3 Tips for Effective Teaching in Children’s Ministry

kids-handprint-clipart-dTrLRBbT9Children’s ministry can be one of the most frustrating ministries in the church. If you serve in children’s ministry there will be times when you will feel unappreciated. It is likely you are overworked. And people probably see your role as little more than glorified babysitting. On top of all of this mostly negative reaction from adults in the church, teaching and leading children is a monster all on its own. Children can be frustrating. Some weeks it doesn’t seem like they understand anything you are saying. Some weeks it seems their primary goal is to disobey you, or just get under your skin.

The goal of children’s ministry is for the church to come alongside parents and complement them in the discipleship of their children. Children’s ministers and ministry volunteers are not the primary disciple-makers in the children’s lives. But their role is crucial to the spiritual development and growth of children in the local church. So, I find it terribly sad that so many in children’s ministry feel unappreciated, overworked, and undervalued.

What makes all of this worse is when children’s ministry volunteers also feel ill-equipped to teach children in the church. With that in mind, I want to offer three crucial, fundamental tips for effective teaching in children’s ministry.

1. Show the Kids You Love Them

Man, this is crucial. 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. 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 when you teach them the Bible your words will have weight behind them.

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.

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. But it doesn’t take a biblical scholar to see Jesus all over Scripture. It only takes eyes to see. See the gospel throughout Scripture and show the kids the multifaceted wonder of God’s saving grace. 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 tips, 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. To accomplish this, we need to show them these three loves: kids, the Bible, and the gospel.

11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor of Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. They have one son, Jude Adoniram. You can follow Mathew on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.


Simple Devotion: 3 Keys to Vibrant Family Devotions

FamilyDevotions1-1024x733There is a gap between the desire most Christian parents have to disciple their children and practically carrying out this desire. Timothy Paul Jones has extensively written on this gap and how we can close it. I have not spoken with one parent who has said they do not want to disciple their children. Every parent, without fail, has a desire to disciple their children. But when I ask these same parents how they are carrying out discipleship in the home, they, without fail, begin their answer with a sigh and say, “Well…”

Why is it that we are unable to put our desires for family discipleship into practice? Why do we struggle to initiate family devotions? Why is it so hard for us to discuss a Person who we claim we are staking our lives on? Why is talking about the gospel so awkward for many families?

Family discipleship is not legalistic, nor flippant. We don’t want to go through the motions and we don’t want to be insignificant or irrelevant. Children and teens can quickly determine whether you truly believe what you are talking about. They have a sixth sense for identifying sincerity. We are not after check-list Christianity in implementing discipleship in the home. We are after biblical obedience through a vibrant and gospel-centered discipleship culture in the home. We want our children to see us as their parents as their primary disciple-makers.

But how can we bridge this gap between desire and practice? How can we implement such vibrant family devotions in the home? I believe bridging the gap between desire and practice in family devotions is found in initiative, simplicity, and discipline.

1. Vibrant family devotions require initiative

Simply put, in order for family discipleship to exist there has to come a breaking point in your desires when you finally say, “Enough is enough. Let’s do this.” Fathers, let’s resolve to no longer let our families be spiritually bankrupt and lacking in the home. We can do this by simply sitting with our families, opening the Bible, and reading. You have no idea how much your wife and children will appreciate your initiative to lead them in Christ. Just turn off the TV, open the Bible, and read. It doesn’t matter where you begin. You could begin with one of the gospels, such as Mark or John. Read one chapter each night. Read five verses! The length could not matter less. What matters is that you take the bull by the horns and end the spiritual hunger by feeding your family the sufficient and satisfying Word of God. Without your initiative, family discipleship will remain a waning desire in your heart.

2. Vibrant family devotions require simplicity

This is where the family discipleship train begins to derail. Dads think they need seminary degrees in order to disciple their families. When dads think of family devotions or family worship, they think of children sitting attentively at their feet or in mom’s lap by the fireplace. Dad will read a chapter of the Bible and then give a robust three point devotion. Then spontaneously the children will start singing a glorious hymn. Dad will close with a theologically rich prayer and the Cleavers will then head to bed.

This fanciful and New Earthy idea of family devotions is what leads to a hit and miss family devotion time in the home. When dads realize how impossible a perfect family devotion time really is, many become discouraged and fail to follow through with the initiative they began. But the good news for dads is that there is no such thing as a perfect family devotion time. Jesus died for all your failed family devotions. And he is sufficient in them as well.

One way to move forward through messy family devotions is simplicity in practice. Dads, you don’t need a seminary degree to disciple your families. No one is more qualified to train your children in the fear of God than you because you have been entrusted as the primary disciple-maker in their lives. So, keep your devotions simple. There is no need to complicate things. Read a passage. Read a verse. Make a brief comment about the text and explain the gospel. Pray for your family. If your family devotion time barely lasts five minutes, good! Family devotions do not require 30 minutes of exegetical expertise. By all means, if your family is suited to go deep and far, don’t hold back. But if formality and time are issues that are keeping you from leading a family devotion, just keep it simple. Read. Comment. Explain the gospel. Pray.

