For the month of January we are Bearded Theologians want to look at Making Disciples. We will have various people write about Making Disciples.
When asked the question, “what tips I would give someone to make a disciple out of a child?” It didn’t take long for me to come up with these. Children’s ministry has been a passion of mine or awhile now. With my husband being a United Methodist pastor I have moved around our state a few times. With that brings new experiences trying to do the same ministry. Every church we have been at has been different. Then ministry needs therefore are different too. But these four basic principles have guided me in each new ministry setting.
Tip number 1: Simplify your message.
Simplify your message. When I first began working with children’s ministry I had to really think about what I wanted to teach the children. So often adults focus on minute details and have endless discussion over them. Things that are not always matters of salvation. For the children I wanted to have a clear message and so I took this on as a challenge. I broke down what I felt to be the most essential faith points and used them as a focal point for my lessons. This forces you as the teacher to look at the basic beliefs of Christians. Once I felt they have these down then I will go a little deeper, baby stepping them to a deeper faith. Not only have I seen children blessed by doing this but it has had an effect on me as well. If forces you to focus on what really matters, enriching your own faith.
Tip Number Two: Consider the children to have value and worthy of hearing the message.
Consider the children to have value and worthy of hearing the message. You are never too young to have a seed planted inside you. I have always used a story of a friend of mine as a reason for ministering to children. She did not grow up in a Christian home. In fact her childhood was very hard. She had always told me that she knew deep down inside her that God was with her. No matter how hard things got, God was with her. When she had her first child, she had a conversation with her mom about preschool and came to find out that she had gone to a preschool in a church. This shocked my friend knowing her mom’s views of Christianity. Her mom simply said that it was the best preschool in town. I truly believe my friend had a faith seed planted in her as a preschooler. She may not remember the lessons or even the preschool itself but the basic message stayed with her. It stayed with her until she was a teenager when friends invited her to church. This story has always been in the back of my mind as a powerful example of the importance of ministering to children. In my experience I have worked with children who did not come from Christian homes. Some whose home lives were very unhealthy. My prayer is that I can do for them what that preschool did for my friend. Plant a seed of hope that can stay with them, carrying them through the hard times.
Tip Number Three: Meet the children where they are.
Meet the children where they are. This is actually a motto my husband and I have always used in any form of ministry. Children are no different. I once worked with a group of kids who were very athletic and very competitive. As often as I could, I would split them in groups and do activities where they competed with each other. We played lots of games that would connect to the lessons. The ministry flourished like this. Right now the kids I work with are from a different area and have different needs. This competitive style would not work as well with them. In fact art seems to be what reaches them the best. So I wrote a curriculum where I’ve taken every different form of art I could think of (both performance arts and fine arts) and created lessons out of each art project. The ministry has flourished this way. If I had tried to duplicate my previous sports format, I would not have been able to reach the children in the way they needed it. This model of ministry takes time. You have to get to know those you minister to, and you have to try different things until you see what works best. No matter what age group you work with, one model doesn’t reach everybody. You must be flexible, willing to try different things and truly get to know those you minister to.
Tip Number Four: Be hands on, be creative.
Be hands on, be creative. Children respond so well when they are actively a part of the lesson. They are less likely to receive a message just verbally spoken to them. You must engage them, speak and act. This even helps to control children with a little more energy than the average child. Whether you write your own curriculum or used one already made, think of it as a starting point only. You know your kids. You know what reaches them. Use the curriculum to start your lesson, then tweak it to fit what you want them to learn and in a way that will reach them. This takes a little prep. You can’t walk cold turkey into your room, glance at the lesson, and expect great things. Look over it ahead of time, the children deserve this. Your time and attention is your greatest gift to the kids. If this type of creativity is not your strength then seek out someone who can help you with this part of the ministry. “Google Images” is my best friend when I’m struggling with ideas.
Many see children’s ministry as pure chaos and would rather not try. Or even worse think kids are too young to understand and thus too young to experience Christ. Trust me kids understand far more than you realize. If you are just willing to try and yes it can require some patience. You may be the person who plants a seed in a child that sticks with them until they are older no matter how hard life may be for them. What a blessing that would be.
Ashley Franks is the mother of two amazing daughters Laura and Emily. She has worked alongside her husband, Rev. Matt Franks in ministry for 13 years. She has worked in Children’s ministries and taught preschool. She loves living the Bearded Theologian life with Matt.
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