Are Children’s Pastors Really Pastors?

pastor-kidsDo you know what your children’s pastor does? Take a minute and work through all the images of that goofy guy or gal that just popped into your mind who likes to be dunked in green slim.

I-timothyOk. I think most everyone would agree that we need more than a clown to oversee our kids’ ministries. The constant barrage of legal worries, safety concerns, and insurance guidelines is much more than the typical confetti cannon can handle. Churches need and want someone with the skills and ability to organize, protect, and love families.

How do children’s pastor do this?

The cool new trend is to have children’s pastors that equip the family, that work alongside parents, and that help dads and moms disciple their kids. Most every job’s focus will include one or all of these phrases. I know of no children’s pastors out their dedicated to subverting the family, maligning parents, and to frustrating parental guardians.

We may all know a pastor, program, or para-church ministry that does these accidentally. But no ministry is launched in an effort to dissolve cohesive family units. Every church, ministry, and pastor circling around our kids is all about equipping the family. This is the transient sentiment of our day.

How do we equip the local family to lead, disciple, and train their kids?

Well according to most churches, children’s pastors fulfill their mission by training Sunday school teachers, by organizing events, by staffing nurseries, and by teaching kids. They help parents by creating and running programs for kids.
Programs are not wrong. They are not the boogieman. But does a children’s Sunday school class equip the family? Does nursery really help parents disciple their children? Do our programs inspire parents to share the gospel with their kids?

Do you see the delima? Churches proclaim that their children’s ministry exist for the promotion of the family. Yet almost every pastor has a job description that keeps the him from directly interacting with, equipping, and encouraging parents.  Sure, kids’ pastors tell parents how much they love working with their kids. But have they had meaningful, life changing conversations with the parents they were called to equip?

I fear that most in kids’ pastors would have to answer, “No.” In fact many of the things kids’ ministries facilitate often discourage real conversations. Instead of seeing that mom and dad who need help parenting Junior in big church, a nursery worker just redirects the angry three-year-old with a fresh cup of apple juice far away from the view of the church’s pastoral staff and the body of Christ.

And perhaps this is not as bad as it initially appears. Perhaps kids’ ministry really is just a support ministry that frees people to hear ‘the pastor’ to preach. Perhaps, kids’ pastors mainly help equip parents by freeing others to do the work of equipping. This is not wrong. Armies need baggage trains to survive. Just ask the Emperor Julian and some of the other famous world leaders who fought battles without supplies.

But if kids’ ministry truly is about supporting big church, I believe churches should think hard about redefining the role of the children’s pastor. Freeing others to do the work of equipping, teaching and discipling is not a pastoral role. It is a deacon role, a lay leader role. Benjamine L. Merkle rightfully noted,

“Deacons are needed in the church to provide logistical and material support so that the elders can concentrate their efforts on the Word of God and prayer.”

Mark Dever, the founder of the Nine Marks Ministry and the lead pastor at Captial Hill concurs, writing, “the concerns of the deacons are the practical details of church life: administration, maintenance, and the care of church members with physical needs.”

The church needs men to faithfully serve behind-the-scenes. But those men are not pastors. They are deacons.

Titus and 1 Timothy clearly teach that pastors preach, teach, and disciple. Children’s pastors who primarily or only facilitate, recruit, and host events are truly more like deacon-in-chiefs than pastors.

If children’s pastors are called to lead and disciple families, then they need to be leading and discipling parents. They should regularly teach parents, showing them how to apply the gospel to their family. They should be on hand to counsel mom and dad as they struggle with a wayward son. They should be able to help others live out their faith. I believe pastors regardless of their title’s prefix should first and foremost pastor.

What do our churches need, children’s pastors or deacons-in-chief?

VBS 2017: The Rest of The Story

vbs-2017-rest-of-the-storyYou watched cars pour into the parking lot. You saw pictures of kids whacking each other with pool noodles on Facebook. And, you have heard some cute stories about kids singing, “Operation Arctic.” But do you really know all that happened at FBCE’s 2017 VBS?

If you can spare a few minutes, I will happily to tell you the “rest of the story” (as Paul Harvey used to say). Let’s get ready!