3. Vibrant family devotions require discipline

Like sticking to a diet, implementing vibrant family devotions requires discipline. Like a prize fighter who spends countless hours sweating and bleeding in the ring, dads must gather their families around the table or in the living room or bedroom to fight the good fight of the faith through simple devotions. But we must show up for the fight every single morning or night. Set a time to lead a devotion and meet that time every day. If you have to miss your morning devotion, do it in the evening. But don’t unintentionally miss a day. I encourage the families I minister to to lead family devotions five days per week, leaving the weekends off. As necessary as breakfast and dinner are in your home, make family devotions just as necessary. Let your attitude be: No matter what we do, we are going to read the Bible, pray, and discuss the gospel today. Even when you blow it; even when the kids aren’t paying attention; even when your toddler is playing in his food or pulling his sister’s hair, the practice of devoting time and energy to read the Bible, pray, and proclaim the gospel to your family with discipline will speak volumes to your kids. Even if they don’t understand everything, they will understand that this Jesus guy is super important and must be pretty awesome!

11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor of Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. They have one son, Jude Adoniram.

Three Pieces of Gospel-Centered Advice for the New School Year

schoolkidsbackpacks-620x400The end of summer means the end of pool parties, water parks, staying up late and sleeping in. But nothing signals the end of summer like the trumpet call of the first day of school. Some kids anticipate it. Some kids dread it. Some kids will be up at 5:00 AM with their backpacks on ready to go. Others will have to be wrestled out of bed by both mom and dad. If last night in First Kids was any indication, most kids are decidedly not ready to go back to school.

Yet, to school they will go. With their “Ahh, Mom!” cries and their teenage “Ugh!” they will go to school. As a new parent, I wonder what it will be like to send Jude to school on that first day. A couple little girls in our church ran up to me last night so excited that they will be starting preschool next year! They each needed a “High five, dude!” for that prospect.

What I wonder more than anything is if my wife and I will be able to send Jude to school on that first day and every first day to follow with anything more than the emotions going through his little heart. For the Christian parent, there is much we can send with them to school other than a new backpack and some new shoes. We can send them with a new perspective made possible by the One who is making all things new.

With that in mind, I want to share three pieces of gospel-centered advice for the Christian parent to send with their kids as they embark on a new school year. These three pieces of advice are not limited to elementary students. They are for the little girl on her first day of preschool and the stubborn young man on his last first day of high school.

  1. Respect the God-given authority of your teachers

All authority comes from God. Instead of giving a moralistic order to your child like, “You better be good for your teacher this year!” you could say something much better like, “Remember, your teacher is in charge and God has given her the authority. Obey her because you want to obey God.

But also, help your kids to see how severely they and their classmates rebel against God-given authority. It is impossible for them to follow every single school rule. Remind them it is the same with God. We break his rules and reject his authority. The great hope of the gospel is that Jesus perfectly obeyed his authority in our place. He never broke God’s rules. His righteousness was spotless. And this spotless Lamb went to the slaughter for us. Dying in our place, he was punished for all our rebellion.

  1. Treat your classmates with the dignity they deserve as divine image-bearers

Don’t offer your child a moralistic motivation for respecting his classmates. Instead, motivate your child to treat his classmates with dignity because they are fellow image-bearers of God. God created all children in the class in his own image. When your child harms another child physically or emotionally, he is attacking the image of God.

But also help your children see that the image of God is broken and distorted. This is why some kids bully others. Even though they are created in God’s image, they (like all of us) have rejected the image of God and are a poor picture of his glory. The good news of the gospel for your child and every child they encounter in the school from bully to best friend is that Jesus Christ came to earth to restore the image of God. He is the perfect divine image-bearer. Where we present a broken image of God, Jesus offers a perfect image of God. Your child’s hope for identity, belonging, and acceptance are found not in belittling others or the approval of others, but in the work of Jesus in their place.

  1. View every moment as eternally significant

Finally, kids often see school as a total waste of time. The older they get, the worse this problem becomes. It’s as if they gain enough experience in the world of school and realize it is not that important at all, but surely not as important as their teachers and parents claim it is.

But from a Christian worldview, we can safely say every moment in school matters. Because Christ has died and risen from the dead, he is the rightful King, Lord, and future Judge of the entire world. He has authority over every square inch and every millisecond. Christians have the distinct undeserved privilege of being united to this sovereign Lord. Because of this, every moment at school should be lived coram Deo (before the face of God). Jesus demands and empowers our obedience to him at every single moment. He makes every second, frustrating subject, boring Math lesson, and big project count for something huge. Jesus gives eternal significance to every moment of every day, even on the worst day of school.

