Action Step 3 // Give Intentional Focus to Children and Youth Now
Let’s consider a few questions. Why is it important to intentionally invest in children and youth now? Who leads the charge at the local church level? Where do you find help?
Why is an intentional investment important?
Jerome Berryman, founder of Godly Play, a method of enhancing a child’s spiritual experience through wonder and play, wrote:
“Jesus’ counsel to us is that in order to be spiritually mature, we need to become like children and to become like children we need to welcome them, which in turn reveals him and the one who sent him. The language of the Christian people flows out of Jesus’ life and words, so it makes sense that this language can be used to guide us back to our source as well as toward our ending.”
I read this as a challenge to not only welcome children and youth, but to be prepared to welcome children and youth! This is a challenge to invest, to plan and to consider the outcome of children, youth and their families following God…maybe for the first time!
When is the last time your church, led by the pastor and leadership group (deacons, council, elders,) set aside a day, or even a morning, to discuss your church’s three-year plan to reach children and youth NOW? For many of you this might sound like a foreign concept? I’m not suggesting this would be easy. I am suggesting that it is REQUIRED and mission critical for your church. And, I hear a solid truth from Christ in the remainder of Matthew 19:14 that is…the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those of us who are “like these children.”
It is important to invest in children and youth now because if you don’t, they may never know/hear the Gospel. If you are reading this and you are a Christian, someone, somewhere at some time, acting on an investment their church had made or someone had made in them (time, money, teaching aids, mentoring program, etc,) shared the Gospel with you. Sure, it might have been your grandmother or your middle school friend, but if you trace back the storyline of your faith, you will find that an investment was made somewhere along the line that allowed the Gospel to reach you. This is how this works…an investment, made intentionally, may not payoff immediately, but it WILL pay off eventually with the possibility of an exponential and multiplied impact far beyond a 3-hour morning planning session at your church. And remember, this isn’t about just offering the Gospel, it is about offering an opportunity for children and youth to be transformed by the Gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit working through your investment. Do it NOW.
Who Leads the Charge?
An intentional investment in children and youth in your church has to come from a prayerful, unified, renewing platform of thought. This requires a proposal from a group/individual who know, understand and are committed to stewarding the investment in children and youth beyond the green light from church leadership. This proposal and vision must then be presented to the pastor and leadership group in your church. This takes time. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Good questions, discernment, and refining the plan will only go to help, not hurt, the final investment strategy. It is easy to become discouraged by those in leadership who, sometimes uninformed, ask questions that sound critical. One must remember that objective questions, even the challenging ones, are usually a representation of questions being considered by those outside the leadership structure and must be answered in order to obtain whole-church buy-in. Welcome the questions, use them to educate or re-educate around your vision for children and youth ministry and celebrate when people finally understand.
Your pastor and leadership group must be on board in order for the investment to produce results. Their buy-in is required in order to continue the focus of the intentional investment. Involving them beyond the greenlight with opportunities to participate, to celebrate and to re-invest is critical to the longevity of the impact. Keep the leadership informed, involved and request their consistent vocal and prayerful support of the children and youth strategies.
Once you are receiving consistent vocal and prayerful support from leadership, and once the initial investment has been made, the original vision-group must lead diligently and refine the strategy. Then, refine again. And again. Don’t go at this alone. Here are a few ideas:
· Develop a team…even a team of two.
· Solicit a prayer group within your church to pray for the impact of this investment and report back to them the answers to their prayers.
· Invite an expert from your community (i.e. – a teacher to instruct your team on educational practices and methods that are age specific; a community youth worker who excels in mental health challenges; your pastor who might inform you on critical theological understandings for children; a denominational employee who’s responsibility it is to provide resources for children and youth ministry; a leader from a church in your community who is excelling in children’s ministry and would be willing to share ideas.)
· Create a way for people to see and appreciate the value of their investment in children and youth.
Once again, take seriously the amount of time required for an effective launch for such an investment. React and adjust accordingly after the launch and stay committed to what you set out to accomplish in the beginning.
Where do you find help?
This is a great question. Consider these options for assistance and guidance:
1. Your denominational office - If your denominational office has prioritized children and youth ministries, then reach out to them first. They may have a starter kit or minimum standards guide for ministry to children and youth.
2. From within your church – You may not be the only “expert” in children and youth ministry in your church. Ask around and begin to build a vision team for this intentional investment. You’ll need them now…and later!
3. Another church in your community – ministry to children and youth is time sensitive. We don’t have time to waste. See other churches in your community as partners on this mission to reach children and youth and their families. Develop a network---large or small--- in your community to consider a unified approach for the sake of Christ.
If the Gospel is going to reach this next generation with imagination and hope, then we must act NOW! If we are going to see the Gospel transform children, youth and their families, we can’t wait another day. If we are obedient to Jesus’ teaching we must let the little children, the youth and their families feel the value of the intentional investment we’ve made on the hope that they know the joy, peace, love and salvation of Jesus Christ. NOW!!!