Children’s Ministry that Empowers Parents to Impact Their Homes and Communities

by Kirk Weaver

NOW HIRING!  Children’s Ministry Director.  Responsible for developing a state-of-the-art children’s ministry facility.  Abundant resources for purchasing curriculum and training Sunday School teachers.

Too good to be true?  Yes…but perhaps not for the reasons you think.

There is an alignment problem within children’s ministry.  We spend more money today than ever before in the history of the church to reach children for Christ.  At the same time we are losing more children than ever before.

To help us understand the alignment problem and the change that needs to take place, let’s look at the change that occurred in mission work beginning in the 1930’s.  In both missionology of the 1930’s and children’s ministry today there is an alignment problem between what the church is doing and God’s plan for the church.

In September 1935, more than 70 years ago, Melvin and Lois Hodges were called to be missionaries in Nicaragua, Central America.  They traveled by plane, donkey and on foot to share the Gospel with entire communities that had never heard about Jesus.

There were two widely accepted strategies for missionaries to use when delivering the Good News.  First, go to the targeted area and build a compound where the missionaries and mission workers would live apart from the nationals.  After the compound was finished, build a church.

Second, the missionary was “the professional” who would lead the church.  Preaching, teaching, administration and implementation of the sacraments would all be done by the missionary.

If another church was needed in a nearby village then another missionary would be called and the process repeated.  Before long, Reverend Hodges, began to notice a disconnect between the strategy for planted mission churches and the way Paul developed new churches in the New Testament.

The Apostle Paul’s strategy for building churches was to travel from city to city, live with the residents and raise up indigenous leadership to run the local church.  Church leaders lived and worked in the communities where they served.

Imagine going to a mission class in seminary today where they would teach:  “When you go to the mission field.  The first thing you do is build a compound and then you, as the missionary, do all the work of the church.”  That way of thinking would be seen as absurd!  Ridiculous!  Today we understand the value of living and working with those God has called us to serve.  We understand the value of raising up indigenous leadership to lead the church.

In children’s ministry today there are parallels between the “professional” leader and “compound” mentality.  The children’s minister and Sunday School volunteer have become the “professionals.”  The church building has become the compound.

Here is a simple test for churches and families to see if they have adapted the professional-compound mentality.

  1. In the church, what percentage of the resources allocated to children’s ministry (staff time, finances, special events) is spent on doing spiritual training for the family and how much is spent on equipping families to provide their own spiritual training?
  2. In the church, what percentage of the spiritual training takes place in the church building or in a church sponsored location?
  3. If a family missed church on Sunday morning, what percentage of the intentional spiritual training would be lost that week in the lives of children?
  4. If a family does not go to the church building or a church sponsored event, what percentage of the intentional spiritual training would be lost in the lives of their children?

Let’s be honest.  In the majority of Christian families, the Sunday School teacher has become the professional.  That’s why we hear silly stories of parents saying to teachers, “How come you aren’t doing more scripture memorization with my son?”  Or, “How come you don’t do more in-depth training with my daughter?”  As if the teacher is responsible for the child’s spiritual training!

Let’s be honest.  In the majority of Christian homes little, if any, intentional spiritual training is taking place.  The church building has become the compound.

In the same way we look back on missions in the 1930’s and say, “Remember when missionology was built around compounds and professional clergy doing all the leading? Wasn’t that bizarre?!” I look forward to the day when we can look back and say, “Can you remember when we use to think all spiritual training had to take place in the church and we needed profession church staff to lead the training?  Wasn’t that strange?!”

So how did missionology change and what can children’s ministry today learn from those changes?  Melvin Hodges wrote about his experiences of change in a book titled, “The Indigenous Church.”  Reverend Hodges was not the only one talking about indigenous principles.  God was raising up multiple leaders who had the same passion for change.

The Indigenous Church concept is built around three biblical principles taken from the example of the Apostle Paul.  A church needs to be:

1.  Self-governing.  Don’t do anything for the nationals that they can do themselves.

2.  Self-propagating.  Train and equip nationals to build and expand their own church.

3.  Self-supporting.   Do not rely on outside sources.  Encourage the community to build at their own standard of living and ability to provide.

What Melvin Hodges called The Indigenous Church in his work with missionaries, I would call The Indigenous Family when working with children’s ministers.  The Bible is filled with scriptures directing parents to teach their children.  Proverbs is a letter from a father to a son…a parent to their child.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 teaches “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

Psalm 78:5 teaches, “{God} commanded our forefathers to teach their children {the law},  so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.”

John 14:26 teaches, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

Three points about God’s plan for passing the faith.  1.  The Holy Spirit is the ultimate teacher.  2.  Family, more than the church, is God’s primary vehicle for spiritual training.  3.  Spiritual training takes place 168 hours a week, not just one or two hours on Sunday morning.