I am praying for all school systems and schools, including all principals, teachers, staff, students, and parents, as the new school year begins. I pray Christian parents would send their children to school with gospel lenses to rightly view their school life.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Four Imbalanced Frameworks for Children’s Ministry: The Game-Time Framework

knowledge_insurance_frameworkThis post is part 4 in a five part series on four imbalanced children’s ministry frameworks. In children’s ministry, balance is crucial. An imbalanced children’s ministry will lead to collapse. What is the purpose of children’s ministry? Much of what we will look at this week flows from thoughts on that very question. The next imbalanced framework often employed in children’s ministry we will examine is what I will call “The Game-Time Framework.”

This framework views children’s ministry like recess. Volunteers lead children through various games and create an atmosphere that is vibrant and exciting. This framework is more common in more modern churches. Typically, leaders and volunteers are most concerned with the environment and the primary goal is fun. Attract them with things they like, and the kids will come; that is the motto.

The Game-Time Framework

Picture in your mind a dark room with streaming lights, multi-colored walls creatively painted with loud music blasting from the speakers. Imagine an energetic and loudly dressed leader standing on a stage in front of a group of kids. Within minutes, a few games are played, followed by a short message, which leads into the group of kids dividing into small groups to play more games. After about 30 minutes, the kids gather back together and play even more games. By the time the parents pick the kids up at the end of the service, their kids are excited and exhausted.

If you have ever been to a summer camp for kids, you have a good idea what I mean by the “Game-Time Framework.” I almost called this the “Show-Time Framework” because the end of this framework is fun and the means is energizing lights, sounds, music, and games. If you are a part of a smaller church, this framework will seem foreign to you. But for those in bigger churches, the game-time or show-time framework is all but expected. This framework is appealing to me. I am very competitive and love games. I am also all for anything in children’s ministry that keeps kids’ attention, and these elements do that.

As you have probably noticed in each installment of this series: if the things we are discussing, like childcare, stories, and games, are used as elements they can be helpful. But, when any one of those individual elements roots out the others and becomes a framework on which the whole ministry is based, we have a problem that often leaves out the gospel.

In this framework, your children’s ministry better have a creative name, theme, and way to attract kids. In fact, I believe this framework is one of the crucial reasons why churches grow. Big churches grow bigger when they have an energetic and fun children’s ministry. This reality can play out in two ways. It can be an element within a balanced children’s ministry. Or, and this is the danger, it can be the framework on which the children’s ministry is built in which a children’s ministry can grow without Jesus.

The danger in focusing primarily on games, music, and excitement in children’s ministry is that kids love games, music, and excitement. It sounds counterintuitive, but think about it. If you put your primary energies and focus on things like games, music, fun, and excitement, you will be attracting kids with those things, to those things. They are not just means, they are an end. When God is not the grand end of our ministry efforts, we will not be leading kids into true and lasting satisfaction. We will be offering them fleeting joys—salt water in a glass mug.

In the introduction to his book Gospel Wakefulness, author Jared Wilson writes,

“Have you ever heard the statement ‘what you win them with is what you win them to’? I think quality music, powerful videos, strategic lighting, well-performed dramas, and interesting set pieces and architecture can be helpful tools in service to reaching for Christ people who are dying and going to hell. But if these things are what we are winning people with, we are only distracting them from their numbness for a while, entertaining them in a break from their restlessness, before they stall out spiritually or move on to other ‘experiences’” (16-17).

This perfectly communicates my concerns with the Game-Time Framework. The elements employed are in and of themselves helpful, and can be used to help better communicate the gospel. But when these things are what we are using to attract people, kids included, we are using these things as ultimate ends rather than helpful means.

The fear in churches and children’s ministries who employ the Game-Time Framework is that kids will be bored, that the ministry will stall and fizzle out because kids are just not as easily entertained. Like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, if we build an energetic and entertaining children’s ministry, they will come. But what I fear is that they are right. It is possible to grow a large children’s ministry without the gospel. When we attract kids with the festivities or with events, we are attracting them to festivities and events. We had better keep them coming. The Game-Time Framework is unashamed of this. It spends its resources, energies, and monies to have more games and skits, and better lights and sound.

But there is a better way. We should deeply care about the passions and desires of kids. We should even use games, engaging music, and create a fun and exciting environment in children’s ministry. But we should use them as a means to point children to the greatest End. We should attract kids with the gospel, to the God of the gospel!

When we show excitement and joy over games and activities, and then seem bored with the gospel, it should not surprise us when our kids follow suit. Our presentation of the gospel should be engaging. It should be thrilling. It should show that the cross of Christ is not just the most important new in the world, but the most exciting news in the world. In your presentation of the gospel, communicate with your words and demeanor that it actually is good news.

