What is children’s ministry?
When I was growing up in Colorado, my family briefly attended a church that, to me, looked like a spaceship. It was modern, in the way that new buildings in the late 1980s were modern: gleaming white, curved on top, multiple glass walls behind sloping pillars. During service, the kids went to Sunday school while the adults went to worship. We learned about the rainbow and sang songs about colors, and an adult came to summon us toward the end of every class so that we could go stand in the congregation, hold hands, and sing the traditional “Let There Be Peace on Earth” closing.
I remember thinking it was weird. (To be fair, a lot of the things in the 1980s were weird.) Why did we have to leave our room and go see the adults? Why weren’t they ever learning the same things we were learning? Why did we have to sing “Let There Be Peace on Earth” instead of any of the songs we got to learn in our room?
These are the same questions I’m asking now, 25 years later, in my current role as a Director of Children’s Ministry. I enjoy kids, and I enjoy figuring out how kids fit in with the rest of the community. Congregations love children, but often, they don’t know what to do with them. Some congregations prefer kids to be quiet during worship; others privilege the worship of children above all else. Some children’s ministers have more education and experience than anyone else on staff; others are volunteers who were in the right - or wrong - place at the right time. Given the clear mandate Jesus gives us in Mark 10 to let the little children come to him without hindrance, it is fascinating to see the myriad ways in which congregations encounter kids.
So I ask again, what is children’s ministry? Is it an incubator, keeping kids safe until they’re old enough to participate fully in the congregation? Is it a school, instructing kids in how to have faith like adults? Or, as the writer says in Proverbs, is it a path for kids to follow, a starting point on a longer journey of discovery?
The way a congregation answers this question has enormous implications, particularly in a time of trauma. Congregational trauma has a way of blurring lines, obscuring paths that once seemed clear. Old systems are shaken, new needs arise, and often, the picture of the future is changed dramatically. It is during this time that the paths on which we set our children become incredibly important.
Over the next months, I’ll be writing about the role of children’s ministry before, during, and after trauma in a congregation. There’s a lot to think about, like appropriate curricula after a traumatic event, or how to respond to the fears and concerns of parents, or what the place of children within the larger ministry of the church should look like. As children’s ministers, we are advocates, teachers, guides, and students of the kids in our care, and we want only to point them toward Jesus, no matter the surrounding circumstances. I look forward to your comments, your questions, and to the conversation that starts from this simple question:
What is children’s ministry?