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?

3 Ways To Reach New Parents

young-families

To reach the next generation with the gospel, we have to reach parents. And one of the best ways to reach parents is to value the things they value. The apostle Paul said it this way,

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them (I Corinthians 9:19).

To win people to Christ, we must be willing to serve them and to meet their needs. While our acts do not add anything to the gospel, they make gospel proclamation clear. In other words, the message exists but it needs a strong signal to connect with people. If we want to have a strong signal, we must seek to serve others. We must seek to serve young families. In my experience, young families are looking for three things after determining a church’s love for the gospel: cleanliness, security, and relationship. To reach young families we must have clean facilities, promote safety and value relationships.

1. New parents love the smell of Lysol. It proclaims to the world that your church takes germs seriously. New parents also love seeing fresh paint, clean new toys, and fresh books. When I first came on staff at FBCE, my wife and I visited all the nursery rooms. The new born baby room had an external broken pipes in the ceiling and holes in the wall. We both looked at each other. As our eyes met they quietly screamed, “There is no way, we are leaving a baby in here.” Thankfully FBCE understood this principle. The church now has a brand new facility with a great baby room. But the point still remains. If new parents think your facility is dirty or see that every book in your nursery room is ripped in half, they probably will not come back. We will lose opportunities to share the gospel if we have dirty facilities. Value cleanliness.

2. Most every parents comes to our church doubting our ability to care for their child. This lack of trust is not our fault nor indicative of poor parenting. It is human nature. Parents love their kids and rightfully slow to hand over some of that responsibility to the church. We must win the parents’ trust. We must prove to them that we our facilities and programs take their children’s safety seriously. We must show them that we love their kids from beginning to end. Towards that end, we must run background checks and vet our volunteers. We must have check-in and out procedures that keep track of the kids at all times. We must keep proper ratio’s in place at all times. We must make sure 4th graders are not playing dodge ball in the room while babies crawl on the floor. If parents do not think our church is safe, they will not return. Value safety.

3. Young parents value relationships. They want to feel connected. They want to be part of the church. If we want new families to come to our church, we must be ready for them. We need to great them with a smile, help them get acclimated to our church, and walk them to their kids’ rooms. And while we teach and watch their kids, we need to take the time to get to know the kids, asking questions about their hobbies, school, and family. We also need to respect the parents’ wishes if possible. If they want you to get them after little Johnny has cried for 10 seconds, then we go ahead and page them. When the parents come back, we need to tell the parents how much we enjoyed meeting their child mentioning specific details about the child’s day and/or lesson. And it would not hurt for us to ask them to lunch! Value relationships.

All three of these things are ongoing. We are always cleaning, improving safety and building relationships. You never “arrive” in kids’ ministry. But if we spend time, money, and energy cleaning, protecting, and building relationships, we will have more and more chances to share Christ. Are you ready for new families?