, but also the children in our ministries. Paul and Timothy wrote to the church in Philippi saying:
‘And I am certain that God, who began a good work within you, will continue until it is finally finished’ Philippians 1:6
I am certain means; we have an assurance, a belief, and a hope! That God will continue to work through us and our churches, but we have a responsibility. We have a personal one to pursue Jesus and we tell others about Him. Jesus called out his disciples.
“Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” Matthew 4:19
Before he ascended to heaven he gave them a “great commission”
19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
Accepting Jesus as our Lord and saviour is the best gift we could ever receive. But the bible clearly tells us to go and make disciples, go and make a difference. When we have encountered the love of God for ourselves surely we want to share that with others, and in our case with kids. They are the next generation, they are the now generation.
So this afternoon I’d like to share a little of what God is stirring in me. I will refer to a man in the Bible who was a strategic thinker, he had a desire and passion to see something change and his name is Nehemiah. I love this story from the Bible, and it can teach us so much but I want to draw out a few points to challenge us about our journey.
3 They said to me, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.” 4 When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. – Nehemiah 1:3-4
Nehemiah heard the news and he felt a deep sense of sadness. When I think about the children we have contact with this drives me to want to do something about their experience at church. This is what happened to me over 15 years ago, I saw children disengaged from the service, there was nothing relevant for them until they could go to their class during the preach. I know some of you still do this, but for us, we decided to make a change. You don’t need to do this. But you do need to be reminded that what you do week in and week out matters. Your heart should be stirred to react make the church the best place and experience for your children, and here is why.
Last year I read a study published by the Evangelical alliance – It takes a whole church to raise a child.
The main facts were:
But we have a window, an open window.
70% of children make a decision to follow Jesus between the ages of 4 and 14. This shows and tells me what you and I do is vitally important. So kids ministry matters, what you do matters. But I think we can be more intentional with what he has given to us, to steward, to make our kid’s programmes the most engaging, the most relevant and the most life-changing for those who connect to our church.
But here’s the deal, when we see and hear the need, now what do we do?
After Nehemiah fell to his knees, he prayed and then he did something. It tells us TIME passed before he chose to be sad in front of the King.
2 Early the following spring, in the month of Nisan,[a] during the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was serving the king his wine. I had never before appeared sad in his presence. 2 So the king asked me, “Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.” Then I was terrified, 3 but I replied, “Long live the king! How can I not be sad? For the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.” 4 The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?” With a prayer to the God of heaven, 5 I replied, “If it pleases the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.” – Nehemiah 2: 2-5 (NLT)
Nehemiah didn’t go to the king with no idea of a plan, a way forward; he knew what he needed to ask to enable him to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls. He had spent time praying but also thinking about his next steps. He knew he needed safe passage, so he asked for a letter, he knew he needed resources, so he asked for them, he asked after he’d planned.
Nehemiah was a strategic thinker. What is a strategy? A strategy is a plan of action with an end in mind. A plan is steps, not programmes. So, my question for you all is do you have an end in mind? What steps will get you there? Can you articulate what you want the children and young people in your church to become?
What do you need, what do you need to ask for and WHY/VISION to make a change. So let’s say we know what we desire to see in kids and we pray for them, is that enough? I don’t think so. Nehemiah did more than pray, his journey to rebuild the walls took time, vision, influence and determination. Things didn’t go smoothly, he had to change and rethink some of his strategies.
Working with children means things forever change! Naturally, children change; physically they change. We can see it clearly before our eyes, emotionally and spiritually they change and develop at stages that are applicable to their development. Over the day I hope you’ve looked at the pods, maybe they have inspired you with the age group you teach, lead, and invest into.
Last year I have introduced to a book by Reggie Joiner: It’s Just a Phase; it’s been a journey for me to understand how as a church we can foster positive relationships with children at all ages. It clearly helps us see the stages a child learns and develops and what’s the most important thing in their life at that time. It’s important we know what makes our kids tick; this has been part of my strategy over the last few years. To learn this information, to understand it and ultimately help me spill vision to the team, so let me share a little.
For all children at some stage in their journey they need us to:
So what can you do strategically over time?
There are 6 things every child needs to know and experience no matter the stage and phase of life. We can be intentional about these 6 things that will make a difference in their journey of how they see God, the church and the part they play.
Psalm 90:12 (NIV) ‘Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom’.
Time goes by so quickly but when we are aware of time we can purposefully do more with it. When a child is born there is approx. 936 weeks they have until they reach adulthood. Can you imagine as a parent what you would do if you visualise that time disappearing? What about if you knew you had 52 weeks to plan what would you do, what about 40 weeks if you served each week, what would you do?
So let me encourage you to visualise time. Think about the important miles stones in the life of a child, mark them up. Celebrate the salvations, baptisms, birthdays, exams.
There are 2 principles when we think about time:
I can reflect on my children and how quick time flies by, so imagine what you could do if you were more intentional about the time you have each year with the children you serve. The problem with TIME is it takes time to see changes. I think sometimes we wonder what difference we are actually making in our ministries in the life of children. That’s because we can’t always see spiritual growth, especially when we are dealing with kids falling out again! Or not listening to instructions again!
