Ministering to children in the local church is difficult for a number of reasons:
- Children’s ministry leaders and servants are often under-appreciated.
- Children’s ministry leaders and servants are often taken advantage of.
- Children’s ministry leaders and servants are often under-staffed. There are rarely enough of us.
- Teaching the Bible to children is challenging, and none of us is an expert.
Recognizing these challenges, and the many more that could be added, helps me see why burnout in children’s ministry is so common. It’s exhausting to lead and serve with children. And almost every children’s ministry servant I’ve met confesses inadequacy in teaching. Most children’s ministry volunteers are not school teachers. Most haven’t been formally trained in child psychology or development. Most of us are just trying to figure out our own kids, let alone someone else’s!
It has been my experience that the more equipped a volunteer feels, the less likely he or she will experience burnout. There are many ways to equip volunteers as leaders and teachers. There are techniques for classroom management and Bible teaching skills that can and should be shared.
Even though I train all of my K-6 small group leaders, I have three non-negotiable expectations of them. I remind my servant-leaders of these three expectations on a weekly basis. Without these expectations, teaching children is both ineffective and invaluable.
To put it more positively, I believe when these three expectations are met, the foundation is laid to lead and teach the gospel to children with much effectiveness.
1. Show the Kids You Love Them
Man, this is crucial. When you love the children, you will create the safest environment possible for them. You will protect them. You will value them. And you will gain an audience with them.
Ask any teacher in a public or private school and they will tell you that until you show children that you truly care about them they will not listen to you. You have to earn their ears. I want the kids I lead to know I care about them. I begin each of our large group teaching sessions with a sharing time I call “Awesome, Not So Awesome.”
During this time I ask the kids to share one awesome thing and one not-so-awesome thing that has happened recently. This is an easy and fun way for me to learn a lot about the kids, and it helps them see that I genuinely care about them.
In my opening prayer, I always thank God for creating each of the kids in his image exactly the way he did. I affirm that he didn’t make any mistakes, and that they are unique and special because they are made in his image.
Whatever you do and however you do it, I would encourage you to show the kids you aren’t just there to pass along information. Talk to them about their lives. Ask questions about family and school. By asking questions and getting to know them better, your prayers for them will be much more personal and intimate and your teaching will carry much more weight.
2. Show the Kids You Love the Bible
I want to be very specific here. The kids in your ministry need to see you run to the Bible for guidance, answers, and instruction for doctrine and godliness. When kids ask questions of a theological nature, let them hear you say, “Let’s see what the Bible has to say about this,” rather than “Well, here’s what I think about this.” They need to see not only the supremacy of the Bible, but also the sufficiency of the Bible in your life.
Augustine once said, “Where the Bible speaks, God speaks.” Teach this. But let it also be true, “Where the Bible speaks, I speak” in the sense that when it comes to thinking through things about God, salvation, and life in general the Bible is our guide. We speak where the Bible speaks.
And the kids in your ministry need to see your passion and love for the Bible. I tell my volunteers that the kids may not understand everything we teach them, but they won’t be able to miss our disposition toward the Bible. If we are apathetic toward the Bible, it will show. We want to pass on a passion for God’s Word. At bare minimum, I expect kids in my ministry to leave knowing that I love the Bible.
3. Show the Kids You Love the Gospel
Most importantly, show the gospel to kids through your words and actions. Let your words be seasoned with grace. Take sin seriously. Extend grace extravagantly. Teach forgiveness. Ask forgiveness when necessary.
All roads in the Bible lead to Jesus. The key is learning how to navigate through the historical and literary contexts without abandoning the original intent of the biblical authors. And we want to point to Jesus in all of our lessons.
But it doesn’t take a biblical scholar to show your love for Jesus. Show that Jesus isn’t just a mythical figure trapped in an ancient book through your white-hot love for and devotion to him.
Show the gospel in your actions. Show that it isn’t just a message of empty words, but a message of power from a holy and gracious God.
Effective teaching in children’s ministry is not limited to these three expectations, but they are foundational. Without them, you can use as many methods as you like, but you will not capture their minds or pierce their hearts. Show the kids in your ministry these three basic loves, and you will experience more joy as a leader or volunteer, as the gospel will come alive in your ministry.
Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.