Suffer the Little Children

Bill Shannon Pastor

INTRODUCTION
So often when people within the church think of Children’s Ministry they picture some program that has been developed to entertain children. They look upon Children’s Ministry as the arm of the church that keeps the little rug rats from distracting the “big people” from real and meaningful worship. They look upon Children’s Ministry as the place where the distractions are left so the “big people” can have fellowship in the Word. This certainly doesn’t have to be the case nor should it be. An entertainment package doesn’t need to be developed and the mentality of just keeping the noisy ones out of the way shouldn’t be endorsed. My proposal is that the church can augment the nurturing that is being done at home to accomplish great things for the Lord and His church. This ministry doesn’t need to be treated as one of those necessary yet unspectacular additions. The legacy for the future of the church depends on what is being accomplished in the Sunday school rooms of today. The church should not treat this ministry as a bother or just a baby-sitting ministry. The children must be taught the full counsel of God that is able to make wise for salvation (2 Tim. 3:15). If the church treats this ministry as a venue to entertain the kids you will be nurturing the next generation of “church potatoes”. They will learn to sit to see what the pastor can do to get them motivated or to excite them to return next week. The church today is inundated with entertainment BUT what we need is substance. If I were commissioned to start an effective Children’s Ministry today I would start by asking, “What is the purpose of ministry to children?” “What are we to be accomplishing?” “What would the Lord Himself want us to do?” Children’s ministry actually starts in the home. It is the responsibility of the parents to continuously impart the Scripture to the people of God that they may know God and serve Him in worship and ministry. The ministry of the church is unique as we support through discipleship and parenting instruction on the duties of parents in the raising of their own children. Foremost, a child’s spiritual instruction is the responsibility of the parents (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Spiritual instruction within the family context is the most natural and the one that will have the most lasting affect upon children. Parents are to first model a life that is pleasing (2 Corinthians 5:9) and honoring to the Lord as they set the example for their children. It is difficult to pass on to children that which is not manifested in the parent’s life. The parents must first make the Word of Life a priority in their own life. Deuteronomy 6:6 says “And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.” The parent must first believe and live out the Scriptures in their life. They must believe the commands of God in their heart and trust all that God says is truth. Verse seven of Deuteronomy tells parents to “…teach them diligently to your sons…” The verb here for teach could be translated inscribe or etch which gives the picture of a craftsman inscribing letters on a piece of rock or wood. Since it is a task requiring diligence and care. The continuous action verb is used indicating that the action is not to stop but to be a part of all aspects of their home. This obviously is the most ideal place for children to be grounded in the Word of God as their

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parents live it out. Children know the commitment of their parents to God’s Word and this is what God uses to convince children of the reality of Himself. Biblically, their responsibility extends further than just seeing that the children receive instruction. Deuteronomy 11:18-19 reiterates that the parents must be personally communicating these truths to their children. The passage goes on to warn parents that if they fail too personally apply the Word to their own lives, then the process of spiritual instruction will break down. Thus, the primary emphasis of our children's ministry is to support the biblical position of the home. In supporting the ministry of the parents we endeavor to be a readily available resource to the home. Furthermore, the parents are to train up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), rather than the church being a competing force or separate entity of influence than the home. The context of the Book of Proverbs shows that it is the parents who primarily are to guide children to follow the Lord. Since this book is a message of a father imparting wisdom to a son it is a very practical way of communicating truth to children. We realize that many children are in contact with organized Christian teaching only through Sunday school; therefore, we dedicate our Sunday morning efforts to teach the Word of God and train the children to serve God in worship and ministry. Additionally, the Sunday morning activities are designed to communicate the maximum in spiritual content and application for each developmental age group.

I.