WHAT THE NUMBERS SAID:

VBS Average class attendance 2017

We did not know what to expect when we opened the doors to the Children’s Ministry Center (CMC) on Monday, June 5.  Over the last three years, FBCE’s VBS average  attendance has dropped after reaching a high of 254 kids per night in 2014. I was bracing for that negative to trend to continue.

Thankful my expectations were off base! I am excited to report that our average attendance per day shot up from 166 kids in 2016 to 218 kids in 2017. Our average attendance grew by more than thirty-one percent this year! And more than 50 of those kids  were coming to VBS via our bus ministry.

The largest growth took place in the middle school and upper elementary classes. The 7th and 8th grade class grew by forty-seven percent, the 6th grade class grew by seventy-one percent, and the 5th grade class grew by sixty-one percent. I loved seeing so many older kids excited about the gospel!

vbs classes by size

Though most of the numbers were unbelievably good, our kindergarten, 1st grade, and second grade classes all shrunk this year. This year may have been an anomaly. But those numbers are worth watching as we go forward. The lower elementary grades and the preschool classes often give us a glimpse of what our future ministry will look like.

Though we had far more kids than anticipated, FBCE’s VBS team meet the challenge with unparalleled poise. Kids were checked in easily (at least after Monday). Snacks came in and out of the rooms in the blink of an eye. Games were fun. Music was exciting. And, the crafts were engaging. Before the kids could blink, the two hours of Bible teaching and activities were over. I truly think organizationally and functionally, VBS 2017 was FBCE’s best VBS that I have experienced!

Our attendance reached a peak of 245 kids Wednesday night, June 7. But our Vacation Bible school was so well organized and run, you would have thought only 100 kids were in the building.

VBS attendance by day 2017It’s undeniable. God blessed the FBCE with a great team of VBS workers. Over 110 people cooked, drove buses, organized crafts, taught song motions, lead games, and shared the Scriptures during the week of June 5-9. And because our adults sacrificed their time and energy, FBCE was able to share Christ with over 250 kids throughout the week.

Though everyone is worthy of a mention, I only have to space to mention two people. I wish to thank Christy Wynn and Summer Sheffield for spending hours recruiting volunteers, problem solving, and answering questions. They kept VBS from being an tangled mess and freed me and others up talk to parents, to address sinful children, and to teach. Thank you guys! And thank you FBCE!

THE GOOD NEWS

And now for the real good news.

VBS is ultimately not all about attendance, numbers, and stats. (Though I do like them a bunch!)  VBS should be about the gospel! To have a successful VBS, a church must preach the gospel!

vbs 2017 2FBCE presented the gospel with gusto all week long! All of our teachers did an excellent job teaching the Bible and pointing kids to Christ. We loved using the Answer In Genesis Operation Arctic Curriculum as it equipped our teachers to teach the word. , FBCE’s VBS was a resounding success!

But the gospel was not just preached. God used it to transform lives!

We challenged our kids to raise $650 for missions at the beginning of the week. I thought the kids would fall short of their goal, lacking earthly incentives to give. (Yeppers, I did not want to take another pie in the face.) We asked the kids to give from a sincere heart. At the end of Thursday night, my dire expectations were almost our reality. The children had only given a little over $270. But then with time running out,

vbs missions

God did the amazing! By the time the last song ended on Sunday night, our kids gave $846.83 to missions! WOW! God is good!

The surest sign of God’s blessing this year was the outpouring of his spirit. Ten children made professions of faith during the week of VBS after hearing the gospel preached. We taught and they voluntarily responded! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I think FBCE has mastered VBS! We licked our last major logistical challenges. By having snacks delivered to each class, by shortening the evening from a 2.5 hrs. time frame to a 2 hrs. time frame, and by having all the kids dropped off in the CMC, we did away with the free-time that fostered conflicts and eliminated the confusion that greeted families when they first arrived.

vbs 2017We also did a better job of connecting with kids’ parents. By moving our celebration to Sunday tonight, we had more than 300 people worship with us as the gospel was preached. We exceeded our Friday night celebration attendance by more than a 100 people. I believe we have found our VBS sweet spot.

