I’ll never forget when Jesus called me to be a pastor to kids. My views of children and what they need at church and home changed instantly. This new awakening changed my life forever. I’ll also never forget the day I became a parent. Again, my life changed forever with being given the honor of being Yancy and Whitney’s dad. I began to not just ask but to also focus on what do these girls, whom God has entrusted into my hands, need to fulfill the plans He has for them? Fast-forward 30 years and once again my life changed, as well as my focus, when Yancy became a mom and I became Sparrow’s “G”. As I’m writing this article we just welcomed a new little blessing named Rhythm into our crazy family. As soon as he showed up and I looked at that little miracle, my life again was changed forever. This new gift from God to my family has again caused me to evaluate my choices, my actions, and my focus. I’ve found myself asking the same question, one that I believe every children’s pastor and parent needs to ask themselves on a regular basis: “How can I help meet the needs of those God has called me to lead, encourage, and disciple—both at home and at church?”
I’ve said it many times, “What you teach and train your children about God makes a difference!” Educators have told us for years that children who get help with their schoolwork at home have an advantage over those who don’t. The same thing is true with spiritual matters. I’m an Orange thinker and I am convinced that what happens at home is more important than what happens at church in teaching and training your children to be a person of faith. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 was written to parents not preachers. ”These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” God wants parents to be examples for their children and show them how to live God’s Word in their everyday lives. These scriptures also instruct parents to take advantage of the time God has given you. Time over time in the life of a child makes a huge difference. Although what happens at home matters most, it doesn’t mean that what happens at church doesn’t matter. The truth is it does matter, because every parent, no matter what his/her definition of family happens to be, needs a partner.
This is where the church comes in. I don’t know a better partner of the family than the local church. Please don’t get me wrong in what I’m about to say. I’m a believer in the local church. I have given my life trying to make church be what it needs to be for the family, for the community, and for the body of Christ worldwide. But not all churches are equal when it comes to their commitment of meeting the needs of children and families. In fact, there are a number of churches that frankly are just not focused on meeting the needs of families with children. They would rather do what they have always done than understand the needs of today’s family.
When the family and the church partner and walk together good things happen. Two influences equally strong working together are stronger together than either on their own. Families need the church! But churches must wake up and identify the needs of families, especially families with children, so that the needs of the family are actually met. What do kids and families need from the local church?
- They need a place that is welcoming—a place that loves, cares, and accepts the
family just like they are and loves them with Jesus’ love. That doesn’t mean we don’t stand for the truth of God’s Word, but it does mean we must understand there are no perfect people. Welcoming others is a true way to serve them. I think it’s amazing when a family church allows for family time. Offer parenting help beginning before a child enters the world and look for practical ways to partner all the way through each phase until they leave for college. We should be creative in celebrating life by recognizing milestones and special times in the life of a family. This includes comforting and standing with them in hard times.
I’ve found people don’t care what I know unto they know that I care. Over the years I’ve learned the ministry of “just being there” is more important than what I say while I’m being there. Follow-up and care is important—not just a postcard but a call, a visit, providing meals when needed, cleaning their house if needed, or caring for their children … anything that shows you really care. Just like I want every child to experience the love and care of a family, I also want them to experience the love and care of a family of faith. Welcoming families means that you go out of your way to honor and put them first. From the parking lot to the checkout process look for ways to keep all things simple and strive for excellence in everything.
- Kids and families need to experience authentic worship. I think the best thing a church can do is to present the Word in the right bite and portion for every age group from cradle to retirement. It’s important to know your audience and connect every age phase to God in a way they can understand. That ministers to them so they’re able to apply what they’re learning now. You can’t live what you don’t remember and you can’t remember what you don’t understand. It’s also important to offer worship that relates to those you’re trying to reach. Both kids and adults need to be a part of corporate worship. Do what works, not just what you’re confortable with. If your elementary boys aren’t worshiping, change what you’re doing to engage them. Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate. Are you more confortable with old problems than new solutions? I’m thankful that I’ve had the privilege of serving in churches that ask each week what is working and what’s not? How can we improve? The bottom line is: Are your large group experiences hitting the mark, connecting every age group to God and the person of Jesus, and training and producing worshippers for life?
- Are you providing meaningful relationships for kids and families through small groups? I learned from watching “Cheers” that folks just want to go to a place that knows their name. In today’s world, if kids don’t have friends at church they won’t value church. Not only do small groups provide friendships, they also provide a place where love is walked out and participants can learn to give and hear encouraging words from others. It’s a place where leaders who care are committed to show up, create a safe place, partner with parents, and make it personal by leading by example. Children need other adults besides family members in their lives. I know in my own children’s lives adult leaders made me look smart as a parent by saying the same things at church my children heard me say to them at home. With today’s kids a great small group leader is priceless.
- Children and families need a place to serve. Serving is God’s plan for His children. Jesus said it Himself. He didn’t come to be served; He came to serve. I think the best thing a local church can do for a Christ follower is allow them to become owners not renters of their faith by encouraging them to give back and serve others. Kids cannot only serve within the children’s own environments, they can serve the whole church. Your fifth and sixth graders can prepare communion, serve at special events and more. They can also serve the community, and even the world. The important thing is to move them from spectator to participant. Not everyone who has served in ministries I’ve led continued to serve as an adult or answered the call to full-time ministry. But 100% of those who are still serving as adults and who have said yes to full-time ministry served as kids and young people. Kids need to be part of a local church. They need a place to worship, to develop relationships with adults as well as peers, and they need to learn to serve for life.