WHAT YOU SHOULD TEACH

Sunday School is about supporting the family and providing a place where children can come and learn about our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. Each year we invite the church family to come and see what we do with nearly 2000 children each week. According to Deuteronomy 6:7 it is the responsibility of the parents to give their children spiritual instruction. Deuteronomy 11:18,19 reiterates that the parents must be personally communicating biblical truth to their children. Therefore, the responsibility of the Church is to support the biblical position of the home and to be a ready resource for parents. However, the Church must be doing all that it does to excellence before God who calls us to excellence. Charles Spurgeon said, “You are teaching children, so mind what you teach them. Take care what you are doing! …It is a child’s soul you are tampering with… It is a child’s soul you are preparing for eternity… If it is an evil to mislead gray-headed age, it must be far more so to turn aside the feet of the young into the road of error, in which they may forever walk.” We are preparing children for the future church, and if all we do is play games and feed them candy, they will expect the same as they continue within the church. If that is the beginning, the end will be even worse. We are to give them a foundation that the parents can build upon (Deuteronomy 6:49) and the church can encourage in the future (2 Timothy 3:14-15). In many churches the curriculum is focusing the student on self-revelation rather than God’s revelation. The emphasis is to learn about self before they can learn about God. Our belief here at Grace is that they need to learn about God primarily. The children must focus vertically before they can comprehend their horizontal relationships properly.

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In Spiritual Junk Food – The Dumbing Down of Christian Youth written by Cathy Mickels & Audrey McKeever they said, “We must first start by learning about God as we spend time in fellowship with Him, then out of obedience and love for our God, a natural and biblical relationship will develop with others.” p. 58. Recently I was sent an e-mail from a pastor in the mid-west who asked which curriculum would be most effective in relaying God’s truth to children. I simply said that the best, most effective, most efficient and most convincing curriculum to present the truth of God’s Word is the Bible! Astounding that we would use the Bible to communicate truth to children. But what about all the curriculums that are out there? Some of them are good but nothing is better than God’s Word that He communicates to us. We can certainly use curriculum but the essentials of truth are contained in God’s Word. Curriculums are good for some of the peripheral things that can help teachers in presenting the lesson but the Word is the best. Using the Word helps the children to see that it is the Bible that contains truth and not some man made curriculum. A pastor came out to California a few years ago to observe what Grace Community Church did in children’s ministry. After a week of observing our mid-week and Sunday services he said, “All you do is teach these children the Bible!” He was astonished that this was our focus. I must say that my reply was no less astonished, I said, “Is there anything else?” Are we to fill the minds of our children with cute stories and nice platitudes or should we teach them the truth of God’s Word, which is effective to give wisdom that leads to salvation (2 Timothy 3:15). I am convinced that it is the Word of God that saves lives so why would I want to see anything else but the Word taught to our children. Once a visiting pastor observed a second grade class from which he emerged astounded that they were learning the names of God that he still didn’t know. The children have a great capacity to learn and we should take advantage of their ability. The old saying goes garbage in garbage out. If we teach something other than the Scripture they will not know God’s truth. Our Lord the master teacher had His twelve disciples following Him for almost three and a half years. He taught them significant doctrinal truth and yet in that time they didn’t grasp all that they were taught much like the children we teach. However, as John 14:26 tells us “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, ‘He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” The children we teach will not understand every point of doctrine but once the Holy Spirit has illumined their mind they will begin to understand all that was taught. How much can children be expected to learn from Sunday school, Sunday evening or a mid-week service? Hopefully the whole counsel of God is being presented to them on a consistent and continuous basis. It is through the diligent presentation of the gospel that children will discover their need for Jesus Christ. We should never be afraid to teach the children God’s Word or doctrine that arises from a specific passage. They must learn about sin, obedience judgment and hell. The gospel is the message that saves so we should never abbreviate it or reduce it just because they are children. Pastor MacArthur has written a book called Faith Works in which he explains what any believer must know to be saved. Subjects such as God’s holiness, an individual’s sin, what Jesus Christ has done and what He demands of them should not be avoided. The key to teaching children is to be thorough. If we are to reach the heart of children with the gospel they must understand it first.

