by Kristy Moser
(Part two of a five-part series)
After a year of restructuring, our Children’s and Student Ministries is finally under one umbrella called Next Gen. Early Childhood has become the first stage in four and I think the most important (of course). For children, birth through kindergarten is when their framework of understanding our heavenly Father is laid. It is our unique privilege as Early Childhood Pastors and Directors to recognize a young child’s blank spiritual slates and help mold them into the school children, students and adults they will become. We get to set these children and their future pastors up for success. Our goal is to get them grounded in their faith early on so that they can grow in faith as they get older.
Have the terms “babysitting” or “childcare” been heard when people reference the Early Childhood ministry at your church? Too often, I am sure. People see us singing silly songs, making crafts and talking about the same Bible story over and over again and think that we are not being productive or doing Kingdom work. But all these components go into making the best learning environment. Our goal is that a child will completely understand the lesson and be able to take something away from it. From the time a baby is born their brain has 100 billion cells and as their brain develops connections are made. The only way that these connection stay in the brain and we do not lose them is if things are repeated over and over again. Each time a child is exposed to the Gospel they are making these connections and they are one step closer to finally getting “it.” That getting “it” is why I do what I do, when I see a child’s eyes light up because they finally understand who God really is and that they were created to be in relationship with Him.
Over the past couple of years our focus has become more about the family as a whole. One of the most key elements of Early Childhood is making sure that we get parents to take ownership of our ministry even before their child is born. This way we will have parent support throughout the time their child is in our Next Gen Ministry. So often we hear parents say that they are ill equipped to parent their child and be their spiritual guide. Here in Next Gen we are able to help equip them in a multitude of ways. We start a relationship with parents when they are expecting and build from there. While parents are pregnant or in the adoption process we have them come in for a Baby Builder Meet and Greet. This is a time where the couple or parent can come and tour our Baby Builder (nursery) facility, meet the staff and key volunteers who will be taking care of their children and have a question and answer time. We provide snacks and they leave with a gift bag that includes a sheet of frequently asked questions from new parents about bringing their baby to the nursery for the first time. We also include a calendar with ways they can pray for their child each day of the month as well as lots of other fun things. We encourage these parents to start praying for their child’s future even before they are born. These meet and greet times are held four times a year.
When a child is born to a family that attends our church I go to visit the family, bring them a care package full of goodies and pray with them. We also try to provide two to three meals for the family. This shows them that we know how hard it is when there is a new baby in the house and lets them know that we are here for them and we want to partner with them on this journey of parenthood. You can almost count on a parent volunteering in the future somewhere in your ministry if you bring them a meal, it shows that you care and they will want to be around you because of it.
In Crosstown we start teaching formal Bible lessons to our kids as soon as they turn twelve months. We use a curriculum called To Babies with Love written by Palma Smiley. Throughout the year children will hear a total of four different lessons (each lesson is thirteen weeks). By the time we reach that thirteenth week the children are finally grasping the concepts. When parents realize that we are starting this early with their kids, it gets them excited and sparks interest in getting involved in the spiritual education of their child. They realize that it is not too early to start investing in their child’s walk with the Lord.
In order to help parents become the spiritual influencer in the life of their child we offer special training. Parenting S.O.S (Save Our Sanity) times provide training for parents on a variety of topics including: how to talk to your kids about the birds and the bees, discipline, college planning and today’s technology and its effects on kids. These training times have proved to be worthwhile as parents are able to leave with information that will help them in their relationship with their kids.
We are also blessed that, as part of our Next Gen ministry, we have a program designed especially for those children with special needs. This ministry is called Special Hope. It has been in existence since 2003. Since that time we have been able to begin a very successful “shadow” program where children are paired with an adult or teen who can give them the extra support that they need in the classroom. This program is used during our weekend services and also during Vacation Bible School, which is held for a full week during the summer. We have also been blessed to have a classroom on Sunday mornings at our 10 o’clock service for those children who need more one-on-one assistance than they may be able to find in the typical classroom. We have trained teachers and assistants who are able to help these children who might not typically be able to participate in our weekend services.
As we look ahead in 2011 for Special Hope we are eager to extend this program into our Epic Student Ministry area and make this ministry more “Next Gen” as it now serves only Crosstown Children’s Ministry. We are also in the process of beginning a parent support group for parents who have children with special needs. Again, we find it key to support parents and help them as they raise their kids.
One of the most exciting parts of my job is that I get to follow a child from the time they are born through graduation from high school. I get to see the different stages that they go through, what God is doing in their lives and the tremendous growth that can take place. I am able to share with the other directors on the Next Gen team how this child was when they were in my area, what happened during their early formative years that might shape them as they get older and anything a child may need extra help with. It is a blessing to hear from the other directors when a child who has gone through our ministry has accepted Christ or been baptized. I like to think that what they learned while they were in Early Childhood may have been a catalyst for it.
What I love about being on the Next Gen team is working with an incredible group of people. It never feels like I am alone in ministry; I know that eight other people are fighting for our ministry just as much as I am. Over the past year we have become more than co-workers, we have become like family. We are united together for one common purpose, to see young lives transformed from the day they are born to learn about God and grow in relationship with him and to see families changed in the process.
Early Childhood Director
Montgomery Community Church