Having worked in children’s ministry for about 20 years, I have found reaching the balance between too serious and too fun to be challenging and elusive. Certainly, a good children’s leader doesn’t want to bore kids when teaching them about the most important and exciting subject matter in the world. At the same time, however, a strong children’s leader shouldn’t want to sacrifice substantive meaning on the altar of fluffy entertainment.
Finding that balance and pursuing it requires consistent and diligent effort.
Let’s be honest. Fun is the language of kids, no question about it. Begin reading a thick doctrinal dissertation to a classroom full of children and watch what happens. The success or lack thereof of an activity or lesson is largely determined by how a child is made to feel while he or she is experiencing it.
That said, we must be careful not to measure the success of children’s ministry based on whether the kids have a “fun time.” Much more is at stake than simply their happiness.
Here are a few key questions to ask yourself when evaluating your respective children’s ministry.
1. Is the fun stuff a distraction or a tool?
Do your kids remember the funny stories and activities more than the meaty substance of your lesson? Children are experts at leaving a Sunday School or mid-week service and rehearsing all of the details—the funny mishaps or the silly anecdotes—and yet suffering acute memory loss when it comes to the actual Bible lesson. Children are, by nature, attracted to amusement. Are we careful to make it more than that? Alarms should sound within us when our kids are more excited about everything except God. Nothing matters more than the gospel.
I appeal to you without apology to employ a theological drive to your children’s ministry. Mothers all over this country are finding creative ways to sneak vegetables into every bite of food given to their families. Google it. Pancakes and cookies aren’t even safe from this vegetable intrusion anymore. So it is as leaders in children’s ministry, we must be conscientious and creative, loading every aspect of our lessons with gospel relevance. Simply put, we don’t need more clowns, magicians, or chalk artists in children’s ministry…we need more theologians.
2. Are children’s imaginations being expanded to think big thoughts about God?
We live in culture that utterly stifles imagination by doing the thinking for us. Video games, DVDs, and talking toys take the place of constructive, developmental creativity. Scientific studies have proven that using electronics as entertainment actually changes the brain over time. Of course it does! This really is no surprise. So how does this knowledge affect the way we minister?
We must be vigilant against limiting God to a cartoon or puppet. We must strive to make God bigger and better than anything we could portray in a 30-minute movie or entertaining song. The child who leaves our lesson viewing God as a one-dimensional cartoon character has been underserved.
3. Have you fallen prey to the bigger and better syndrome?
We’ve all seen it. With the flourish of a wrist, an afternoon talk show host surprises members of her audience with a dream vacation or a new house. And year after year, the giveaways get bigger and the recipients grow more enthusiastic. It’s the only way to keep ‘em coming back for more.
So, too, ministry can fall prey to this temptation. I heard about a bus ministry that gave away a car. How do you top that?—no doubt branded pencils aren’t going to do the trick next year.
We must be unapologetic in our message that nothing is bigger or better than God. Using gimmicks to attract children to Christ is dangerous and detrimental. What children are won with they are won to.
4. Do you buy your way out of lack of preparation with candy and a movie?
The uncomfortable reality is this: One of the best indicators of whether your ministry is too fun and fluffy is you. Do you approach your weekly lessons with passion for teaching and burden of responsibility? Or do you view your time in the classroom as glorified babysitting? Do you pass the time or redeem it? How like or unlike the adult service is your children’s ministry?
Attractional children’s ministry runs the risk of being temporary and superficial. What happens when the children graduate to an older class where candy and movies aren’t the main event? Will they stay?
5. Do the children in your ministry know the gospel?
A million well-written puppet shows demonstrate the importance of being nice or playing fair. And certainly—for children, especially—these lessons are important to learn from an early age. And since the fruit of the Spirit includes many of these basic qualities of character, we can’t trivialize their place in our teaching.
However. When a puppet show or morning skit can be moved to a local public library without the need for serious editing of Christian content, the gospel has been underutilized. Since the Holy Spirit, alone, changes hearts and lives, we must be diligent to teach the Word, paying careful attention not to distract from its soul saving, life-changing power.
Colossians 1:28 says, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (ESV).
This includes the kids.