If you’ve been serving in children’s ministry for any length of time, then you understand how difficult it is to lead without the foundation of a crystal-clear vision. So, without firmly grasping and articulating what Scripture has to say about children and their discipleship, we will find it really hard to rally a team to accomplish the mission that we’ve been entrusted with.
Communicating vision is one of your primary responsibilities as a ministry leader. But I wonder, do you know who the most critical person is that you have to communicate vision to?
The most important person, the most critical person you have to communicate vision to, is yourself. The reason we say yes to committing our lives to serving and shepherding children is because it has clear biblical foundations.
Children’s ministry was God’s idea.
And because this is God’s idea, children’s ministry leadership is not just a calling, right? This is why it’s important that it was God’s idea. It is not just a calling, it is obedience.
Obedience to God’s Call
The discipleship of children is obedience to what God has said. Kids are clearly woven into the fabric of God’s plans over 8,000 times throughout Scripture—yes, actual words referencing kids or the family are used over 8,000 times.
Some of these passages are likely very familiar to you. Some might even be the base of what your children’s ministry mission was founded on. Passages like Matthew 18-19, Psalm 78, or Deuteronomy 6. These are all rich with examples of God’s heart for children.
We’re going to do a really quick survey of what the Bible has to say about children. And we’re going to begin in the Old Testament.
Let’s begin with Deuteronomy 6. There’s Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and also 11:18-22. Deuteronomy 6 is the Shema, or a central prayer of the Jewish people.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NIV)
Deuteronomy 6 is interesting. It’s kind of becoming a passage that has been the base of a family ministry perspective. Specifically, the perspective that parents are the primary spiritual influences in a child’s life. And that is true.
However, Deuteronomy 6 was not spoken to an individual family unit.
It was spoken to the family of God. It was spoken to the nation of Israel as a collective mandate. And that is because God’s strategies are perfect. God’s strategies do not leave anybody out.
This means that single people, empty nesters, orphans, teenagers, and the elderly are all included in this mandate for faith to be passed on to the next generation.
The Faith Community
It is not singularly the parents’ responsibility, although they have a significant role to play. It is the entire family of God’s responsibility.
This is why when Mary and Joseph were visiting Jerusalem, they “lost” Jesus. How could they have gone a couple of days before noticing that he was gone? It was because their community was responsible for Jesus. It’s a very different perspective and way of life.
And in our Western culture, we have a hard time wrapping our minds around that. But in the nation of Israel, the community of Israel was responsible for one another. This is critical. The main point of Deuteronomy 6 was that all of God’s people are responsible for telling all of the children all about God.
There’s something critical to us considering this for the future of children’s ministry, because it raises the question of what we define as the family of God and who’s included. And what is our way of life together as a family?
The Lord very clearly has mapped that out in Deuteronomy 6. We are all to have an investment in the way that faith is passed on to the next generations.
Joshua 4, just in terms of context, was the incredible account of the nation of Israel passing through the rushing waters of the Jordan River. And they were tasked after this experience with creating a monument. We need to notice that this wasn’t simply about ceremony—it certainly was not about decoration.
This was for a very specific purpose. It was to create an environment that prompted questions in the younger generation about God. With this environment being created, the community of Israel was reminded, once again, of what they were commanded in Deuteronomy. They needed all of God’s people to be ready to tell all of their children all about God.
On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.Joshua 4:19-24 (NIV)
The main point of Joshua 4 is that we create an environment that prompts wonder in the younger generations about God. We need to make space that invites them to ask questions about His faithfulness. It’s not a waste of our time and our resources to create spaces that nurture a child’s curiosity about their Creator.
When we think about the Lord and His brilliance and how He created us, the way that the physical and the spiritual link together is important for us to pay attention to when we’re looking at the discipleship of children.
How do we create environments that point children to God and invite them to ask questions about His character?
It could be as simple as 12 stones on the edge of a river. Like we see in Joshua.
Lord, our Lord,Psalm 8:1-2 (NIV)
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
Verse 2 is truly one of my favorites in all of Scripture, because the Creator of the universe would establish victory against His enemies and silence His foes through the praise of babies and little ones. His might and His victory inhabit their praises.
Another translation says that it drowns out the chatter of the faithless.
How much chatter are we hearing today? If leading kids toward a lifetime of worship conquers the cries of the enemy in this way, wouldn’t all of us rush to help our children grow in adoration and praise of the Word?
The main point for Psalm 8 there is creating a space for kids to worship. Every time you create a space for kids to worship, you’re literally creating a space where the enemy has to be quiet.
