By David Nelson
Editor’s note: Equip for Ministry will be featuring selected churches in the PCA excelling in the ministry of making kingdom disciples. The following article features First Presbyterian Church of Stanley, NC., Dan King senior pastor. The article by David Nelson, associate pastor of Christian education and discipleship,was written at the request of EfM. Our thanks to David for his assistance. We asked him to highlight their ministry to the rising generation. We commend them for their vision and desire to begin the discipleship process in the early years of their covenant children’s lives.
Adapting Ministry for the Rising Generation
People were bringing little children to Jesus to have Him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16 1
While Jesus’ disciples try to keep little children in the background, Jesus elevates them to the status of kingdom role models. Jesus loves children! What is it about children that Jesus adores? Like Him, they’re humble, meek, trusting, dependent, untainted by the world, loving, accepting of others, not proud or boastful. When Jesus says, “Let the little children come to Me… for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these!” He’s saying, “these are My people, this is what My people are like! AND, they’re important to Me!… don’t disrespect them, push them aside, or keep them in the background. In fact, you should hold little children up as role models, because they’re like the people in heaven!”
In America, younger and younger children have ever-growing access to anti-Christian philosophies through school, TV, internet, music, and contact with “well-read” friends. Our children’s potential saturation with ideas contrary to Christian ideals is greater than it has been at any time in history! Author Marva Dawn writes:
My experiences over thirty years of working with thousands of young people in churches and schools, convocations and camps make me especially troubled about children in Christian families, members of the Church, residents of God’s household. How are our children being formed? Do they know themselves primarily as citizens of the kingdom of God? Do we and our offspring look, act, talk, and think like people who are shaped by the narratives of our faith, by God’s Revelation? 2
In recent years First Presbyterian Church has seen the truth of Dawn’s concern; therefore, we stepped up our efforts to confront this rising tide of ideas which compete for our children’s hearts and minds. In so doing, we’ve grown in our estimation of children. We have greater ability to see our children as Jesus sees them; kingdom role models most worthy of blessing, time, energy, primary ministry resources, dignity and respect.
In response to that challenge, we’ve worked to improve all of our children’s ministries. Changes are made with an eye toward equipping our children with the answers and attitudes of the Christian world and life view necessary to help them navigate the anti-Christian philosophies they’ll engage in the future and, which we’ve learned, they already encounter to a much greater extent than we realized.
What are some things we do to equip them, and ourselves, in this battle for hearts and minds?
Children’s Ministry Coordinator – three years ago, a member with years of experience working with children accepted our invitation to become our volunteer Children’s Ministry Coordinator. She used training from the 2004 CEP Children’s Ministry Conferenceto create a Sunday school class, “Totally Equipped,” to prepare new teachers for service; to give helpful advice toward our “Image Bearers” ministry design (below); and to provide helpful encouragement in all our children’s ministry endeavors which continue to develop.
Image Bearers – As we grew in awareness of the need to purposefully capture our children’s heart and minds at a younger age, we decided to create opportunities, in addition to Sunday school and Vacation Bible School, to develop the Christian world and life view of our younger children. Under God’s direction we created a children’s ministry to help our first through fifth grade children grow in: 1) Their ability to give an answer for their hope in Christ (apologetics); 2) Their vision for and ability to make disciples; and 3) Their ethic for Christian service.
In Image Bearers, we use an innovative model that enables a few adults to successfully provide this ministry. The basic concepts we follow: 1) All the children stay together the whole time; 2) One adult leads games, one provides a snack, one leads music, and one teaches the lesson and provides a lesson-enhancing activity or service project; 3) For music, teaching, prayer, service projects and disciple-making – children divide into family groupswith an equal balance of children from all grades; 4) We teach interactive lessons at a third grade level where older children are coached by adult leaders to help the youngest children and thus gain experience and vision for disciple-making.
Sports Outreach and Recreation (SOAR) – In 2004, our 16-year-old youth sports outreach ministry went to a year-round status as we added our fourth sport – Spring soccer. A concept that arose with our soccer league was the idea to change from a head coach/assistant coachmodel to a sport coach/prayer coachmodel. The sport coachdevelops athletic and team skills, while the prayer coachensures prayer, team devotions, and spiritual encouragement occur at every game and practice. This change has improved spiritual aspects of our whole ministry! At our recent basketball finale, we registered over forty first-time commitments to Christ – the largest single SOAR event harvest we’ve ever seen! Upholding the truth of Christ by elevating the gospel among these young people is reaping great rewards!
Strategic Planning for Children’s Ministry – In May of 2006, a retired businessman used his skills to lead a First Presbyterian Church team of fifteen through a Strategic Planning Session for Children’s Ministry. In our planning session we produced a Mission Statement, a Vision statement, and an Action Plan for children’s ministry while evaluating strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Our strategic planning continues to bear fruit as we’ve formed a Children’s Ministry Team to focus on continued improvement and promotion of children’s ministry in our congregation.
We thank God for where He’s taken us in recent years. We’re learning to be more like Jesus who said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these…” And then He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them. We look forward to God’s continued leading in this fight for the hearts and minds of His youngest people! We’re grateful to be a part of it!