It doesn’t take long to realize that pastoral life is busy and demanding. That’s true whether you’re a solo pastor or whether you have a position on a multi-staff church. We learn quickly that we can’t be involved in every single facet of our church, and that we depend on others to do the work. And of course, that is how it should be. That’s God’s plan, according to Ephesians 4:1-16.
Most churches have more people involved in children’s ministry than any other part of the program. If your church does not have someone overseeing the entire kids’ program, you likely have people who lead the various ministries. These people are typically competent and caring, and we trust them with our kids. However, I would encourage you to keep a finger on the pulse of what is going on with your church’s ministry to kids children.
One reason for wanting to stay close to what’s happening is that children’s workers can burn out pretty fast. Some churches have had more success finding people to teach one Sunday each month rather than taking a class every week. Others give their teachers a break during the summer months. Arranging your teachers’ responsibilities in this way will keep them from feeling that they have been given a life sentence. No matter how much they love kids, teaching them is not the easiest thing in the world. If you question that, try taking a turn in a children’s church program for a Sunday or two.
By far the most important reason for keeping an ear close to the ground with your children’s program is the need to make sure that your children are taught accurately. In spite of their best intentions, it is possible that well-meaning teachers teach heresy. Yeah, I know that sounds extreme, but hear me out.
Who would tell an unsaved adult that Jesus is happy with them when they obey authority? No one who understands Scripture would say that. We know that people outside of Christ do not earn God’s favor by their actions. But how many children – especially little ones – have been told that Jesus is happy when they obey mommy and daddy (or share their toys, or be kind, etc.)? Sadly, I think the answer is that way too many kids have been taught that error.
One of your greatest areas of concern should be to teach teachers how to explain the Gospel clearly to children. They should not ask kids, “Who wants to go to heaven?” or “Who wants to ask Jesus to be their special friend?” Expressions like this may be viewed as bringing the Gospel to the level of children, but they end up mis-stating what Scripture says about how we come to Christ.
Teachers need to be given materials that are Gospel-rich. The Jesus Story Book Bible is a great resource for teachers. I made sure each department in our church had at least one copy of this wonderful book. (By the way, when we dedicated children, I gave the parents a copy). There are some very good curricula available such as The Gospel Project. Both of these will help your teachers state the gospel clearly. We need to remember: there is no such thing as a children’s version of the Gospel.
Finally, beware of teaching materials that assume that the children of your church are all little Jesus-followers. Until they understand and accept the Gospel on their own, they are lost. Cuteness, sincerity, being good, and things like memorizing Scripture do not necessarily mean a child has been converted. Rather than use curricula that teaches kids about living out the Fruit of the Spirit (as an example) it is better to use materials that focus on God and his works, using the great stories of the Bible, taught in a way that is appropriate to the age, building on past knowledge, so that children will know that God is, that they are separated from him because of their sin, that they need a Savior, and that their hope of a right relationship with him is through faith in what that Savior did. That is the message that saves.
So let me ask: what is going on in your children’s departments? Are they being taught in a way that leads them to a sound understanding of Christ? Do they encounter doctrine (I didn’t focus on this one) or do your teachers depend on teaching tools that emphasize character? Do your teachers know how to explain the Gospel clearly, or do they take shortcuts that end up circumventing the heart of the Gospel?
You need to know the answers to those questions. You may encounter some resistance. You may not convince teachers that the phrases they’ve been using for years are not helpful to children. But here’s the bottom line: as someone entrusted with preserving sound teaching, have the same level of concern about preserving sound teaching to children (and teens, by the way) as you have for the adults you minister to.