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It has been my dream for almost fourteen years of being on staff here at Grace to have our own in-house curriculum based on the Scriptures and not just Bible stories or character trait stories that perpetuate the man centered thinking of the church today. This curriculum is a three-year chronological approach that will be appropriate to each age category (pre-school, primary and juniors’). Since our children will be spending three years in each age level, they will be fully exposed to a chronological understanding of the Scriptures. If these children remain at Grace during their formative years, they will have been exposed to a chronological approach to the Scriptures three times. In the past children have been exposed to a Bible Character approach that leaves children unable to understand the sequence of God’s redemptive plan. They learn about Abraham, David, Moses but little about God. • • • • • • Called Generations of Grace Drawn right from the text of Scripture Content and creativity are wed under one lesson Teaches the whole counsel if God Three year cycle Unified curriculum that helps parents instruct their children as well

All of our children’s Sunday school classes will study the same lesson each Sunday. This means that a parent can discuss the Sunday lesson with all their children throughout the week, and they should all have some level of understanding. Our plan is to develop a devotional sheet for the parents to discuss with their children throughout the week. It will include the previous Sunday’s lesson and will even prepare the children for the next Sunday’s lesson. We believe this will heighten interest and help with a deeper understanding of God’s Word.

II.

LEADERSHIP: WHO SHOULD PRESENT SPIRITUAL TRUTH TO CHILDREN

The leader is one of the most important assets to a children’s ministry. Facilities and teaching materials are that which sets the support and structure of the ministry. People minister to people. The individual leader is the link between the truth of God’s Word and the communication of that truth to the heart and life of the child. I once saw a cartoon in a Christian magazine. The first picture showed Mrs. Brown in a School Superintendents office asking for a job to teach children. He was asking for her experience, degrees, certification and recommendations. Not having any of those she was rejected. In the next picture you see Mrs. Brown asking the pastor if she can teach in the Sunday school. He immediately brings her to a class and hands her the curriculum and says you’re the teacher! Sadly this is what happens in many of our churches today. If you find a warm body you immediately give them a position of responsibility without any experience, training or recommendations. The church must change this approach to careless training of the next generation. We will leave a legacy of biblically ignorant and deficient churchgoers. Who then should train our precious children in the things of God while at church? Recruiting leaders for a children’s ministry is always a difficult task, however, if we succumb to choosing whoever is available we are not being as diligent as the Lord would have us to be. Recruiting quality teachers and leaders is crucial to the effectiveness of the ministry. We have been called by God to be discerning when it comes to false doctrine and so we must be diligent to make sure that our teachers have a right understanding of doctrine before we allow them the opportunity to teach

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our children. Leaders who simply have warm feelings for children or are attracted to them for some personal need are not necessarily qualified to work with children. So often adults are looking to being with children to fulfill some inner need for acceptance. We are a very adult driven ministry that needs over 500 helpers, leaders and teachers. The children's ministry of Grace Community Church never wants to get to a place where we take just anyone. In order to insulate ourselves from that kind of situation we are looking for committed volunteers. We want those who, (1) have a Christ honoring life, (2) have a heart that loves to work with kids, (3) a willingness to do what it takes to see these children nurtured in the things of God, (4) a willingness to go through training, and (5) see your own relationship with Christ grow through this service. 1. Training – In each of the various ministries we develop leaders appropriate to the requirements expected for those leaders. Specific training also takes place for those desiring to be teachers. This training is anywhere from 5-7 weeks for about 1.5 hours each week. Additionally, we have two times a year where we bring together our teachers and leaders for a “Teacher tune-up” – a day to bring a focus and emphasis to our teaching. We provide seminars in specific areas of ministry to children to help our teachers become all they can be in the classroom. Screening – We have a policy in place in our ministry that we will not allow anyone to serve in Children’s until they have been at the church for at least six months. Our policy is also that teachers of the Word of God must be members in good standing. We have an application process that must be completed before they are allowed to interact with the children. This process helps us to discern their abilities to communicate truth to children, their previous ministry experiences, and to whom they are currently held accountable. Qualifications – Those teaching in our ministry would have the same qualification for the deacon as found in 1 Timothy 3. • The teacher must have a personal and growing relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. (John 3:3; Philippians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:1) • The teacher must evidence a level of maturity and understanding of biblical truth (1Timothy 3:6; 2 Timothy 2:15). • The teacher's life must manifest control by the Holy Spirit and the resulting fruit (Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:16-23; 2 Peter 1:5-8). • The teacher's ministry must manifest the necessary combination of gifts to handle his assigned task (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; 1 Peter 4:10;). • The teacher must prove himself faithful (2 Timothy 2:2) • The teacher must have a godly life that is a model to be followed. A godly life is so important to the communication of truth. It can also be seen from Scripture that children learn most effectively from those with whom they maintain close relationships. When a parent or teacher presents Scripture in the

