“We have to do something with those little crumb snatchers so we can get on with real ministry!” It was meant to be funny, but when students in one of my classes at Bethel Seminary offered this and a few other tongue-in-cheek reasons why children’s and family ministry is important, they knew they were poking fun at some stereotypes that really exist in the church.
That was 15 years ago when Bethel Seminary added the Master of Arts in Children’s and Family Ministry to our innovative, online, InMinistry degree programs. The world has changed since then but it remains clear even today that children’s and family ministry still matters.
Four Reasons Why Children’s and Family Ministry Still Matters
1. God’s Word commands us to nurture and care for children.
All day, every day, we should be sharing our faith and living it out in front of our children. It is not a suggestion, but rather a command that calls for obedience from the community of faith.
Some would have us believe that the Bible is a book about adults and for adults. In reality, God’s Word includes hundreds of references to children and families. For example, the word child is used 195 times in the NRSV; the word children appears 482 times; family shows up 88 times; and other family-type words number more than 8,000. Indeed, Scripture is filled with narratives about families, instructions for families, and commands for the community of faith to become family for one another. Here are a few examples:
- A gift from God: Psalm 127:3 declares that children are gifts from God.
- From generation to generation: The wonderful passage of Zechariah 8:1-5 describes a time when old men and women will walk Jerusalem’s streets with canes and sit together in the city squares, and the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls at play.
- Welcoming the children: In the Gospels, Jesus welcomes children into His presence, taking them into His arms and blessing them when others preferred that He rebuff them.
2. Children are responsive and open to spiritual things.
Young children cannot articulate or comprehend very well the saving work of Christ on the cross. However, this does not mean they are incapable of interactions in the spiritual realm. Early, consistent saturation in a warm Christian environment prepares children to respond to Christ’s salvation call at the appropriate time in their lives. An oft-quoted statistic is that up to 85 percent of decisions for Christ are made before the age of 18. Interestingly, most of those decisions are made during the childhood years. In fact, lifetime values find their foundation in childhood.
3. The church is called to be the “family of God.”
In our fractured and complex society, it is time for the church to pick up the mantle of being the “family of God” for all children. Children today live in complex family situations. They live in single-parent homes, blended families, cohabiting families, extended families (where grandparents raise their grandchildren), or in a guardianship context with neither parent nor relative.
In light of the many challenging and complex situations in which children live, we need to hear the words of Jesus. He redefined the family as those who follow the teachings of God and said that biological ties are much less critical than spiritual ties (Matthew 12:46-50). The church is called to be “family-like” in all of these situations by offering hope and healing to children and families.
4. Generation Z children are deeply loved and highly treasured by the adults in their lives, and the church must do the same.
Enjoying the lowest child-to-parent ratio in American history, just two percent of all kids under the age of 18 live in families with five or more children. ”Generation Z” babies frequently arrive to parents who want them desperately. They may have endured the costs and challenges of infertility treatment, or waited to have children and are now ready to make them their first priority. A whole generation has sought happiness through the pursuit of wealth, climbing the corporate ladder, and satisfying their material whims. But at the end of it all, they are finding that what really matters is children and family relationships! Quality education and health care for children headline political agendas. Family-friendly restaurants, vacation packages, shopping centers, and airport terminals all speak to the current emphasis on children and families. Now more than ever, churches have an opportunity to offer meaningful ministry to families who want to nurture their children in a safe and secure environment.
Denise Muir Kjesbo is professor and lead faculty member of Bethel Seminary’s Master of Arts in Children’s and Family Ministry degree program. Learn more from Denise by enrolling in the program and take the next step in your ministry.