Children – Ministry TO or WITH?

Christianitytoday.com features an interesting interview with Scottie May, co-author of the book  Listening to Children on the Spiritual Journey (2010).  May reflects on the difference between ministry TO children and ministry WITH children.

Some churches do ministry to children; others do ministry with children. In my research, I’ve found that this difference is even more significant than a church’s official theological positions. Children that felt as welcome at church as they did in the family home usually came from a faith community that saw them as respected, gifted, valuable members of the Body, and provided opportunities for them to serve and interact with multiple generations. That’s ministry with children. Children who grow up in a church that tends primarily to do ministry to children—whether it be infant baptism, confirmation, or praying the sinner’s prayer—without these with factors, often develop a distorted, pejorative view of themselves, God, and even life itself. … Ministry with children depends a lot on the faith of the parents and how it is lived out in the home. This means that pastors and ministry leaders must help parents be transformed by their own faith so that their children see it. Christian families need to be equipped to practice confession, forgiveness, and celebration corporately as a congregation and at home.  In order to help families do this effectively, church leaders must be willing to break down the age-graded silos that have developed in our churches so that there are times when the whole congregation shares together a life of faith.

May also has some interesting reflections on approaches to children’s ministry that revolve around high-tech, high-energy presentations, whereby chldren become the audience rather than participants in a shared journey of learning and reflection.

Many churches, particularly large churches, do ministry for children. Children sit and watch, often viewing elaborate sets, staging, lights, and music. It seems entertainment based, with “fun” being a high value. Fun is great and important in a kid’s life, but not at the cost of diminishing the presence of the living God. A sense of awe and wonder at God’s majesty and love has been lost in many churches today.

May challenges pastors and children’s ministry leaders to think through their own understanding of children’s ministry – to, for, or with – and the related implications for the practice of ministry.

Identify the driving metaphor for the ministry: to, for, or with. Preset expectations for every child, whether they are theological or programmatic, usually indicate “to” ministry. If the prime ministry time has children watching a presentation, the church may have “for” ministry. A “with” ministry has all generations together at least some of the time, parents and children side by side worshiping or learning or serving.

Interesting stuff!  Some key points as I see them:

  • Actively engage children in the wider ministry of the congregation – in worshipping, serving and learning with persons of all generations.
  • Support the faith life of the home through modelling cross-age ministry in the life of the congregation.
  • Regard children not as an “audience” for ministry but as fellow-pilgrams on a shared journey of Christian learning, witness and worship.

In my internet searching I also came across a couple of other resources from Livingthegoodnews.com for parents seeking to develop the faith lives of their homes.

Sharing God’s Word at Home 

Nurturing Your Child’s Spirituality

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