Reverend Hodges’ book is subtitled, “A complete handbook on how to grow young churches.”  How about an Indigenous Family ministry handbook for growing young Christian families?  Follow the same three principles:

  1. Self-governing.  Children’s ministry is not what you do at church or in the Sunday School classroom, it is what you do to equip and support parents to teach in their own homes.  When evaluating programs and their impact on families, consider asking the following questions (adapted from Ben Freudenberg’s “The Family Friendly Church):1.  Is the program/activity structured to include all family members?  All the time?  Sometimes?2.  Does the program/activity support families as the primary spiritual trainers or does it put the church in the position of primary spiritual trainer?3.  Does the activity train and equip families to advance the faith in their homes and neighborhoods?4.  Is this activity one of the exceptions when family members will learn best by being separated?5.  What is the desired outcome for families who participate in this activity and is it measurable?
  2. Self-propagating.  The most effective tool that I have used in equipping families to provide home-based spiritual training is Family Time Training,  Parents are encouraged to use fun object lessons and activities specifically designed to teach character qualities, values and beliefs.When neighbors see you using sidewalk chalk to draw a big fish on the driveway or watch you march around the house with a box—arc of the covenant—on two broom handles…they start to notice and ask questions.  In 14 years of doing Family Time at home, every child in a two block radius attended at least one Family Time.  We have two girls on our street that do not go to church (except when we invite them) but have attended more than 40 Family Time’s in our home.Families who do spiritual training in the home can become the “church” to other families on their block and in their neighborhood.
  3. Self-supporting.  When spiritual training is done in the home, the family can modify the lesson to match the resources they have.  When leading Family Time in India, we used lessons that required dirt, air, water and paper.When doing lessons in the United States we may include DVD players, arts n craft supplies, etc.

The transition in missionology helps us see our current misalignment. The Indigenous Church helps us set a new target, the Indigenous Family.  So what are the first steps we can take toward reaching the new target?

First, keep it simple!  Baby steps.  Do not try to change everything overnight.  Be careful about trying to make changes outside your scope of influence.  Do you have the support of the entire church staff?  More change is possible!  Do you have control over one classroom?  Then that is your scope for implementing change.  Home-based spiritual training does not replace church-based spiritual training!  I want my family to have both.

Second, begin to train and equip families to assume their role as the primary spiritual trainers in the lives of children.  You get what you measure, so measure how many families have been educated, equipped and are doing home-based spiritual training.

Third, start with one class.  Don’t just send home a piece of paper that says “read this” or “color this.”  Send home a fun activity!  In a zip lock back provide the activity with the simple materials they need.  Include a form so families can report back on their participation.  Measure how many families are actually doing the weekly lesson at home.  Set a reasonable goal of 10 families and each year expand the number.  Finally, recognize the families that are doing regular home-based spiritual training.  Consider a Family of Faith recognition for those families who do at least 13 lessons in their home over a 26 week period.

These are the simple first steps.  Families who experience the fun and value of spiritual training in the home are more receptive to additional resources.

Age appropriate Bible reading.

Letter writing from parents to children on core values.

Rite of Passage retreats.

Family mission trips.

Most importantly, recognize that Family Time is just a tool.  Be honest, Sunday School is just a tool too.  In both cases we are seeking to expose our children to the truth of the gospel.  Sunday School and Family Time get information into children’s minds.

It is the Spirit that moves the truth from the mind to the heart.  Parents and children’s ministers alike must constantly pray for God’s Spirit to be the ultimate teacher and spiritual trainer.

In 1937 there were three missionary compounds in Nicaragua.  After implementing Indigenous Church principles, there were 9 local pastors in 1941.  By 1953, 400 churches.  Today, there are more than 4,000!

Pouring money into the one or two hours that families use the church building, curriculum and staff may attract more kids and keep parents happy, but research shows it is a poor way to build a lasting faith.  Pouring resources into families is not just effective, it’s God’s plan for passing the faith.  Imagine the families in your children’s ministry program trained, equipped and released to be the church at home, on their blocks and in their neighborhoods!  A children’s ministry that impacts thousands instead of tens.

Kirk Weaver and his wife Kelly have been doing Family Time activities with their children, Madison and McKinley, since 1994.  In 1999 Kirk founded a new ministry called Family Time Training.  The ministry has averaged more than 80 trainings each year to 8,000+ family members.  Kirk has written eight books containing Family Time object lessons including:  Wiggles, Giggles & Popcorn; Seeing is Believing; Tried & True; Bible Stories for Preschoolers- Old Testament & New Testament. He is a graduate of Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL and has a Masters degree from the University of Missouri, Columbia, MO. Kirk lives in Littleton, Colorado and devotes his time to the greater challenge of raising his children in the faith.

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