Wilson says,

“But! Oh man. If we are regularly and excitedly engaging people in the good news of the finished saving work of the sacrificing, dying, rising, exalted, sovereign Jesus Christ who is the death-proof, fail-proof King of kings before all things and in all things and holding all things together as he sustains the world by the mere word of his power, the ones whose hearts are opened by the Spirit to be won to Christ will be irrevocably changed. Numbness will be the exception, rather than the norm. We will not have to lead them through hoops of creative entertainment, constantly hamstrung by the limits of our artistic brainstorming sessions, seeking to keep their attentions stirred by a well-composed aesthetic this or that” (17).

Wow. Wilson nails it. The Game-Time Framework communicates that other things are more exciting than Jesus, and we need them to attract kids and families to him. Friends, Jesus doesn’t need our creativities to draw people to himself. And when we show that games are more thrilling than the gospel of Jesus, we shoot ourselves and our ministry efforts in the foot. Games can be useful. But they must not be ultimate in children’s ministry. Attract kids with Jesus to Jesus. And then trust in the power of the gospel and Spirit of God to resurrect little hearts, so that they may be forever changed and ushered in to a joyous experience that will never end.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Four Imbalanced Frameworks for Children’s Ministry: The Story-Time Framework

knowledge_insurance_frameworkThis post is part 3 in a five part series on four imbalanced children’s ministry frameworks. In children’s ministry, balance is crucial. An imbalanced children’s ministry will lead to collapse. What is the purpose of children’s ministry? Much of what we will look at this week flows from thoughts on that very question. One imbalanced framework often employed in children’s ministry is what I will call “The Story-Time Framework.” This framework views children’s ministry like a family reading night at a local library. Volunteers read children various stories from the Bible. This is one of the most common frameworks used in children’s ministry, and one of the most detrimental for a child’s understanding of the Big Story of Scripture.

The Story-Time Framework

I can see it now. The teacher gathers the kids around the storyboard and begins by saying, “A long time ago, people were doing really bad things on the earth. God decided to send a big flood to destroy the earth. But he chose one righteous man to save. This man’s name was Noah and God told him to build a really, really big boat…” And then out come the story characters. A big boat. An awkwardly smiling man with a beard. And of course, all those creepy smiling giraffes, elephants, tigers, and bears waving from inside the ark as if they are going on the cruise of a lifetime.

There is an appropriate time and place for storytelling in children’s ministry. I would even say that storytelling should be a common element in children’s ministry, particularly in ministry to preschoolers. The Bible is in fact one big story. Gospel-centered storytelling is a healthy way to teach the Bible. In fact, I use The Jesus Storybook Bible with the preschoolers on Sunday nights in the children’s ministry I lead. Capturing the imaginations of children through stories is a way I truly look forward to using with my son as I teach him the Christian faith. However, storytelling in children’s ministry that is devoid of the gospel is dangerous and can damage a child’s understanding of and confidence in the Bible for years.

The Story-time Framework is particularly dangerous for the biblical literacy of children. Typically, this framework flows from the idea that children have shorter attention spans and love stories. Because of these facts, the Story-time Framework limits biblical teaching to the reading of stories. Storybook Bibles are usually employed. And while some storybook Bibles are absolutely fantastic at weaving together the main stories of Scripture within the Big Story of God’s redemption, many of them present disconnected stories designed to entertain children.

In the Story-time Framework, most of the time the actual account from Scripture is chopped down to the point that you may not even be able to find it in an actual Bible. Contextualization is necessary in children’s ministry, but when the message of Scripture is lost in the process, we are missing the point of discipleship. Stories are told in ways that overemphasize certain details while the overall message of the story or how the story fits in the metanarrative of Scripture is overlooked.

When children’s ministry is viewed as story time, leaders will take a few stories from the Bible and read them to the kids. There are three big problems with this method when it is employed on its own.

1. Children view the Bible as a book of disconnected stories with moralistic lessons

The problem here is kids begin to view the Bible as just a book of disconnected stories, like Aesop’s Fables. Under the Story-time Framework, children’s ministry leaders teach moral lessons from Bible stories to help kids make better choices or better follow the rules at home and in school.

2. Children view the Bible as a source for “hero worship”

Under this pitfall we find the danger of “hero worship.” When we only teach our children stories in a random and disconnected manner, we typically over-glorify a biblical character. Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Solomon, Ruth, Esther, and others are put forward as heroes we should emulate. We see how they responded in certain situations and then place them on a pedestal for kids to look to when they live their lives. This misses the gospel. There is only one true Hero of the Bible, and all of the characters in all of the stories are in need of his work on the cross.

3. Children view the Bible as an unrealistic fairy tale

The more we emphasize the story-time framework, the more kids will associate Bible stories with other fairy tales they hear. Most of them are being taught at home that Santa Claus is real, so the lines between reality and fantasy in their education and upbringing are blurred enough as things are. When we show unrealistic images and present chopped up stories, over time kids begin to view the world of the Bible like the world of Narnia–maybe just too good to be true.

