As children’s ministers, we must give family members hope. Parents need encouragement so they, too, can investigate God's Word with their children without feeling the need to be a Bible scholar. Parents have great potential to influence their children, so they must be encouraged to let the Bible be alive and active in their lives so that they can transfer this truth in the lives of their kids.
One of the best ways to inspire a parent is to get him or her involved in a way that isn’t intimidating. For example, this past year my church started a new program for upper elementary and youth who are taking our baptism class. We asked that a parent stay with his or her child during the class so he or she could be involved. The feedback from the parents has been incredible. Parents enjoy the time with their kids while learning alongside them, and many have felt their spiritual relationship with their kids has been deepened. This kind of experience, where the church provides a venue for spiritual conversations, may provide a starting place for parents to continue similar conversations at home.
My church also gives parents a chance to serve in the kids’ ministry. Engaging parents to serve in the children’s ministry has many incredible benefits. Serving in the church gives parents confidence in how to communicate spiritual truths to children. Over time, they become more comfortable with the Bible stories and even answering the difficult questions kids ask. This experience gained transfers directly to conversations parents can have with their own kids at home. In some cases, entire families can serve in some of the younger age groups. Not only do the spiritual truths come to life in a totally different way for a family who is teaching, but also serving binds a family together and gives them something meaningful and significant to do together. This kind of experience allows families to live out their faith together, and it relationally engages the whole family in a powerful way.
Not only should we inspire parents, but we must also equip parents and family members with the tools for accomplishing the final goal of a Christ-centered lifestyle. We cannot lead efficiently without help from others. We have to have an army of workers to assist us in accomplishing this goal for the families who come to our church. We need mentors for leading small groups, leaders for teaching, and leaders who can walk alongside parents. With an army of leaders like that, we can equip parents by teaching them through family-training classes, by providing family activities that nurture family development, and by giving them chances to have fun as a family.
One summer, my team and I decided to have a weekend-long, family-style vacation Bible school. This was done off campus at a local park at the beginning of the summer. The families had uninterrupted time together outside of their normal routine, which gave them time to focus on just their family through games, Bible study, and loads of activities. Because of the fun we all had, even we leaders who had set all this up wanted to start up a regular Sunday-afternoon meet-up in the park for the rest of the summer.
Another effective method for equipping parents is to establish family-training classes. Family-training classes help parents guide their children as they grow in their relationships with Jesus Christ. Training can consist of classes, seminars, and information posted on the church web page or in an informational flyer passed out to new families. As we equip families, it’s important that we take time to continually assess the needs of both individuals and families in our church community.
Families are in a constant forward motion nowadays. It’s vital that we be intentional about what opportunities we provide for families to connect. Not only will our church attendance rise, but there will also be more families coming together with their kids and enjoying church. The church’s goal should not be to make families feel as if they need to attend all classes and activities but to equip families with instruction on how to live a godly lifestyle in today's world.
Once we have inspired and equipped the parents of our church, we need to lend parents a hand as we come alongside them through their parental journey. Here is a place we can train some of our leaders who are gifted in nurturing others to be mentors to younger parents. A mentoring program can easily be established by using older parents that have the wisdom, insight, and experience to help families. While I am fortunate to have my parents nearby, I have found that many people live a distance from their own parents and miss that support.
While I was serving in our MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) program, we recruited the older mothers to mentor the young mothers. This was a huge success. Each group had a leader and a mentor mom to facilitate the group. During discussions, so much good Biblical advice came from the leader and the mentor mom. Ladies who didn't live near their parents appreciated the advice, love, and support from their mentor moms. In fact, I am still in contact with my mentor mom, and I enjoy our relationship even though my mom lives close. It's a blessing to take time with my mentor for a coffee during a crazy-busy week to help me refocus on what I have been working on. I see it as God's way to gently remind me it's His work, not mine.
Although the church may have stepped over its boundaries in years past and attempted to be something it was never intended to be in the life of kids, there’s no doubt that the church is the absolute best place to engage families in spiritual matters. This may mean that our children’s ministries need to reshape some of our priorities. We might need to spend less time developing that new kidmin discipleship program and figure out how we can better resource parents. Our parents need to be inspired in a way they’ve not been before. They must see that they’ve got what it takes to be successful. They need great resources and tools that are simple enough to implement at home. Lastly, they need a system of support, one that the church can easily provide. When we make this our focus, we align our priorities with God’s plan for the spiritual formation of children, and we give the children in our churches the best opportunities for long-term success.
more to come...