Children’s ministry is one of the biggest challenges a church can face. There’s so much to think about—facility, curriculum, check-in, security, and recruiting and training a quality team! It’s hard to know where to begin. I’ve talked with pastors who have a clear vision for preaching and worship, but children’s ministry befuddles them. One practice that can help is intentionally thinking about children through the lens of God’s big story.
The Bible’s storyline can be summarized as a fourfold movement: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. What does this storyline teach us about kids?
1. God created children for himself.
Kids are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14). Their lives are imbued with the glory of a universe that reflects God’s beauty; they’ve been endowed with imagination and an ability to think and know. A child’s life has value because he or she is made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26–27). As image-bearers, children are also made for worship. From childhood, every human is fashioned for giving praise. Our desire as Christians is to bring up a generation that is dazzled by God, captured by his world and works, and always talking about them to one another (Ps. 145:3–7).
2. Our children are fallen and sinful.
They inhabit a world marred by sin, abuse, suffering, and death; they feel its pain. “Sometimes, people talk about coming from dysfunctional families,” writes Robert Plummer. “The reality is that, because of sin, we are all ‘dysfunctional’ at the deepest level.”
You’ve probably seen that children’s program where a woolly mammoth, vampire, monsters, aliens, and an overgrown canary have all invaded a side street in Manhattan. In his brilliance, Jim Henson took some of our greatest fears and made them cute and educational. The child-friendly terrors that live together on Sesame Street should remind us of the hidden reality of childhood. Children are glorious and beautiful gifts from God and yet within each child—behind the cuteness—there’s a fallen heart that’s twisted from the moment of conception.
Kids are fearfully and wonderfully made. Their lives are imbued with the glory of a universe that reflects God’s beauty.
Often our kids act like the monsters that destroy poor Guy Smiley’s stage set. Every child is a sinner. It can be difficult for us to shoot straight with kids about this, but even they need to be faced with the reality of their brokenness. Charles Spurgeon says it well:
Do not flatter the child with delusive rubbish about his nature being good and needing to be developed. Tell him he must be born again. Don’t bolster him up with the fancy of his own innocence, but show him his sin. Mention the childish sins to which he is prone, and pray the Holy Spirit to work conviction in his heart and conscience.
Even kids exchange delight in God’s glory for delight in the pleasures of the moment (Rom. 1:21; 3:23). Just think about what happens when kids are called away from their toys to bath time or bed. There’s a battle for affections going on in kids’ hearts. Yes, children need comfort, care, and a healing touch. But they also need honest correction, because it’s only when kids see the terror of their sin that they’ll see their need for redemption. As Spurgeon warns: “Do not hesitate to tell the child his ruin; he will not else desire the remedy.”
3. Redemption comes for children through Jesus.
Remember, Jesus himself said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are like these children” (Matt. 19:14, NLT). Jesus’s rebuke of his friends who would’ve kept kids at a distance should inspire us to include children in the life of our church communities. We must call even the youngest children to faith. We need to help each child see that Christ is his or her only hope. Children need us to help them to look outside of themselves to the salvation Jesus offers.
Through vacation Bible school programs, many of us have been trained to emphasize the ABC’s with kids: admit you are a sinner, believe in Jesus, and confess faith in him. We find this pattern in Scripture (Rom. 10:9–10), and there’s nothing wrong with it so long as we make clear that salvation isn’t about what we do but about what Christ has done.
We need gospel presentations that teach kids to look outside themselves to the forgiveness that comes because of Christ’s substitutionary death.
However, if we only talk to kids about what they should do, we run the risk of confusing or discouraging them. When a child becomes aware of personal sin, he may become introspective and worry, “Did I do enough? If I tell a lie does it mean I don’t really love Jesus?” What Jesus has done for us is the most important thing—so much more important than what we do. He saves us; we don’t save ourselves. So, we also need gospel presentations that teach kids to look outside themselves to the forgiveness that comes because of Christ’s substitutionary death.
4. In eternity, children will stand with us as sisters and brothers.
When we get to glory, the most enduring relational reality will be our relationship to the Savior (Matt. 22:30). To be embraced by God’s redemption is to be adopted as God’s child, gaining a new identity, which transcends every earthly status and relationship. Plummer describes it this way: “If our children stand beside us in eternity, it will not be as our children but as our blood-redeemed brothers and sisters (Rev. 7:9–12).”
If children are going to join us as brothers and sisters in glory, they must hear the gospel now. That’s why we not only need to remind ourselves of this gospel lens but also teach kids to see themselves in light of God’s big story.