Beyond Babysitting

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If you’ve ever had to defend your budget or been asked to “do something with the kids” during a meeting planned for adults, you can probably relate to this note I received from a local children’s ministry director.

I was sitting at my desk having one of those mental conversations, trying to convince parents that we’re not just babysitting their kids on Sunday morning so they can worship in peace. And I found myself asking (myself)—so, what are we doing? We’ve got one hour with kids every Sunday morning—if we aren’t babysitting, what are we hoping for out of this time?

This email sparked quite a discussion among a local children’s ministry network that I'm part of! Responses started coming in only minutes after she sent the note to all of us. Below are my thoughts mixed in with highlights from the discussion thread. You’ll also find talking points to consider with your teaching team, co-leader, or education committee.

By God’s grace, we can offer kids:

A Great Gospel

My pastor loves to say, “God put himself on a shelf where we could reach him.” It’s an Advent image, but it’s also perfect for children’s ministry leaders who know that Jesus isn’t out of reach for tiny hands! Kids develop differently than adults and teens, but their faith is no less real or important. Jesus’ words, “let the little ones come to me,” are as significant today as they were 2000 years ago!

Jeff Gilbert, district director of children’s ministry for the Wesleyan church in West Michigan put it this way, “Moses wasn’t just messing around when he said we need to talk about what God has done with our children when we’re walking, lying down, and so on (Deut 6). He knew that when kids grow up, they become less moldable. If we aren’t doing our job when the kids are younger, pointing kids to Christ, then we’re missing THE prime opportunity to point our kids to God. According to statistics published by The Barna Group, the large majority of people who embrace Christ do so by the age of thirteen! By the age of thirteen, many kids have formed the core of their belief system.”

Each week as we share Bible stories, kids encounter the God who is all-powerful, mysterious, loving, holy, and good. They discover what it means to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, to connect with God in prayer, and to respond to God in service and worship. This nurture in the younger years becomes a firm foundation for a lifelong journey with Christ!

Marcia Floding, children’s ministry director of Third Reformed Church, is very intentional about laying that foundation. She defines children’s ministry as “loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” In Sunday school at Third, kids discover that God has worked with his people in history and today. The knowledge of God through Scripture is the “mind” aspect of the ministry, but teachers also relationally nurture kids’ faith as they model the kingdom in their behavior.

Worship is the “heart” and “soul” aspect of the ministry at Third. Marcia’s church offers the Children and Worship program, where kids express their love and praise for God in age-appropriate ways. They also have a Wednesday night program that focuses on Scripture memory through song and involves kids in two service projects each semester. “The ‘strength’ comes through in what the kids do to offer God’s love to others,” says Marcia.

Talking Points

  • How can we help our church, especially the parents, get excited about passing on faith to kids?
  • How do we define our children’s ministry? How are we laying a foundation for lifelong faith growth?
  • How are we helping kids express their faith and offer their gifts to God?

A Sense of Belonging

“We are doing much more than making sure the kids don't get hurt and stay out of trouble for an hour,” says Laura Keeley, director of children’s ministries at 14th Street CRC. “We are introducing them to God and to God's people.”

Laura loves to remind her congregation of the covenant promises of God, offered to our children in baptism: “The kids in our care and in our classrooms are not just potential Christians; they are already members of the family of God! Just as the daffodils starting to pop up in my front yard are already daffodils (they just need water and sunshine to develop into full flowers), so the children we work with are already God's people. We just supply some of the water and sunshine for an hour each week.”

That hour once a week provides a safe place for kids who have grown up in the church and also for those who are just getting started to discover and explore what it means to be part of God’s big family!

Talking Points

  • How do we let kids at our church know that they belong?
  • In what ways do we introduce our kids to God’s people, old and young?

A Springboard for Faith Talk

When it comes to living out their faith, families are all over the map. For some, faith is the guiding force of life, and passing on faith is a daily joy; for others faith (or talking about faith) is a brand new experience. Our ministries echo the lessons learned at home and plant seeds for further faith talk. Families need our support to growing in faith together!

At Victory Point Ministries, says children’s pastor Dawn Verbrugge, “our vision is to make followers of Jesus Christ committed to a lifelong pursuit of loving God and loving people. This happens best in close relationship with other followers of Christ. For adults it happens in life-groups. For kids, it happens in the family. That’s what drives our family ministry philosophy of encouraging and equipping parents to raise their kids to be followers of Jesus Christ. Helping parents understand that we’re doing so much more than babysitting is really important if we hope to encourage and equip them to continue the conversations at home!”

Connecting with home looks a little different when parents aren’t interested in faith. Instead of reinforcing a faith modeled at home, some of our kids have the opportunity to share Christ with siblings, parents, and caregivers by retelling the Bible stories they hear each week!

Talking Points

  • What do we offer parents, caregivers, and siblings to set them up for faith talk at home?
  • What faith building events or activities do we offer to help whole households grow together?
  • How can we reach out to the parents and caregivers who aren’t involved in church?

What are your thoughts on this question--if we aren’t babysitting, what are we hoping for out of this time? What sort of mental conversations do you have after parents meetings or busy Sunday mornings? Share your thoughts below and be encouraged—God is doing GREAT things through your kid’s ministry!

Try this!

  • Include the Bible lessons in the church bulletin, so families can track what their kids are studying.
  • Put a question of the week on a board or in the bulletin, something like, “What did you like about church when you were six?” “Who are the people at church you admire and why?” “What was God’s message to you this Sunday?” or “Who did you meet this week?” Families can use this as a way to share faith stories.
  • Encourage parents to learn from each other by posting the names of storybooks, devotions, and prayer practices that they use.
  • Tell parents and caregivers about the Nurture website, www.NurtureKidsFaith.org where they can find articles, ideas, and devotions to share as a family.
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