Although it sounds ironic, kids should not be the focus of our kids’ ministry. Now before you write me off as a kid hater or as a fuddy duddy who thinks singing along to cassette tapes makes a great Sunday school lesson, let’s consider John 3:30. Just as Jesus’ ministry had started flourishing, John the Baptist’s disciples come to John frustrated that all the focus has switched to the Jesus. Notice what John says, “He must increase but I must decrease.” This should be the heart of every biblical ministry, kids or otherwise. We are to be making a big to-do about Jesus. A biblical kids’ ministry will always be focused upon our Savior. Instead of seeking to satisfy our kids’ longing for fun with hi-tech, adventurous activities, our kids’ programs should be designed to introduce our kids to the awesome Savior of the world. We (including our kids) must decrease. Christ must increase.
Kid Focused And Failed
If we don’t decrease, weird things start happening. Recently, several kids from my church and I attended a Centrikid camp put on by Lifeway. My church kids had a blast and my adults were impressed with the camp’s gospel focus. Before we scrambled back on the bus to go home, I heard another church leader say, “Our kids have all been complaining that this camp is too much like church. We really miss all the games during the worship times.” Although I do not know everything about this church’s kid’s ministry, I do know that they think “church” is a negative thing to be avoided.
Think about this for a second, a church’s children’s ministry is calling the Word of God and the body of Christ boring, unattractive, and expendable. The only way for a kid’s ministry to conclude that Jesus is boring or an obstacle to happiness is to think that ministry is all about you and your kids. Equipped with this mindset, people come to church to have fun, make friends, and feel loved. Each kids prominence and desires is increasing. But this mindset contradicts the purpose point of church and fails its followers. As counselor Ed Welch notes:
God has given us gifts to serve rather than needs to be served. Any other perspective is less than biblical and will ultimately lead us toward misery rather than joy – p. 167
If we truly want our kids to be happy, we will have ministries that cause us all to decrease.
Jesus Focused And Approved
Immediately, someone will object that kids learn differently. They don’t belong in church. They can’t be expected to survive waves of the adult world.
Yes, kids do learn differently. I fully support having children’s programs that use music with motions and visual object lessons to introduce children to Jesus. I am constantly looking for ways to better connect the gospel to the kids of FBCE. But the goal of children’s ministry is always to link kids into the church by making much of our awesome God. Just as the children in my church enjoy hanging around my wife, the kids in hte “Fun Zone” or the “Happy Village” of our churches should leave Sunday with a growing love for Jesus and his bride, the church. As longtime Sunday school teacher, Jack Klumperhower, writes, “We shouldn’t let fun become a tool to keep kids interested so we can feed them good news on the side. Jesus isn’t a side dish…[he’s] the selling point” (p. 155). Jesus must increase!
Now many fear that we will lose kids by going all gospels on them. Perhaps, some kids will check out. Or some may bug their parents until they convince the family to find a church that is more “fun.” But friends, a majority of the kids in our ministry are not Christians. Naturally, they are going to find the gospel offense because by they are: “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” ( 2 Tim 3:1-4).Unredeemed kids reject the gospel because the are blind sinners.
The Defining Question
Today, we all face the following question: how should we respond to kids who find the gospel and the people of God offensive? How we answer this question will radically shape our children’s ministries and our kids’ view of Jesus and the church. We have two options.
First, we can appeal to our kids’self-love as many mainstream churches have begun to do. We attempt to compete with Nickelodeon, Disney, and PS4’s by offering slimy games, cheesy videos, and kidcentric Bible lesson’s- Jesus loves you; he wants you to be happy.
Second, we can challenge our kids with the hope of the gospel like the Centrikid camp staff did. We can preach Christ crucified abandoning gimmicks and manipulative story telling. Moreover, we trust that:
The Holy Spirit is working, and once [kids] get a taste of Christ, they will be irreversibly captured for his kingdom. Rather than pander to kids…[we] offer life to kids who are thirsting for something more – 156
If we hope to reach kids for Christ, we must choose the way of the gospel. If we go with the cool appeal, we will ultimately lose. The church can never outpace the world’s indulgence of self-love. One day, our kids will discover that the pursuit of wealth, alcohol, sex, and a host of other things is more fun than Sunday school worship bands; they’ll leave the church. But if we give them Jesus who outshines all this world has to offer, many will believe on the Lord Jesus Christ! They will stay, grow, and begin introducing others to Christ. Jesus must increase, we must decrease.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – I John 3:15-17