I don’t think we fully grasp the weight of the spaces we are creating. It is a battlefield where victory is won, and the enemy is silenced.
If you are in a church where children are expected to be seen and not heard, that’s a problem. We must have spaces where we invite children to declare praise to the Lord. We advocate for that. It is one of the ways that battles are won.
My people, hear my teaching;Psalm 78:1-3 (NIV)
listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.
Listen to the way he’s referencing his discipleship here. That’s something we often breeze past, but this did not come out of nowhere. He is honoring the discipleship he experienced.
We will not hide them from their descendants;Psalm 78:4 (NIV)
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
That Hebrew word in this passage is Shabach, it is a worship word. There are about seven words that identify as worship in Hebrew. And the Shabach is like yelling. To declare with all of the power and all of the voice that I have to the next generation.
I’m going to Shabach the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord. There is not a nice, quiet delay. No, it’s with everything in me.
And here’s the thing that’s really amazing is if you go down to verse 5,
He decreed statutes for JacobPsalm 78:5-8 (NIV)
and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach their children,
so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.
They would not be like their ancestors—
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
whose hearts were not loyal to God,
whose spirits were not faithful to him.
So, what they’re saying is here is by Shabach, they are committing to tell the truth about God to the next generation all the time. Committing to the discipleship of the next generation is a commitment that shapes the way a community continues in faithfulness to God.
If you have a volunteer, a team member, or a parent who is not convinced that the discipleship of children is the most futuristic and strategic ministry of the church, you take them to Psalm 78. Because it is clearly unpacking how critical it is for the continuation of faithfulness of a generation.
Matthew 18 and 19
The disciples were basically debating about positions in power, and they turned to Jesus to settle the matter. And Jesus calls a little child and places this little one in the middle of their group. And He changes their perspective of the kingdom structure entirely.
In that moment, the kingdom is modeled by children and those who can become like them. Th kingdom is made up of people filled with faith and wonder, and not preoccupied with position or self-promotion.
When we welcome children, we learn how to be in this camp. When we welcome children, we learn how to be in God’s kingdom.
And He said, when we welcome them in His name, we welcome Him. Here’s the thing that blows my mind about children’s ministry—to spend time with children is to get to know Jesus better.
Then that changes your approach when you go to recruit. Instead of, “We need people to help us with reopening the children’s ministry.” your message becomes, “If you want to get to know Jesus better, I’ve got some spots open to serve with these kids. They’re going to go fast.”
Now here’s the thing. This perspective correction takes a blunt turn as Jesus continues, because to this point, Jesus has often spoken in parables and He’s provoked thoughtfulness through questions. That was typically the way He taught or unpacked concepts for His followers.
Jesus Says It Like It Is
But here is one of those really unique blunt moments of Jesus’ communication with those who were surrounding Him. It was this: If anyone causes a child to stumble on their journey with Jesus, it would be better for them to be dead. And not just dead, but to die a truly humiliating death.
That’s what was described there in that passage. To be tossed in the ocean with a millstone hung around your neck was humiliation in that day.
So, He warns also that nothing goes unnoticed by the Father. And He goes further to express the depth of His heart and value for the children that we get to serve. He warns us not to despise these little ones. Despise in this context is a Greek word, and it means to think little of or to actively disregard.
I think we need to let that sink in for a moment.
Active disregard of the lands in a literal flock of sheep by a real shepherd would mean that the shepherd’s flock was eventually doomed because it would lose value. It would cease to exist.
The people that Jesus was speaking to about this in that day were shepherds or, at minimum, would have understood what it meant to be a shepherd. They would have understood that to actively disregard the lands of the flock was poor stewardship because the value of a lamb for the shepherd is compounded versus the value of an older sheep or a ram.
Why? Because the lamb is the path toward fruitfulness and continued existence, right?
Lambs logically signify the health and the prosperity of the flock. So, to a shepherd, the preservation and nurturing of the lambs is a futuristic and strategic move to secure the continuation and flourishing of the flock.
And it was with this knowledge that the people Jesus was speaking to had this understanding, that He gives them this reminder: Just like you would pursue the lambs in your flock who wander, and just like you would rejoice at their safe return over the older sheep in your herd, understand this is the value the Father in heaven has placed on children and their relationship with Him.
They are our most futuristic and strategic ministry. The discipleship of children secures the continuation and flourishing of the whole kingdom.
The Lord has given us countless evidence in His Word that this heart for kids and their role in the kingdom has been true from the beginning. This has not changed. It never will change.
So, leader who is questioning the value of your role, your role is tied to hundreds of years of a plan for an ending that hasn’t changed.
The Word of God is alive. And children’s ministry was His idea.