When we forget that every story whispers his name we fall into the Story-time Framework for children’s ministry. Under this framework, we tell stories for entertainment as we unintentionally distort the reality of the biblical accounts. We tell stories for emulation as we set biblical heroes up on pedestals. And we tell stories for moral education as we aim at the actions while shooting past the heart.

May our storytelling be more balanced. May our storytelling be more about Christ. May our storytelling always point to the reality of the greatest story ever told. Children love stories. So, let’s take care how we tell them.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Four Imbalanced Frameworks for Children’s Ministry: The Babysitting Framework


This post is part 2 in a five part series on four imbalanced children’s ministry frameworks. In children’s ministry, balance is crucial. An imbalanced children’s ministry will lead to collapse. What is the purpose of children’s ministry? Much of what we will look at this week flows from thoughts on that very question. One imbalanced framework often employed in children’s ministry is what I will call “The Babysitting Framework.” This framework views children’s ministry like daycare. Volunteers supervise children while their parents worship. As you will see, there are many dangerous pitfalls in this imbalanced approach.

The Babysitting Framework

The problem with the history of children’s ministry is that it has often been viewed as a glorified babysitting service. And while this may simply be a disingenuous description of nursery ministry, many children’s ministries can aptly be described as little more than babysitting.

But before I begin, I want to say that there is indeed an element of “babysitting” involved in children’s ministry. In fact, when this aspect is belittled, safety is not prioritized. It is difficult or downright impossible for parents to enjoy the community of small group if they must bring their children with them. Even small groups in the home work best when the children are not calling, “Mommy, mommy!” every five minutes. Babysitting is incredibly important. It is the care and protection of a child. And this can never be taken lightly. My wife and I cherish anyone willing to care for our son so we can spend the occasional night out to ourselves. But we don’t let just anyone babysit. This is one reason why background checks should be encouraged or mandatory for volunteers in children’s ministry.

But, even though the babysitting element should not be ignored or belittled in children’s ministry for the sake of safety and service to parents, if this is all we offer, we are doing our children and volunteers a disservice. In a babysitting framework, volunteers are simply charged with the task of supervising a group of kids for an hour or so. These volunteers are often not equipped with resources or plans. They are usually left to fill the time on their own. This almost always leads to a chaotic and truly miserable hour. In my opinion, this is the chief reason most children’s ministries are devoid of volunteers. No one wants to provide free babysitting for an hour or more. No one.

I guarantee, if you use a babysitting framework in your children’s ministry, you will have a small group of frustrated volunteers who view service in the church as a begrudging duty–something to get through. But what’s worse, there are three damaging effects of the babysitting framework.

1. Most likely, your volunteers will develop a legalistic attitude toward service in the church.

They will view service as a way to earn favor with God. They will view service as a painful means to an end–like lying back in the dentist’s chair. They will not enjoy serving in children’s ministry, but they will most likely never admit it. The babysitting framework is detrimental for the spiritual health of your volunteers.

2. Definitely, your kids will miss the gospel.

In the babysitting framework, kids may be given a snack, they may play a game, and they may hear general things like, “Jesus loves you,” but they will most likely not hear the gospel and they will definitely not see the gospel displayed. Your only hope for kids being exposed to the gospel is a phenomenal volunteer pouring his or her life into the kids. But the system is set up against a gospel-soaked environment. In the babysitting framework, children’s ministry soon becomes the lazy parent who loves to say, “Here…” as he hands over the iPad. “Anything to keep them occupied,” is the motto of the babysitting framework. Volunteers are in survival mode. When this happens, I guarantee that the kids will miss the gospel. We should definitely provide childcare, but not at the expense of missing the gospel.

3. Probably, parents will be lazy with gospel teaching at home.

The goal of children’s ministry is to come alongside parents and aid them in their God-given responsibility to train their children in the way of the Lord. When the children’s ministry in a church is built around the idea of babysitting, parents will receive the subtle message that the gospel is not for kids. And beyond maybe getting their kids to repeat a “prayer of salvation,” parents in this framework will follow the cues of the church–occupy their kids with churchy things, but refrain from teaching the gospel to their little hearts.

The Babysitting Framework is detrimental on a churchwide scale. It damages volunteers, kids, and parents. If you want to see families cherishing the gospel and living their lives by it, we must do better than merely babysit their children. We must provide a safe environment where we do allow parents to worship or participate in small groups. But in the process, blow their kids away with the amazing truth of the gospel.

