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Why I struggle with Child-Centric ministry

Over the past decades there has been a definitive move towards child-centred ministry. The Cambridge dictionary defines Child-Centred as something which is 'used to refer to ways of teaching and treating children in which the child's needs and wishes are the most important thing.'

This whole emphasis is aimed at pulling children’s ministry away from a didactic model of teaching towards a more child led, child appropriate way of learning. This is shift is reflected in the change of name for many from Sunday School to Children’s Church. If I were to typecast the shift, it would be away from the teacher walking in and teaching the lesson, without interacting with the children, moving to getting down to the level of the children and to find out what is going on in their lives, allowing them to drive the lesson forward. Instead of seeking to create a carbon copy of a programme that has worked elsewhere, the aim became to help children find their own way through this.

This child-centric model of ministry is definitely an improvement on what has gone before. The challenge is that it usurps the most important reason for our ministry. Our ministries should not be a place in which, as per the definition, ‘the child's needs and wishes are the most important thing.’ The most important thing should be God.

I realise for some this will seem pedantic. ‘That’s obvious, it goes without saying,’ they will cry. Yet, this reflects a challenge faced by the church, particularly in the West. We act as if God is there to bless and meet our needs (two things he wants to do) but this is not his primary aim. Such self-centred Christianity is not a reflection of the true Gospel. God’s primary desire is to glorify himself. When Jesus ministered his primary aim was not to bless people or bring us joy. His primary aim was to glorify God.

When we make children feel like they are the centre of the universe, we are putting them in the place of God. In many ways this is a reflection of our society which has become extremely individualistic, with each person seeking out their truth to live by. Yet Jesus declared that he is the way, the truth and the life.

In other words, we don’t want to raise children who are self-centred in their pursuit of God, but ones who are Christ-centred. I am not saying we shouldn’t give children space to process the teaching. I would argue strongly that Jesus did exactly this when he told parables, leaving questions unanswered, requiring his listeners to process his teaching by themselves, or to ask more questions, if they are to truly understand. Yet these stories were all about helping us to understand God more.

In the same way, our ministries should not be child-led, but spirit-led; it’s also true to say that they should not be adult-led, but spirit-led. The Holy Spirit can lead through and adult or through a child. It does not matter who he leads through, what matters is that he is the one who is doing the leading.

What difference does this make practically? We must fight to put God in the driving seat of all that we do, looking to him for instructions and being carefully to obey all that he says. We cannot simply replicate something that has worked elsewhere, but in each place, in each sessions, we must seek God asking what He wants to do.

This is something we see modelled by Paul in the book of Acts. In Acts 16 we read that Paul was prevented from sharing the Gospel in one place, and forbidden from entering another place. Yet isn’t this what God had commissioned appointed Paul to do. It would be like instructing a chef to come and work for you and then forbidding him from cooking a meal at lunch time and from entering the kitchen at supper time.

Paul’s mandate was to obey the Holy Spirit in each situation. If we hold to a child-centric model of ministry we risk raising a generation of believers who believe that the ministry is all about them and meeting their needs. Indeed at the more extreme end of the scale, we can also be at risk of diluting the authority of the Word of God as we encourage children to find their own path.

We should have great confidence in the Gospel, not being ashamed to share it with the children. To teach them, to encourage them and to inspire them by the way we live to want to love and follow Jesus. We should also give them space to consider their own hearts, but all this must be done in the context where God is at the very centre of all we do.

Jesus stood apart from the Pharisees, because he taught with authority. In the same way we can have confidence to teach God’s word with authority, while knowing that it is the Holy Spirit who works in hearts to cause us to turn to him.

When we start each session with the mindset that we want to glorify God, we will lavish love on the children and come to their level in hearing them and nurturing faith in God. Let’s aim to ensure God is at the heart of all we do.


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