“When you put your hand on a child’s head, you touch a mother’s heart.” I heard these words from Pastor Albert Martin in a pastoral theology lecture during seminary. It got me thinking about children in the church. So often children grow up in the church and then they leave the church when they become adults. So often children are relegated to some form of ministry which disrupts the family and promotes the idea that kids don’t belong in church with the big people. So early on I developed a commitment to the kids in the church. The kids in the church are the future of the church. They need pastoral care like everybody else. They need attention like everybody else. They need the Word of God like everybody else. My “children’s ministry” approach was shaped on the following principles:
- Have fun with the kids. Wrestle with them. Joke with them. Laugh with them. Now the wrestling with them is tricky, because it can be embarrassing if they beat you.
- Share stuff with the kids. Give them Latvian chickenpox, they will remember it for the rest of their lives. Give them books too.
- Preach to the kids and pray for the kids. Address them in the sermon. Occasionally preach special sermons for them. Let the adults listen in, they can get something out of it. And pray for them. Pray for their salvation.
- Treat the kids as image-bearers. How dare the church send kids out right before the sermon. Maybe we need a strong dose of “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” “But they won’t understand.” My experience is that they understand more than we give them credit for. Also, it’s OK not to understand everything. It means there is learning and growing that still needs to take place. Train up young sermon listeners.
- Minister to the kids as individuals and part of a family unit. Learn their names, give them a hug or a high five, a Dutch rub or an Indian burn. Ask them about their soul, about school, be a resource for research papers. Ask them if they are reading their Bibles. This is all part of ministering to them as individuals. But they are also part of a family, so that needs to be respected. Sometimes parents ask for advice and counsel, and it is an honor to help contribute to their upbringing. Other times parents need help, but you don’t want to infringe, so you pray for the parents and the kids!
- Count it a privilege to watch them grow up. The long pastorate gives opportunity to see the kids grow. In my office is a collage of the kids in the church from many years ago. I look at it often. Watching the kids grow up is a continual reminder to me of God’s gift to me of wonderful families who believe in commitment and longevity too.
- Always reflect when you have the privilege to baptize one of them. There is such joy when one raised in the church professes faith in baptism. They are special times that are monuments to me.
- Always reflect when you get to perform their weddings. The weddings are special. Sometimes it feels like I am performing the wedding of one of my own kids.
- Rejoice exceedingly when they have been baptized, married, start having kids, and stay in the church. What joy to see the grown children walking in the truth, in the same church they were raised in.
- Try to pastor them in such a way that when they are old and I am gone, they will think back with fondness on their old pastor who loved them, prayed for them, baptized them, married them, counseled them, taught them, and most of all, pointed them to Christ.
Ministering to the kids and loving them is not work. It is joy. It is one of my greatest joys. And 25 years have given me many memories and many friendships with these precious ones. It is my prayer that I will get many more years, and I will be able to pastor and love the children’s children.