The worship song had begun and the girl on the camp started to pray for everyone around her. I am all for children praying for each other, but something about what she was doing caught my attention. I stepped off the platform to chat with her and after a brief conversation encouraged her not to worry about anyone else at this time, but to worship God for the remainder of the song. I climbed back on to the platform to carry on leading.
Five seconds later she was praying for people again. ‘You are not to pray for people now, now is the time to worship Jesus.’ Moments later the girl was off praying for others. It soon became clear that she had been taught to minister to people, but did not know how to minister to the Lord.
In part one of this series we looked at the importance of giving our children opportunities to stretch their faith. If their faith is to develop, it must have a forum in which it can move beyond the theory into action. The hall of faith listed in Hebrews 11 shows that each of the people mentioned acted by faith. Their faith led them to actually do something. We must give our children opportunities to not just hear about God but to act on this knowledge. This is the warning that Jesus gave in the parable of the wise and foolish men who built their houses – one on the rock, the other on the sand. Both men heard the teaching, but only one acted on it.
When we are encouraging children to minister in different ways and giving them faith-building opportunities we must be careful that we do not lost sight of what is most important. Faith must have an action, but in aiming to provide opportunities for action we can unintentionally teach our children that they are loved by God on the pre-condition that they do certain things for God. Any ministry we encourage our children into should always be out of an overflow of their relationship with Jesus. We want our children to do things because they belong not so that they will belong.
Here are some practical ways we can help our children to grow in service to Jesus as an overflow, rather than an impediment, to their relationship with Him.
Prioritize their personal walk with Jesus
Make a point of finding out how their relationship with Jesus is going. Do they pray at home? Are they studying the Bible? What is God speaking to them about through the Bible. We are called to make disciples; a key part of discipleship-making is to strengthen the connection between us and God. As a starting point we encourage children to spend as many minutes a day as they are years old. This makes for a great starting point to discuss how they are growing their relationship with God.
Several years ago, we had a young man who very gifted. Every team in the church wanted him to be a part of their ministry. He was committed and willing to help. Before long he found himself involved with the youth, the technical team, the worship team and anywhere else that would have him. Everyone loved him, because he was so gifted, enthusiastic and such a good team member. One week, as I watched him, I noticed that he was no longer sparkling for Jesus in the same way that he used to. This led to a conversation where he admitted he was no longer spending time each day with the Lord.
“What are you going to do about this?” I asked. “You can’t give on empty.” At that moment he had a decision to make: He could either fake it or fix it. He could either carry on doing anything leading to an burnout or and implosion in his faith or take time out to get the foundations of his life right again. He decided to take some time out from ministry to focus on his relationship with the Lord. A few months later he was back on track and ready to serve again.
Being willing to ask these questions, to help our children and young people to keep on track, is our primary role as leaders if we are to disciple our children. Some of his team leaders did not want him to step down, they wanted to use him for what he could do to build their area of ministry, but the priority was to fix who he was. What we do should not define who we are; who we are should affect what we do.
To release children effectively we not only need to know how they are growing with God, but we need to keep watching and encouraging their personal relationship with the Lord as they grow in ministry.
Character more than charisma
We are called to disciple those around us. This is the commission that Jesus gave us. Releasing children into different forms of ministry is a great discipleship opportunity. Galatians 4:19 Paul writes, ‘My little children, for whom I labour in birth again until Christ is formed in you.’ Paul’s greatest concern is that Christ will be formed in them. He sees this as essential enough to labour for them as he did for their salvation.
I like the International Children’s Bible translation of this verse which says, ‘until you become like Christ.’ As disciples of Jesus we should be becoming more like Jesus. This means we are more concerned about the character of our children than their giftings and abilities. As the saying goes, ‘your gifting will take you places, but your character will keep you there.’ For our children their gifting will develop in the right environment, but we must keep our focus on their character to help them to mature in Christ. Are you observing, nurturing and where necessary challenging the character of those under you care? Are you labouring, like Paul, for your children and young people to become like Christ?
Model God-focussed ministry
Reflect on what you are modelling to the children as they watch you minister. If you turn up late, unprepared and not prayed up, then don’t be surprised if your children follow your example. If you prioritize prayer as a part of setting up for the ministry, your children will notice and learn how the practical and the spiritual go hand in hand for ministry. Our children are not too young to participate in pre-service prayer meetings, thanksgiving after God has moved or times of heart preparation for ministry.
2 Chronicles 12:14 gives this warning concerning King Rehoboam, the grandson of King David, ‘And he did evil, because he did not prepare his heart to seek the Lord.’ Here is the challenge: are we encouraging our children to prepare their hearts to seek the Lord or are we simply encouraging them to do a good job in ministry? Heart preparation for ministry is not something that we can assume will happen, but it is something that we can guide our children to do.
Celebrate the right things
When the disciples returned, after Jesus had sent them to preach the good news, they declared, “even the demons submitted to us in your name.” Jesus replied, “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20).
Many times I have seen the wider church rejoice as children and young people are released in ministry, but their celebration does not help the children. For example, after children have sung a song to the adults it would be easy to focus on how well they did. ‘You were amazing – well done!’ Such comments can generate an internal response of, ‘Yes, I was.’ This is not something that the children will say out loud, but we are feeding their ability to perform rather than minister. This in turn can be a seed of pride and dependence on their own innate giftings rather than helping them to grow in dependence on the One who gave them their giftings. Instead we make a point of saying, “Wow – God really used you today!” This encourages them whilst putting the spotlight back on God.
In the same way, after a time of ministry with children we will often ask them, ‘What did God do today?’ This is a slightly different question from, ‘What did you do today?’ By keeping the spotlight on God, we are teaching them to focus on His work as we play our part.
One child had been released to play with the worship team. After his first time of playing I told him it was so good to see him playing there, then I asked him what preparation he had done for it. He spoke about the practice he had put in at home and the rehearsals he had attended with the group. He didn’t mention any spiritual preparation that he had taken. I encouraged him to join the band for prayer next time. This led to us talking about our dependence on God in all things and that no matter how gifted we are, when we give our gifts to God, He can work through them even more powerfully to help people.
God wants our children to put their faith into action. We can give them faith building opportunities but we should do it in a way that increases their faith and dependence on the Lord. As their relationship with Jesus grows and develops their faith will rise alongside it.
When children base their confidence in Jesus, those around them look to them as examples and role models. The more our children grow with God the more they will become leaders in their schools and communities. In our next blog we will look at how we can develop young leaders for the future.