5 Ways to Mobilize Children into Ministry
During my years as a children’s pastor and now as a parent of four children, I have become a huge fan of helping kids develop a servant heart. In this blog, I will share five ways that parents, children’s ministry workers, and friends of children, can mobilize children into ministry.
1. Believe that Children Can and Must Serve
We sometimes assume that children can only make a small contribution to the church. Yet, Jesus Himself pointed to children as exemplars of a simple faith—a mustard-seed-kind-of-faith that can move mountains.
Children often have a wholesome naiveté and are not intimidated by others. I still remember when my oldest son was three years-old. We were walking by a tough-looking guy sitting on a chair on the sidewalk. Before we could say anything, Caleb had jumped up on the guy’s lap and was chatting with him like he was an old friend.
Children are often eager to learn and try new things. What an opportunity to instill the value of serving others! The habits they establish now can last a lifetime.
If we say that every believer is an integral member of the body of Christ, it follows that all members—including children—are absolutely necessary. If children are not using their gifts and abilities to build up the body, the body suffers. It is imperative that we believe that children can and must serve.
2. Cultivate a Ministry Heart
One of the simple things we have done over the years with our kids is to invite them to serve with us. Whether it was helping stack chairs at the church or moving with our older kids into a refugee housing project (see the Do Something blog about this experience), we recognized that kids are quick to follow the examples of others.
Exposing children to biblical teaching on servanthood is also very important. Stories like Jesus washing the disciple’s feet (John 13:1-7), the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Ruth helping Naomi (Ruth), and Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah) communicate much about humbly serving others. Pointing them to specific Scriptures about serving like Galatians 6:9 and 1 Corinthians 15:58 can also reinforce the serving motif.
Whether at home or in the church, I love to read or tell stories about servant heroes. One of our favourite book series is Christian Heroes: Then and Now. Exposing children to these ordinary people who did extraordinary things with God’s help can inspire young people to do whatever it takes to help others.
3. Maximize their Interests and Gifts
Every child has things they like to do. Find out about those things and channel those interests into serving others. For example, children who dress up could coordinate skits for younger children. The young athletes could facilitate games or other activities. Detailed children could organize attendance or do other administrative tasks.
- You may have a “giver” in your life like Francine who saved her baby-sitting money so her could buy 10 Bibles for needy people.
- Perhaps, you know an “administrator” like Brent who ran the registration tables for me during our summer kids’ program.
- You may have an “evangelist” like Reese who would take every opportunity to tell his unsaved grandma about Jesus.
When we help children discover and use their gifts, they will not only build up the body of Christ, but will feel fulfilled in doing so.
One of the key findings of the Hemorrhaging Faith study was that young adults who stayed in the church often had opportunities to use their gifts and abilities in the church when they were younger (see the Four Ways to Help Youth Stick with Their Christian Faith blog for more results of the study called Hemorrhaging Faith: Why and When Canadian Young Adults are Leaving, Staying and Returning to the Church).
4. Develop Ministry Skills
When I was a children’s pastor, we started a summer program called Camp Wannabe. I encouraged the 11 and 12-year-olds to apply to be Junior Counsellors. Those who were accepted could attend a one-week Counsellor Training Camp. During the mornings, they learned about theology, apologetics, and ministry skills. In the afternoon, we did fun, team-building activities. The kids left counsellor training as official Camp Wannabe Junior Counsellors. Every Sunday, they helped me run the Camp Wannabe program for the younger kids.
It was intriguing to see what happened the next summer. Those who turned 13 wanted to keep on serving, so I created a new category of Intermediate Counsellors and then Senior Counsellors a few years later. Some summers, I actually had too many volunteers!
Those pre-teens and teens had learned that they could serve—they realized they had an important role to play in the church. One of the key benefits of mobilizing children to serve is that we build a team of future adult volunteers (see the Ten Long-Term Strategies for Recruiting Volunteers blog for a description of this and other long-term strategies for recruiting volunteers).
5. Launch Them into Ministry
I would encourage all of us to constantly look for ways to invite children to serve. Within the church, we can ask children to help in a Sunday School class, usher, welcome people, help with office work, participate in a children's choir/drama, clean the church/parking lot, be big buddies for younger children, serve in the worship team, help in the nursery, and… you get the idea.
Within the community, children can help provide meals for the homeless, clean up garbage, repair or paint a playground, pull weeds in public areas, sort through donations for a community agency, assist with church-run kid’s programs, paint over graffiti, or visit people in a seniors’ home.
Of course, the world is bigger than our church and community. How can we help children have a global impact? Encourage them to pray and care for missionaries. Sponsor a child through an organization like Compassion. Go on a family or church missions trip. Befriend a newcomer to your country. Participate in a Homestay program. There are many ways that we can help children develop a heart for the world.
Mobilizing children into ministry is not just a good idea; it’s absolutely essential for the health and vitality of the church, both today and in the future.
Randy Wollf is the Director of MinistryLift and Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Leadership Studies at MB Seminary.