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context of a godly life, the truth is more effectively communicated. (1 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Timothy 1:5, 3:10, 14-17). The teacher must willingly submit to the leadership of the local church. (Hebrews 13:7, 17; 1 Corinthians 16:16)

4. Fellowship – Serving in Children’s Ministry often takes an adult away from the adult fellowship that is enjoyed by some of the other adults of our church. We have Children’s Ministry Bible Studies for the workers to enjoy fellowship on a regular basis. They also are encouraged to get together outside of this ministry for fellowship. The Assistant Pastor is involved in shepherding these folks directly. 5. Resources – We provide a room where teachers can draw upon various resources to enhance their presentation of truth to children. 6. Recruiting – We provide opportunities through our weekly bulletin for people to get involved. Each ministry leader is also expected to recruit for the needs of their individual ministry. Those ministries that take place on an annual basis keep in contact with those who have previously served and begin by recruiting them first. The Biblical instruction of children and their physical development is of great concern to God. To state that children's Biblical instruction is a great concern to God is probably even an understatement considering the strong admonitions recorded in the Word of God. It will be instructive to review Matthew 18:5,6 where one such injunction is found. In the previous verse our Lord has clearly explained that the humility of belief so characteristic of children is the standard for kingdom greatness. Jesus then builds upon this truth by stating, "whosoever receives one such child in my name receives me." In this statement, Jesus clarifies that the value of children is to be that of any other person, adults or children, rich or poor; there is no difference in God's kingdom. Christ would die for children as well as for adults. The Lord Jesus does not stop His instruction at this point, but adds a special admonition to those who would take advantage of a child's willingness to believe whatever would be taught to them. "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." As can be readily seen, it is somewhat of an understatement to say that God is just concerned about a child's Biblical instruction. Much more than concerned, God the Father is sovereignly involved in the life of each child. Jesus makes this very clear in His next statement. "See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven. So it is not the will of My Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish," Matthew 18:10,14. Jesus instructs us that each child is worthy of the personal attention of an angelic being. Considering such strong injunctions from our Lord, it behooves us to look very seriously at what we teach our children and how we go about it. The first consideration to which our attention should be directed is alluded to in the above verses, especially Matthew 18:6 that consideration is the physical development of children. As a result of their physical development, children believe differently than adults do, as they perceive life from a child's perspective. Paul states this in 1 Corinthians 13:11, "When I was a child I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I reasoned as a child, when I became a man I gave up childish ways."

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Therefore, as we teach children we need to instruct them as children, not as adults, understanding how they think and how they reason. It is incumbent upon us as teachers to take careful note of what the Bible reveals about teaching children. The physical development of children is the first consideration that teachers should carefully note. A few thoughts concerning child development are appropriate at this point. Child development can be viewed as a separate discipline within itself and can be studied as such. Teachers must be cognizant of the developmental stages through which children progress. A number of important steps which a thorough ministry should consider would be the following: The child's beginning ability to respond to adult leadership; to respond to directions, instructions, and to sit quietly for short periods of time. As they mature in the next year, their increasing verbal abilities should be incorporated into lesson plans allowing them the opportunity to respond. Building upon these developments, character instruction begins. Reading, writing and studying skills should also be utilized as the children develop toward maturity. The proper recognition of child development is an important facet in Biblically instructing children and must be considered in the overall structure of any children's ministry. The second major factor that a Biblical children's ministry must clearly integrate is recorded in Ephesians 6:1,2. "Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother." These verses clearly teach that the primary Biblical responsibility of children is to obey their parents. These verses are often misunderstood and even ignored in their implications for teaching children in many ministries. Children must properly understand their horizontal relationship with their parents. A child's understanding of God and relationship with Him is developed upon the relationship they have with their parents. This means that teaching in a Biblical children's ministry must encourage faith and it's formation along the lines of Biblical responsibility. Lessons and curriculum should teach and encourage children to obey their parents and to have faith in God, faith that God will work through the parents not apart from them. As the child develops toward adulthood Biblical response to parents is expanded to include personal accountability to the Word of God. Then as maturity continues, responsibility is allowed to blossom to full personal accountability to God. Personal accountability to God may be defined as the viable relationship between God and a saved person who is seeking to live a sanctified life. In seeking to bring a child to maturity and to a personal relationship of accountability with their Lord there are two necessary abilities that need to be developed. The first is worship. A child must participate in both corporate worship and personal worship during adolescence. If their Biblical instruction has been deficient in either discipline then their relationship with God will not likely flourish. This important concept is also reiterated in Matthew 4:10, "You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve." A Biblical children's ministry must not only consider the mental developmental capacity or the Biblical responsibility of children, but also train them to worship God. The second ability that a child needs to acquire to maintain their relationship with God is an ability to read and understand God's Word. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God", (Matthew 4:4). This ability is dependent upon the academic ability to read as well as an understanding of basic Bible study rules, practice in inductive study and instruction in basic doctrines. The ability to read is the responsibility of the school system, while Bible study and instruction in doctrine should be accomplished through a Biblical children's ministry. Once when I was in the adult service a young third grade girl came up to me in the rear of the church and asked me what time it was, I responded. She did this a few times before I asked her