That’s because you cannot predict pivotal moments as these are too unpredictable.
HOW can you do this? When you add time + time, which means investing over time, multiple ways and for the long haul makes a difference. The best thing we can do is keep investing, one week after another into the lives of the kids we have contact with. BE CONSISTENT, Trusting that over time God will do as He’s designed. TIME+TIME = History. Time is the constant but there are other things a child needs over time.
Another thing children need over time is LOVE. The bible says and the greatest of these is LOVE. God is love and therefore every person has been created to need love, we are wired for connection with one another. Jesus addresses the Pharisees after they asked him the question, which is the greatest commandment.
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[e] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[f] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40
Love God and Love others – Great commandment
Throughout the bible, God has used time to demonstrate his love. Something is learnt and developed over time that cannot be done in a moment.
God used to time to show how much he loves us, could he have sent Jesus straight away? Could he have intervened when Adam and Eve fell? He could of but he didn’t because through time He shows us his love, his heart for people.
Kids need to learn to love themselves while they are still kids. You can demonstrate love to a child, telling a child you were created in God’s image and you were redeemed by his son. The way you love kids while they are kids will dramatically affect their future, YOU are the best opportunity for children to see the love of God.
So show up! Spend time with them each week
Prove it by showing up, knowing them, setting rules, stay the course – this proves you care about them
It’s worth it because they are worth it. Love / time = worth
Words have power, they can bring death or life. Words have the power to bring direction. So, we have an opportunity over TIME to use our words to influence. God said ‘let there be light’ and there was. Proverbs 18 (words), full of words of wisdom and guidance.
Words bring communication which, is a powerful tool and brings with it great responsibility. I’m sure we have all experienced a time when words have been powerful but not for good. Words can be damaging. What children hear over time matters?
Words can be small but they have tremendous influence, they can impact direction. So, we have this tremendous responsibility to use our words over time to help kids see God. When you speak you are re-enforcing or expanding their vocabulary. The words you give help them see:
Weigh what you say, ensure you speak words of truth to kids. Make it specific we all like to get that note that says ‘well done’. It communicates you have been noticed. The words you use over time help them to see they are:
SIGNIFICANT – VALUED – UNIQUE
Let them talk – be the other significant other in their life. Research tells us “No significant learning can occur without a significant a relationship”
Words +Time = Direction
Hearing the stories of faith in the bible should be the most engaging and powerful tool we have to communicate Gods Love.
The Bible is made up of 66 books, all telling the most amazing stories, we need to help them come to life for children, there is learning in these stories with incredible life application, for today.
Not all the bible is relevant for a child. Our job is not to teach the whole bible it’s to teach the most important thing for the phase of life each child is in.
To read the Bible through in a year we would need to 23 chapters a day. Just because everything in the bible is equally true doesn’t mean everything in the bible is equally important for kids. Remember, we shouldn’t prioritise our content based on how adults think, but on how kids think
You are not just called to teach kids the bible; you are called to LEAD kids into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. – Reggie Joiner
Children love stories, the beginning, the struggle, the end. It shows struggle, existence and potential. Stories inspire wonder, faith and hope. Involve them, use props, use the best storytellers you have, make sure there’s an application. ‘How knowing this will change my life’. Above all children need to know the gospel. Help children see the part they play in the world God created.
Stories + time = perspective it helps children to see the part they play in God’s story
Everybody needs to be seen, in a circle, noticed. We need to create an environment that fosters this. I’ve been studying identity and children’s identity. Self-esteem is formed primarily through the interactions they have with family and the wider context of society, including media.
Theorist Mead believes – a person’s sense of self is not so much influenced by society as a whole but from significant others.
We need to help children find a sense of belonging in the church. In fact, we all want this, and we do this through the terminology we all use, I’m a Pentecostal, a musician, a conservative. We all tend to place ourselves in groups & tribes/ It brings a sense of camaraderie, and children need this, it helps them find their identity and builds self-esteem and in turn resilience.
Create a place they are known, welcomed, forgiven and belong. Kids need to feel comfortable We can create environments where children can see they fit and belong; we then extend that to how we help them feel this sense of belonging over time. When a child arrives at your ministry area do they feel as though this place is for them? Train volunteers to engage in conversation, welcome kids (their first experience is one of the most significant ones & has a lasting impact)
Tribes + time =belonging
I think you will all agree, when we are having fun then everyone is more relaxed. The word fun may not be in the bible as a word, but there are many references there:
It breaks down walls – play is the business of childhood, learning comes through play, but learning also occurs when children feel comfortable, secure and they are then able to explore. This fosters resilience, the ability to bounce back when life throws the curveballs, such as divorce, bereavement etc.
As we look at time over time again, at some point this influence will change, stop. You can be a significant voice in their spiritual journey by helping them:
Remember all of this over time, time, time
‘And I am certain that God, who began a good work within you, will continue until it is finally finished’ Philippians 1:6
Notes for the closing session of Elements 2018 lead by Nicola Ritchie.