Inviting Jesus to Your Ministry
Keeping the gospel the main thing
by Jeff Hutchings
I love people who serve in family ministry! Children and youth volunteers are some of the hardest and most dedicated servants in the church and often go unappreciated. They strive diligently to create the best possible family ministries for their church. This often leads volunteers to spend countless hours networking with other leaders, attending various family ministry conferences, and reading books about creating an incredible ministry to serve families. With all the resources, approaches and curriculums, knowing what will shape and grow a successful ministry can be overwhelming. What should the goal of ministry be? What is most important? Who or what makes a ministry successful?
In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Paul writes:
“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
Paul declares the Gospel is of first importance. The Gospel is our lifeline. We rely on it and we are to teach it. We should approach our ministries in the same way. The Gospel should be the priority when teaching our children. The Gospel should be in all aspects of how we lead and disciple kids and volunteers. As we implement strategies in our churches, we must be cautious to not become so focused on strategies to create an efficient ministry that our trust rests more in strategy and methodology than on and in the work of God in the lives of our people. So often we fall into the trap of leaning on our own understanding. Instead of trusting the Lord with all our hearts as Proverbs 3:5-6 instructs, we trust in how well we have planned our lesson, entertained our audience or created a problem-free environment. Do we acknowledge God and our need for Him in all our ways?
Several of the children’s ministry conferences I have attended tend to focus on the methods of how children’s ministries should operate. They have very helpful breakouts on recruiting volunteers, the learning development styles of children, and how to build community within classes. These are all valuable things to understand as we aim to guide children to know and love God. But problems develop when people lose sight of the Gospel as the main change agent in children’s lives. One conference I attended had a breakout on prayer. The main take-away from that breakout was the importance of the Holy Spirit. The speaker shared that their ministry was so efficient they weren’t depending on the Holy Spirit. They were trusting in what they had created. Some children’s ministry leaders have a vision similar to Ray Kinsella in the movie Field of Dreams. They believe that if they create the best children’s ministry people will come. We want to have ministries with good reputations in the community and ministries that are attractive to people who normally do not attend church; however, our reputation shouldn’t be the main focus. The lie that the perfect ministry will change people’s lives manifests itself in almost every ministry. The problem with this mentality is it takes all power and glory from God—God isn’t saving people … it’s our ministry. No ministry leader plans on taking Jesus out of the equation; it happens very innocently. Intentionally focusing on Jesus in every area of ministry is our only true hope. We need Jesus’ perfect life, His work on the cross, and His resurrection as the focus and life of any and every ministry.
Case in point. One morning when I was checking in on our volunteers, I met up with a volunteer named David who seemed quite discouraged and frustrated. As I proceeded to ask David how his morning went, he shared with me the discouragement and frustration he was feeling. He said, “I don’t know what went wrong. I used all of the tools you gave me. I spent time each day this week studying, preparing the right object lesson and praying. But the kids didn’t seem to respond. I don’t know what I am doing wrong.” Many children’s ministry volunteers can relate to David. My question to David was, “What determines if you are successful in ministering to your children?” David paused for a moment and he gave me a blank stare. David’s loss of words reflected that he wasn’t sure what success was. It was my fault for training David to place more of an emphasis on teaching children than building relationships pointing children toward knowing and treasuring Jesus. Our hope should not be in our methods of family ministry; they should be in Jesus. Only Christ can change hearts, turning hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. Do we believe as we are faithful to proclaim the Gospel, that God is trustworthy and faithful to work, in His time, in the hearts of those to whom we minister?
I don’t want people to walk away from this article believing that systems and teaching are not important. Systems and curriculum are important, but they are not the most important thing. Tim Keller, in an article entitled “The Gospel—Key To Change” says, “The gospel is the dynamic for all heart-change, life-change and social-change. Change won’t happen through ‘trying harder’ but only through encountering the radical grace of God.” As leaders and teachers of children and youth, we want them to know more than Bible facts and information about God. We want kids and youth in our ministries to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. The Gospel should be the leaders’ and teachers’ motivation to minister to children and youth—Gospel transformation. Volunteers should evaluate success by their faithfulness to love Jesus and prepare accordingly to help kids and youth to be formed in the Gospel.
The success in ministries begins in the leaders’ and teachers’ lives. Sincere love for Jesus is contagious and can happen in lives of children and youth. Nineteenth century Scottish pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.” As we equip people in our churches to minister, we need to rely on Jesus and His position in our lives.
Ephesians 4:11-16 says,
“He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there … but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ … causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
As leaders in our churches, we are called to equip volunteers and families to love God above all things. What is your church’s equipping/caring strategy? How does your family ministry coincide with the overall equipping/discipleship strategy for your church? While the purpose of all believers is to help build each other up in the family of God, churches should clarify responsibility of discipleship. Each volunteer should be in a discipleship community that is investing and caring for them. How your church invests in the lives of your leaders is important. Family ministry should focus on how to equip your leaders/teachers to introduce children and youth to Jesus, not be the overall discipleship of volunteers.
Here are some ways to help anchor yourself to Jesus … to help you stay focused on Him.
Be a person of prayer. You cannot do your ministry in your own strength. If you can, there’s a problem. God often calls us to things we cannot do in our own strength, experience, and knowledge. This is so God receives the glory and not us. We need to seek God to help children understand the Gospel, bring volunteers to our ministries, and families to be engaged in their kids’ lives.
Sabbath. This is a lost discipline. We are commanded to work out of rest. Many children’s ministries work until burnout. This is not what God intended. We should work as God intended and rest as God intended, growing in love for Him. Sabbath teaches humility. It teaches that ministry can go on without us for a day.
Attend worship services. Many children’s ministry leaders have responsibilities during the adult worship service and this keeps them from attending the worship service regularly. Lack of worship leads to a lack of passion for God and His Gospel. God created us to worship corporately. This should be a must for every leader to ensure they are spiritually fed.
Have fun! Most children’s ministry leaders are fun people. Often our responsibilities keep us from enjoying the life God has called us to. We get to play with kids for our ministry. What an awesome opportunity! May we not lose sight of the joy in serving children.
Jeff Hutchings is the Pastor of Families at The Journey—Tower Grove in St. Louis, MO. He’s the husband to the most amazing wife, Amber, and daddy to three future superheroes. He loves living in the city of St. Louis and cheering on the Cardinals. facebook.com/jeff.hutchings, twitter.com/JeffHutchings