The church is not a babysitting service. It is a bastion and pillar of truth. It is an earthly outpost of a heavenly kingdom. We can do better than the local childcare service. We can do better than daycares. We have the truth that sets sinners free, even little sinners. For the sake of our volunteers, kids, parents, and the glory of Christ in the church, let’s not be content to supervise and be intentional about the propagation of the gospel to the next generation.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Four Imbalanced Frameworks for Children’s Ministry: Intro


Children’s ministry can either be something kids and volunteers love, or dread. It can be something they anticipate all week, or something about which they just shrug their shoulders. Children’s ministry can also be a place where the gospel is vibrant and clear, or dull and ambiguous. Most all churches desire an exciting children’s ministry that nurtures the children of members and is appealing to children of guests.

The most common questions about children’s ministry usually regard balance. How can we balance fun with Bible study? How can we teach kids to pray without boring them to death? How can we evaluate whether a kid has truly trusted Christ or just followed their parents’ wishes?

There are countless questions that need to be asked of every children’s ministry. But some of the most important relate to balance. An imbalanced children’s ministry will tip over and crash. A balanced children’s ministry will thrive. A healthy children’s ministry will balance the following things: safety, fun, and discipleship. Really, everything in children’s ministry falls under the broad heading of discipleship. When I speak of discipleship in children’s ministry, I am specifically referring to gospel teaching in large group and small group settings.

Children’s ministry as a whole is the church’s effort to pass the torch of the faith on to the next generation. Children’s ministry is also an intense ministry of the church that is multi-faceted. This is why balance is crucial. Forsaking safety concerns for Bible teaching is self-defeating. But so is forsaking Bible teaching for safety or fun. A balanced children’s ministry, then, can only have one primary goal with a plethora of means to carry out that goal. The goal is the propagation of the gospel. And we should carry out this goal through a safe, fun, and biblically saturated environment.

While children’s ministry is typically under-appreciated and under-valued, this is in large part due to the way it is viewed and implemented. It all goes back to balance. Without balance in children’s ministry, volunteers will be under-appreciated and the ministry as a whole will be all but discredited. This can be so serious in fact that there may be members in the church who are unaware there even is a children’s ministry. The framework with which your children’s ministry is constructed will determine the faithfulness and “success” of the ministry.

In children’s ministry, there are generally four imbalanced frameworks that can be used:

1. The Babysitting Framework

2. The Story-time Framework

3. The Show-time Framework

4. The Ivory-tower Framework

In the coming days I will examine each of these frameworks while reserving the final post for a call to what I will call the balanced, gospel-centered framework. In today’s post I will take up what I call the babysitting framework, and addressing the remaining three frameworks over the next few days.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Gospel Clarity in Children’s Ministry

At the end of this great week, I want to take a few moments to reflect on the absolute necessity for gospel clarity in children’s ministry. This has been my first full summer leading a children’s ministry. That means I have experienced my first “summer slump” in ministry.

The “summer slump” is a phrase pastors and church staff use to refer to the drop in attendance and service from members in the summer. This is primarily due to the fact that most people take family vacations in the summer. This means that week after week in the summer, the number of volunteers drops. Children’s ministry is greatly affected by the summer slump. First of all, kids go where their parents go. If parents are going on vacation or spending the Sunday out in the sun, so are the kids. Kids that attend through our bus ministry often have spotty attendance because, hey, it’s summer! Sometimes playing in the water hose or going to the park is just too good to pass up. So, attendance from kids and volunteers plummets in the summer. Most children’s ministries across the country are summer slumping.

What does this mean for us? How should this reality change our approach?

It means very little and it changes nothing about our approach.

The greatest summer temptation for volunteers and adult leaders is to just go through the motions. It’s easy to get excited when there is a huge group of kids in attendance. But what about when the average number plummets? What about when it is only your son and a few of his friends showing up? Some children’s ministries wisely take some time off in the summer. They may only meet half of the time in the summer, or meet every other week. These are fine adjustments. But when it comes to the approach, mentality, and framework that is used week in and week out, nothing should be adjusted. Gospel clarity is essential when the room is full or thin.

In children’s ministry, it is not only important that you communicate the gospel, but also that you demonstrate the gospel.

Both the eyes and ears of kids function as sponges that absorb the message of our lips and life, which floods into their little hearts. In my three years in children’s ministry I have learned that you can’t take a day off. The moment I decide to be lazy with my preparation or presentation of the gospel is the an incredibly impactful moment in the life of a kid. Kids will not remember every thing you say or do. But they will remember certain things.

Kids who are regularly brought to church are across the board being taught that God is good and true and right. He is being presented as someone they should want to know. They hear it over and over again. They hear it week after week, and hopefully, day after day. So, the day they see their children’s ministry leaders talk about grace, but refuse to show grace can be a life-shaping day. If they only hear you talk about repentance, but never see you repent, slowly but surely the reality of Christianity begins to fade into fantasy. If they hear you talk about how awesome God is and how much joy there is to be found in Christ, but only see you excited and joyous over games, activities, or your job, then at least they will be confused, and at most the seeds of doubt and lack of desire for God will be planted in their hearts.