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why she was asking. Her response was, “Well Pastor Shannon, to tell you the truth I can’t read and my third grade teacher is making me try in front of the class and I am embarrassed.” Sometimes the teacher must be aware of certain deficiencies and minister to the family. The Biblical children's ministry must, therefore, take into account child development, a child's Biblical responsibility to obey parents, and the development of worship and instruction in Bible study and in doctrine. Biblical curriculum design should include each of these elements, progressively expanding breath of Biblical knowledge, and increasing in depth of understanding for application as the developmental capacity of the students maturity increases.

III.

THE ATMOSPHERE THAT IS CONDUSIVE TO TEACHING

In order to be able to present the truth of God’s Word to children we must have an atmosphere of discipline. I have heard of some of the horror stories that go on in some of our schools in regards to the atmosphere for learning. There are too many “To Sir With Love” scenarios that our students have to deal with today in the school system. Therefore we do not want that carrying over into the children’s ministry. How then do we handle discipline with these children? Before we get to that if we don’t have discipline we show a careless attitude toward the one we should discipline. We actually show no love for that person because we have the most important thing they could ever possibly need, the Word of God. If we allow them to be undisciplined we are telling them that what we have to say and teach is of no consequence – go do whatever makes you feel good. Proverbs 22:15 tells us that foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child and if we ignore their need for discipline we allow them to continue to get the selfish way and hinder the teaching opportunity for them as well as others. In order to understand how to handle disciple of children we must first understand why we are to discipline children. First, it is a command of God (Proverbs 23:13-14; Ephesians 6:4). Consistent consequential discipline works. Children respond to the parents who are consistently and lovingly disciplining them. Discipline, even from an unbelieving parent, works in a child’s life and so many Christian parents are adverse to this biblical way of dealing with their children. Since we are talking about children’s ministry we cannot and do not enforce the Biblical discipline that is commanded of parents. However, we should work very closely with parents (discipleship) to report to them about how their children are doing in our classrooms. We can also encourage them in the Biblical way to help their children to respond correctly the next time they return to class. The parent should be informed as to the behavior of the child and then do what is appropriate for their family. If the child acted out in the class the next time they return they should ask the teacher to forgive them of their misbehavior. I have seen this done in a five-year-old class with great success. For children’s ministry leaders it is very important that your own behavior doesn’t affect the children’s to cause them to misbehave. You as the leader are an example to follow and if you cannot control yourself in the class how can you expect them to do so. As a leader you must also give very clear instructions so that the children know exactly where you are and where you are going. If you are unclear in your expectations they will be unclear in how to fulfill your desires. A teacher must always come to the teaching situation prepared for all contingencies. A teacher should arrive early so they can set things in order and plan how the teaching should flow. A teacher who puts reasonable time into preparation and planning will keep his class interesting and have less discipline problems.

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Children read adults a lot better then we give them credit for and when a leader has a lack of love for children, they are sensitive to those who are not committed to them. On many occasions I have asked leaders in children’s ministry whether they really wanted to be involved. Sometimes but not often they did it out of duty or because someone forced them to serve or put a guilt trip on them. None of these are valid reasons for serving in as important a ministry as working with children. I have also cautioned the leaders not to show favoritism toward any of the children over other children.

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