When Children Become Brothers And Sisters
By Claire McNabb
Being part of a children’s or youth ministry definitely has ups and downs; we put so much work into an event only to find that nobody comes, or we stay up late at youth weekends and then reap the reward of being exhausted for the rest of the week. So often we don’t see the fruit of our labour here and now but sometimes the Lord gives us a little glimpse, and it’s such a joy when we see our children and young people come to Christ and continue to walk well with him.
This is why books like Jared Kennedy's are so important. They encourage us in the challenge, help us reflect on our practice, and ensure that we keep thinking about reaching the coming generation.
Jared Kennedy begins his book by highlighting the two main ways of viewing who bears the primary responsibility for discipling children—parents or the church family. Regardless of your opinion, his point is that our focus must be on centering our children’s and youth ministry around Jesus. Although the task of discipling the next generation can seem enormous I found it helpful to note that Kennedy’s aim is to help us have our “confidence rooted in the simple message of ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’”. With this sure foundation even though we may feel weak, tired or overwhelmed we continue to “consider the one who welcomed children himself, [and] know that the Saviour and his good news is enough to keep you, and to keep your children’s ministry on mission”.
Chapter one shows us that we need to have a gospel-centered vision for children’s ministry. Why? Because children need the gospel! Children were created by God to reflect his image and to worship him, but they are also sinners who have disobeyed a holy God, and they need to know this! Children, like adults can have their relationship with God restored through the redemptive work of Christ. We know these things well, after all, that’s why we are involved in children’s and youth ministry. But sometimes we forget Kennedy’s fourth point – “our children are potential brothers and sisters in Christ”. One day as we stand before our Father we will see some of those children and young people standing beside us as brothers and sisters and fellow heirs with Christ. What a positive motivation this should be in our ministry.
Whether you are a church member or a parent Psalm 78:3-7 tells us that we are responsible for teaching the gospel to the next generation. I love these words “…arise and tell them to their children so that they should set their hope in God”. God wants the next generation to set their hope in him, and he has given us the responsibility but also the privilege of telling them. I wonder do you see it as a task to be completed or as a joy to share.
Kennedy gives a helpful list of reasons to as to why as a church we should disciple the next generation intentionally. He also takes some time to show how much time a child spends with their parents and how much gospel potential there is – both intentionally (for example having family devotions), or unintentionally in the ordinary moments of life when they watch and learn from how their parents behave. He concludes that they “benefit from the combined influences of godly parents and the discipleship ministries of their local church”.
If after reading all the great reasons to disciple the next generation found in chapter one you still don’t feel enthused, think about this one: “The Saviour has pursued and found you. Now you have the privilege of carrying the good news to little ones, and persevering with them throughout their lives”.
Chapter two traces the history of youth ministry through the years from Martin Luther while also giving the pros and cons of the various types. Take some time to consider which type your church leans more towards ad whether that is helpful for the children and young people for whom you care, or if some changes need to be made. As Kennedy rightly points out, the aim is not for well behaved children who can sit through the church service, but instead to be shown the Saviour and to be changed by him. He concludes that the church and the parents both have a responsibility to work together to see the next generation come to know and love Jesus.
Jared Kennedy has included some reflection questions at the of this section:
- Read 1 Corinthians 1:31-2:5. What one thing would you change about your ministry to better embody this biblical model?
- Even though parents are to pass on faith to their children (Deut 6:1-12), we can idolise and idealise the family in ways that become barriers to the gospel. Is the tendency of parents in your church community to have a drop-off mentality—entrusting church professionals with the primary responsibility for teaching the children? Or do they tend to over-prioritise the family—thinking their person values, practice of family-discipleship, or educational choices will ensure their kids will turn out right?