It is my sincere conviction that children’s ministry must be infused with grace. It must bleed gospel. From the time the kids walk in the room, each adult leader must do all they can to point to Christ. We clearly teach the gospel with our words and our actions. This means we must take sin seriously. Sinful behaviors should be wisely and appropriately punished in children’s ministry. It means we must show grace in all that we do. We are not after behavior modification. We are after heart change–a reality only God can create. It means we must use biblical words when we communicate the gospel. Jesus didn’t die for our mistakes. He died for our sins. Use words like “reconcile,” “mediator,” and “justified.” It means we demonstrate our passion for Jesus by using personal examples from our own lives about how he has changed us.

Whether we are in the dog days of June and July or starting fresh in August, gospel clarity is a non-negotiable necessity in children’s ministry. Leaders and all adult volunteers must prepare their hearts every week to clearly show the gospel with their words and actions with the full realization that the kids we lead absorb every word, idea, and action they receive from us. This task is daunting. But God’s grace is sufficient. If you don’t feel sufficient to take on this task, good! You are in a perfect place to join in on the greatest mission in the world–passing the torch of the gospel to the next generation.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Kids, Broccoli, and Jesus: Teaching the Gospel with Passion

When I was a kid, I hated broccoli. I always made sure to ask whether my meal was going to have “little trees” in it. I was kind of an annoying picky-eating kid. Just like many of you do with your kids, I was told, “Broccoli is good for you! You need to eat it in order to grow.” Broccoli may have been something I needed, but it was definitely not something I wanted.

I lead a kids ministry of anywhere from 30-50 kids. I prepare content for kids from ages 2-12. This includes writing lessons, sermons, and family devotion guides. When I prepare to teach to kids, I want to prepare both my mind and my heart. What I have found to be most important in the preparation process is to have my affections set ablaze by the truth I am about to teach. Whenever that happens, I teach with vigor and passion. Kids usually do not respond to teachers who do not believe what they are teaching is thrilling. This is why I have changed my language when it comes to presenting Jesus to kids.

I never, ever talk about the Bible, the gospel, or Jesus as being the most important thing for their lives. When kids hear, “this is important for you” they think, “Oh, kinda like broccoli.” Kids often interpret importance as boring, irrelevant, and unsatisfying. Combine this language with an unenthused demeanor, and you will have unintentionally taught that Jesus may be important, but he is not desirable.

Too often, those who serve or lead in kids ministry make Jesus out to be not much more than broccoli for their soul. He may be healthy, but he’s not delicious. He is not worth savoring. When Jesus is taught this way, he will be received this way. Kids may see their need for what Jesus offers, but they will not see that Jesus is worthy of their full desire and can offer full satisfaction. They may desire Jesus’ benefits, but they will not desire Jesus.

When Jesus is presented as broccoli and not a filet mignon, kids will see him as a means to an end. But Jesus is not a means. He is the end. The goal of the gospel is God himself. And the goal of all kids ministry is to direct their gaze into the splendor of God’s grace in the gospel of Christ.

Is Jesus the most important person in the universe? Absolutely. Is the gospel the most important message in the world? Of course. But when we leave it there, we are incomplete. Jesus is not just important. He is important and satisfying. Don’t present Jesus just as someone kids should need. Present him as someone they should want. The gospel is the most thrilling news in the world about the most thrilling Person in the world. When our affections are ignited for Jesus, we will teach with passion and communicate with our words and attitudes that Jesus is not just important, he is better than anything else this world can offer.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Precious Duality: Serious Theological Education and Practical Ministry


One of the things I love about being an online theology student is the opportunity it provides me to serve in my home church. I have been an online student at Boyce College for the past two years. Lord willing, I will graduate next May. Due to a plethora of reasons, my wife and I have been unable to move to Louisville, so my entire degree in biblical and theological studies will have been earned online. The greatest blessing this has provided has been the duality of receiving a substantial and significant theological education and the opportunity to actively serve my local church in kids ministry.

Boyce College provides a theological education in the vein of the desires of its namesake. James P. Boyce believed theological education was “a matter of the first importance to the churches of Christ.” Because of this, he desired ministry that was “convictional, rigorous, and accessible.” Even as a lowly online student, my experience has shown me that this is exactly what Boyce College provides.

However, even though I know the serious theological education I am receiving is fueling my service in kids ministry, there are those who believe studying theology cannot coincide with tangible and practical ministry in the local church.

Many people create an unhealthy false dichotomy when it comes to serious theological education and gospel ministry. They say that if one studies theology too deeply or thinks too much about biblical truths, it will cause one to stay locked away in an ivory tower while the people suffer spiritually and physically in the gutter below. I have heard people say, “I don’t see the point in theological education when there is so much ministry to be done.” What do Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, and other theologians have to do with kids ministry, for example? Those who condescend serious theological education simply cannot see how practical ministry can benefit from keeping one’s head in the clouds.

