By Dave Harff
I first began working in children’s ministry at my church, Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle in Smithtown, Long Island, NY. As a volunteer in our children’s church, I was responsible for putting together puppet shows once a month that would compliment the theme for the month. Every time I started setting my puppet stage with two other adults, a sixth grader named Vinny would show up and start saying that he wanted to help. “I can do the puppets”, he would say. “Let me use that character.” One time I asked another adult to take down the stage after we did our ministry and Vinny quickly chimed in, “I’ll do it! I can help you with that! Let me do it!” I always smiled at him but inside I was thinking, “Why can’t he just be like the other six graders? Why can’t he just go to the adult worship service with his parents and leave me alone?”
One Sunday morning, one of my faithful adult puppeteers forgot to show up which left me short-handed. “I can do it! I can do it!,” I heard from my friend Vinny. That Sunday I allowed Vinny to serve and he did a great job.
Being young, inexperienced and believing that “only adults should do children’s ministry”, I made the mistake of not using kids in my ministry to children. Four years later, I accepted the position of Children’s Pastor and have served the same church ever since. The first thing I discovered in the amazing world of children’s ministry isâ€¦YES! Kids can be involved in ministry and can be effective. Three years into my children’s pastor position, our youth pastor invited me to join him and 50 youth and his youth workers on a week-long mission trip to Mexico City. After watching kids ages 15- 18 year olds minister through drama, clowning and music, the Lord impressed upon me a simple question, “Why can’t we use preteen kids in this same type of ministry?” I decided that the best way to get kids to be involved in ministry is to just let them do it!
For an entire summer, I involved a team of f5 kids at backyard bible clubs to assist me with clown and puppet ministry. The kids loved it, but I knew there had to be more. After a year and a half of experimenting with our gifted children, I was ready to take involving kids in ministry to another level. I always had a heart for missions and evangelism. I embarked on a new adventure and began a Sunday school class on the topic of missions for children called Kid’s Mission Bridge. My purpose and goal was simple: to teach kids about missions and to facilitate their involvement through drama, clowning, puppetry and music. In my invitation to preteens for our first class, I expected 8 or 9 kids to come that first Sunday. My expectations were too lowâ€¦18 preteens showed up! With no curriculum except my college textbook on missions and a desire to see kids used by God, we began doing outreaches at local nursing homes, churches and wherever God opened doors for us. After that first year, I knew I could not keep using my college textbook and decided to write a 15-week curriculum. I self-published the curriculum, Kids in Missions. Since then we have offered this program every year from February to October and seen many children develop a positive attitude to serve Jesus, no matter what.
Let me share with you 11 ministry ideas I have implemented . I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly, but all in all it has been a great learning experience.
1. Recruit the kids who REALLY want to serve – Don’t just invite ANY kids, invite the ones who have a desire to serve Jesus.
2. Think about ministries in the church where the kids can serve. (Children’s Church, worship teams, drama ministry, puppet ministry, service projects, etc.)
3. Try to discover the kids’ talents and gifts. Some kids may have musical talent, some may be gifted in acting.
4. Give the kids a one-year “trial” start.
5. Make sure you have age requirements. I allow children who are in 7th grade to help in the nursery and 5th grade to help in our children’s church.
6. Use an application process with references. This will help you keep good records and provide information about each preteen.
7. Don’t give the kids more than they can handle but keep them busy. Don’t allow the children to carry heavy equipment. Don’t let them be bored. They will fill the dead time with talking if they have nothing to do!
8. Don’t make kids responsible for other kids close to their age. I once made the mistake of having a 5th grader help in a 4th grade class. It almost caused a war!
9. Consistently communicate with their parents. Mail information about meetings, new events, changes, etc.
10. Make sure you have rules and requirements in place. Stick to these rules and make the kids accountable. For example, if I see the kids talking excessively, I call them on it right away.
11. Evaluate the kids after a period of time. After the first year, sit down with each preteen and talk about how they are doing.
I pray that you will use kids even more and allow them to be used by God. Kids can make an impact, but we, as leaders, need to give them the opportunity to shine for Jesus!
Pastor David Harff has been the Children’s Pastor at Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle, Smithtown, NY since March 1991. He & his wife Kristine were married in April 1992 and they have four children.
To find out more about the Kids in Missions ministry, visit us on the World Wide Web at:WWW.KIDSINMISSIONS.ORG