Going forward, we do not need to make any major structural changes. But, I think we may need to spend some time reflecting on the purpose of VBS.

If VBS exists to expose churched kids to the gospel in an intense and fun environment, then having VBS when summer first begins at church for 2 hrs. during evening makes sense.

But if our purpose is to reach the lost (i.e. VBS is truly an evangelistic event) then we may need answer some probing questions: Should we move VBS to the end of the summer so that we can use VBS as a bridge into our Wednesday night kids’ program? Or should we leave the church building and have VBS in homes and neighborhoods across Eastman? If VBS is supposed to be about outreach, shouldn’t we go out?

I am not sure how to answer all of these questions. I invite you to ponder them with me as we prepare for 2018.

Enough from me. Now it’s your turn! I would love to hear your VBS stories, highlights and reflections! Please post them below in the comment section.

When Kids Don’t Like Kids’ Ministry

kidsWords can be painful. The words that solidify the rejection of your ministry can be particularly piercing. I do not enjoying hearing kids, parents, and grandparents condemning my ministry as irrelevant, dull or worst of all…. boring. My heart does not rejoice when a kid walks in our church doors and then spins around to walk out a moment later declaring that, “I don’t like your church”

But as painful as those words and sentiments can be, they are necessary consequence of the gospel. When children walk into our churches, most of them have a worship problem. I am do not mean that the like the wrong type of worship music. I am not against baby rappers or baby washboard players. They do not have a Sunday morning worship problem or a Wednesday not issue. They have a heart worship problem. The little souls that come to our churches arrive fully in love with themselves and the world. They come wanting us, our programs, and our whole church structure to make much of them.

I John 2:15 says, “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.”

This is the condition of our kids. They are unregenerate little people who worship things other than God.

Consequently, they do not want to be reminded of their sin, of their need for a savior, and of their insignificance. They want fun children’s church programs that continue on until they are finished with college. They want to be entertained with great music and pool noodles. They want to leave having been made much of. If we give them a program centered around their desires, they will thank us and praise us.

But we will have not done our kids a favor. We will have harmed them. Instead of using Sunday to help our kids grasp the majesty and wonder of God and their insignificance, we have used Sunday to feed their fleshly desires. We have used Sunday to hide them from the truth that life is all about obeying and following God.

The point of worship on Sunday is not to make much of us. We gather together to make much of God. We should not pick songs and compose messages that reflect our kids. We need to pick songs that reflect who God is and what God has said. As one theologian said,

Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have contrasted themselves against the majesty of God.”

Our goal should be to get kids to God through talking about who Jesus is. When we do so, we will not always be loved. Once a child rated our Sunday school program with the following remark, “I hate it here.” His one star review is not alone. We lost another child because a ministry across town had better snacks. And, another child will not even darken our doors because we encourage kids to attend boring big church.

At the end of the day, these kids do not have problem with our church. They have a worship problem. When they realize that the church will not funnel kindling onto their fire of their self-centered alter, they stay away. Those who worship themselves and the world cannot worship God at the same time.

How Should We Respond?

We keep preaching the gospel. We keep pointing kids to Christ. If Christ changes their hearts, those little souls will love those who make of God. They will love the things of God. And the best and only way to facilitate heart change in little sinners is to preach the gospel.

Second, we need to listen. We need to hear their story. In the story above, the little man hated Sunday school because he did not like listening to Bible stories. He disliked the very gospel that we are commanded to preach. His rejection was confirmation that his teacher was preaching truth.

Others may dislike our programs because another kid is picking on them when no one is looking. They may find our church boring because our teachers our unprepared. If these things are happening, we need to address them. We need to be certain that we have not offended them.

But if the gospel offends them, there is little we can do. Our allegiance is not to the kids that come to our church nor to their families. Our allegiance is to Christ. Our savior is a stumbling block and an unlikable conundrum to those who are perishing. Unregenerate kids our no different than unregenerate adults. They do not like the gospel.

While we should not welcome such opposition, we must realize it will come. And we must be willing to offend the sensibilities of these little souls for their eternity hangs in the balance. We must preach Jesus both in season and out of season. Are you ready?