This separation of theological education and practical ministry is not new. German theologian, pastor, and conspirator in an attempt to kill Adolf Hitler, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, was educated at one of the most prominent seminaries of his day; Berlin University. Though he disagreed with many of his liberal and critical professors, he honored their commitment to serious theological study. Bonhoeffer was a deeply serious theology student, who was not content to speak without thinking or allow issues to simply fall to the wayside unsolved. Bonhoeffer was also a loving and faithful pastor. Nearly as soon as he was handed his diploma, he was on a train to Barcelona to pastor. His deep love for theology fueled a deep love for God (or vice versa). This love expressed itself in practical pastoral ministry.

However, when Bonhoeffer decided to travel to America in 1930, he saw something quite different in one theological seminary and many churches. Serious theological education had been abandoned in favor of social involvement. While studying at Union Theological Seminary for recreational purposes (not for a degree), and while attending various American churches, Bonhoeffer observed the unhealthy disconnect between theology and ministry.

There is no theology here…They talk a blue streak without the slightest substantive foundation and with no evidence of any criteria. The students…are completely clueless with respect to what dogmatics is really about. They are unfamiliar with even the most basic questions. They become intoxicated with liberal and humanistic phrases, laugh at the fundamentalists, and yet basically are not even up to their level (quoted in Erica Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet,Spy, 101).

However, despite the lack of theology present at Union and in many of the churches, there was still much ministry going on.

At the instigation of this group, the student body of Union Theological seminary has, over the winter, continually provided food and lodging for thirty unemployed–among them three Germans–and has advised them as well as possible. This has led to considerable personal sacrifice of time and money. It must not, however, be left unmentioned that the theological education of this group is virtually nil, and the self-assurance which lightly makes mock of any specifically theological question is unwarranted and naive (Ibid., 105).

While serious theological study was lost, ministry to the poor was not. So, it would seem that these liberal theologians in the first half of the 20th century and those today who see serious theological education as unnecessary for ministry to exist and even thrive are right. Do I really need to spend hours upon hours studying, watching lectures, reading books written by guys who have long since died in order to minister to kids each Wednesday night? The answer lies in what is lost when theology is forgotten.

When theology is forgotten, the gospel is lost. The gospel of Christ has been passed down to us, essentially because Christian men and women throughout history have seriously studied theology, both formally and informally. This is not to say that if you do not attend seminary or receive some form of formal theological training that you will lose the gospel. However, this is to say that you will lose sight of the gospel if you refuse to think often about its implications. This is why Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand (1 Cor. 15:1, emphasis added). Theology sharpens our understanding of the gospel and all of its implications. This means that theology should always overflow into practical ministry that is gospel-centered.

Clearly, this leads me to conclude two things about the relationship between theology and ministry:

(1) Theology that does not naturally overflow into practical ministry is useless, groundless, and Christless.

(2) Ministry that does not flow from gospel-centered, God-centered, and Bible-centered theology is in vain.

When theology is ignored in favor of ministry, this false dichotomy shows it has no place for the cross. Bonhoeffer wrote of American churches in 1930,

Things are not much different in the church. The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events. As long as I’ve been here, I have heard only one sermon in which you could hear something like a genuine proclamation, and that was delivered by a negro (indeed, in general I’m increasingly discovering greater religious power and originality in Negroes). One big question continually attracting my attention in view of these facts is whether one here really can still speak about Christianity…There’s no sense to expect the fruit where the Word really is no longer being preached. But then what becomes of Christianity per se?

In New York they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life (Ibid., 106).

What a shame. A theological seminary and local churches both speaking much about spirituality and social issues, yet neither proclaiming the cross. Where serious theological education is ignored, the gospel is lost in the muck of “ministry” concerns. Notice how Bonhoeffer characterized these churches:

All these things of course, take place with varying degrees of tactfulness, taste, and seriousness; some churches are basically “charitable” churches; others have primarily a social identity. One cannot avoid the impression, however, that in both cases they have forgotten what the real point is (Ibid., 107).

I am eternally thankful for the existence of Boyce College and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Because of these institutions, the world is being filled with pastors and leaders who are preaching Christ and nothing else! The men and women at Boyce and Southern are ardently raising up men and women to go forth into the world to faithfully serve local churches with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am confident that my time at Boyce has driven me to desire a significant and impactful ministry that never forgets what the real point is.

So, as I grow weary in writing papers, taking tests, and memorizing Hebrew vocabulary, instead of calling it quits to “practically minister” due to the poisonous false dichotomy created by some, I will pour one more cup of coffee and journey into great theological depths in order to never lose sight of the gospel and for the purpose of ministering to God’s people in grace and truth. Because I deeply love Jesus, I study theology and minister to boys and girls. My love for the one fuels my love for the other. And may this precious duality between serious theological study and practical ministry never be severed, so the gospel may go forth.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.