Malaysia: Second Thoughts on Children and More…
“The church's ministry to children is broken…It's broken when church leaders and senior pastors see children's ministry primarily as a marketing tool…Something is broken when we trivialize God to our children…It's broken when we depend on our programs and our curriculum to introduce our children to God—not our families and communities…And perhaps most importantly, it's broken when the church tells parents that its programs can spiritually nurture their children better than they can.” —Ivy Beckwith inPostmodern Children's Ministry
My involvement in church as a child was sporadic, preferring basketball and kung fu on Sundays. I started attending regularly as a youth. After seminary, my main focus was as a youth and worship pastor; so it wasn't until recently that I even really thought much about children's ministry.
Like in youth ministry, people who are passionate about children's ministry desire something that goes beyond mere babysitting. They're concerned about a fragmented, or departmentalized, view of adults, youth, and children. Rich Melheim from Faith Inkubators shocks me with this statement from the U.S., though we in Malaysia seem to be no different:
“The church is the last place in America where all six living generations are gathered together every week under the same roof. And what do we do the moment we get there? We segregate them into separate rooms. That's bad stewardship. Worse. It's stupid.”
Blessed with Children
When Bangsar Lutheran Church (BLC) got “resurrected” in the year 2000, we only had 2 toddlers—so the urgency of launching into a children's ministry wasn't there. But God has blessed us with new children (praise the Lord for natural biological growth), and new families are becoming part of the BLC family. So we experimented with a variety of methods with the limited resources and experience we had, and we stumbled and fumbled here and there. As we prayed about the wellbeing of the children and discussed our desire to nurture them in a relationship with Jesus, we read excellent resources, talked with experts, spent time in prayerful reflection, searched the Scriptures, and gathered parents and other advisors to make a plan.
I'm thankful that at this stage of our church life with about 50-60 adults and 15 younger children (mostly still toddlers), we could still afford to experiment from the ground up. After several meetings, we decided to embark on the following steps:
Step 1: Integrate Children during our Corporate Worship Gathering
This means they stay with us (even during the message time, though we provide table guides and activities for them). Learning to be in the corporate worship environment isn't achieved through lecturing to the kids but actually consistently allowing them to be with us. Indirectly, all of the adults (not just the parents) serve as models and examples for them.
Step 2: Orientation for the after- Worship Children's Time
This four-week training helps align the basic flow of the age-specific children's time with how all ages worship corporately. But more importantly, it gives us a more focused time when we can learn the corporate discipline of worship, listening to God's Word, responding to God's Word, relating to each other, and serving each other. As Mac-mini is supposed introduce people to the Mac experience, this is church-mini for kids. (Though actually, the adults who helped responded with their learning as well.)
Step 3: Learn the Nuts and Bolts of Raising Kids
We wanted to encourage all parents and other interested individuals to participate in this learning process together. If we're going to take seriously our roles in young people's lives, we need to understand their life stages and how to most effectively minister to (and parent) them.
Step 4: Refine Methodology and Reflect Theologically
Reviewing and refining our practical methodological issues and continuing to consciously engage in theological reflection is needed in all ministries—and it's a longterm journey for us, not just something we can check off a list. We draw from the Bible, church history, and current available voices—especially in education, psychology, and sociological research. And we do so not as a solitary quest but rather a corporate endeavor—starting with the team directly involved, the families in the church, and ultimately the whole church community.
The following questions have sparked my quest and will continue to be crucial and keep us focused:
How can we intentionally include children in our worship life, starting with corporate worship gatherings and moving towards their future full participation?
How can we encourage Christian nurturing in our families? How do we connect to kids who come from non-Christian families?
What are some resources and reflection we could draw from to meet concerns while re-engaging the Bible and church history? Where's God working in us, children and adults, throughout this learning process?
The GIFT We Can Offer
When I first read the quote above by Ivy Beckwith, I could feel fire in my heart and a wind of questions like the ones above spinning in my head. The questions which resulted in some second thoughts on children have moved on to include families as well as our whole local church family. I'm sure the lessons won't end there. While not every church would do it the same way, I genuinely believe none of us can afford to rely on the “way it has always been done” or jump on what's popular (and therefore is bound to work?).
We begin by being like children and asking questions while holding on to the value of children, honoring the importance of families and the roles they play, and seeking to be the kind of church God wants us to be—which includes bringing “generations in faith together” (a phrase innovative Lutheran Rich Melheim used to form the acronym GIFT). If there's a GIFT we could offer our kids it would be a church that's truly an intergenerational family where they can see Godparents and grandparents, uncles and aunties, and brothers and sisters learning to follow Jesus together.
“…A church program can't spiritually form a child, but a family living in an intergenerational community of faith can. Our care for children is broken and badly in need of repair. Let's imagine together a new way, a new future.”
—Ivy Beckwith in
Postmodern Children's Ministry
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.