I credit my Mother for fostering my lifelong love of the Bible. She began reading and teaching me Bible stories at the age of five. However, other than my mother, it was certainly children’s church that had the most significant impact on my childhood spiritual development during the elementary years of 8-12 years old.
I looked forward to attending church every Sunday, especially children’s church. My pastor’s son was the children’s church leader, and he had the ability to make it interesting and fun. I still remember a particular lesson he shared; it was the story of Billy Sunday who was on his way to the baseball major leagues. He gave it all up to answer his calling to be an evangelist. I, too, wanted to be a major league baseball player. His decision influenced my outlook on what was important in life.
When I came home from my freshman year of college, I offered to re-establish this service for the 8–12-year-olds. Knowing how it had impacted my spiritual growth as a pre-teen, I was surprised and disappointment to learn this pastor believed this age group needed to be in the regular worship service.
Early on, I felt that God called me into full-time ministry, not as a preacher or youth director but as a Christian businessman andteacher. After my college years, I was actively involved with youth and adult programs as a leader and teacher. However, I felt specifically called to teach/share with the 8 to 12-year-olds. So, when I was 33, I shared my vision with the pastor and Director of Christian Education (DCE) of my current church.This time I was prepared for resistance. Once again, I was told that this age group needed to be in the regular worship service; however, they were interested in hearing my views.
As most accept, children 8-12 years old are often bored at a traditional worship service, find the sermon difficult to fully understand, and generally complain about attending church. I shared that if we could change their perception of church at a young age, it may keep them interested in learning God’s Wordas they grew older – just as it had worked for me. I knew they were very “teachable” – they were old enough to listen and be influenced in a positive and godly way and not so old they think they know everything. They tend to respect and look up to adults when they are treated more than just little kids and thrive in a service geared toward their age. I think the DCE was more impressed that this was the first time that a lay person had brought her a specific program with a plan laid out and that a man was willing to teach this age.
So, we agreed to run an eight-week test. The DCE attended several sessions to gauge the children’s interactions and met with the parents to receive their feedback. She was very pleased and consequently, agreed to make it a permanent program.
The program was structured like a worship service but much more relaxed and flexible with a leader and one or two assistants to keep everything running smoothly. We leave after the offering so that the kids still get the importance of a worship service. We start our service by singing age-appropriate songs – plus they all got candy if they participated – simple bribery can be effective. Next, I gave them a chance to share something that was important to them. Then, we would lead into the Bible lesson. By far the most popular was an ongoing story about a 10-year boy and his friends with a biblical lesson tied to each story. Because it was relevant to them, they could remember from week to week what happened. When new kids came, they would say, “Just wait until Mr. Michael tells his Joe stories.” I finished up the worship service with a game that re-emphasized the point of the lesson. The most successful activity was simply throwing a paper ball into a trash can - if they answered a question correctly (on the lesson we just taught). They enjoyed trying to win, not realizing that they were learning at the same time.
Each time a new pastor or DCE was hired, they wanted to cancel the children’s church for the 8- to 12-year-olds. My answer each time was the same: let’s ask the parents. The responses were so overwhelmingly positive that the program has continued for over 35 years. The parents consistently said, “My children are learning something on their level; in fact, they don’t fuss about coming to church. They think church is fun, but I also know they’re learning something about the Bible.”
After 35 years I am still teaching. I firmly believe I was led to do this because of the positive impact that the children’s ministry had on my life in those early years. It set the stage for a lifelong love of learning and teaching others about God’s love and plan for our salvation. When I hint that it is time for me to retire, the director of children’s ministries says, “Look how you still relate to the kids.” I admit after all these years, there is still a kid in me, and the children keep me young.
Are you ready for new ideas that may not follow the norm, but you heard the voice of God calling you? Meet with those in your church family and ask for fresh ideas. You will be rejuvenated both for their ideas and the encouragement and appreciation you receive. God is ready to share his plans for your ministry. Are you listening?