I should have walked out or cried out, but I stayed where I was and stewed with frustration. The cause of my agitation was the content of a plenary message at a children’s ministry conference. The thesis was that children, in and of themselves, are the raison d’être for children’s ministry.
It was grueling. Jesus was only mentioned once, a few scriptures were quoted out of context as proof texts, and there was a big dose of child psychology to support the contention that children are the sole cause, justification, and focus for children’s ministry.
Children are not and should not be the raison d’être for children’s ministry. The reason why children’s ministry exists is Jesus.
Jesus is the inspiration, motivation, and justification for children’s ministry. Eliminate Jesus, and you eradicate the source, content, and purpose of children’s ministry. Sideline or negate Jesus, and you’re left with no one to inform, direct, or empower children’s ministry.
Setting our sights higher
Now I know, there’d be no children’s ministry if there were no children. But children are not the primary reason for children’s ministry.
That’s because everything ensues, not from children, but from Jesus. As it says in Colossians 1:16, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”
Note the phrase “created through him and for him.” Everything, including children’s ministry, got started in Jesus and discovers its purpose in Him. And that’s why children’s ministry needs to aim higher, not lower. The target must always be Jesus. We need to set our sights on Him and help children set their sights on Him too.
We can’t have it both ways. Children’s ministry can’t aim to be child-centred and Jesus-centred at the same time. There’s only one bull’s eye in a target.
Jesus makes it crystal clear that He’s the bull’s eye when He says, “Let the little children come to me …” Matthew 19:14. Note the phrase “come to me.” Jesus must be the message, the mediator, and the One who gives meaning to children’s ministry.
Putting it into practice
In practice, this means that children’s ministry should be more about children loving Jesus than us loving children.
It should be more about children coming to Jesus than children coming to church.
It should be more about children encountering the character of Jesus than children learning about characters in the Bible.
And it should be more about children serving Jesus than children being served.
Aiming higher isn’t an option, it’s essential. If we don’t aim higher, mission drift occurs. Mission drift happens when we meander away or compromise the core purpose of children’s ministry (keeping Jesus at the center of it all).
Ten signs of mission drift
Tragically, mission drift happens all the time. Here are ten signs of mission drift:
- values-based teaching is prioritized
- denominational/parental expectations are the compass
- leaders don’t know the way to Jesus
- curriculums are consulted more than God’s Word
- behaviour modification is a measure of success
- leaders feel burnt-out
- programs are on autopilot
- fun events predominate over faith-oriented activities
- prayer is an afterthought
- children don’t meet Jesus every time you meet (and nor do you)
Are there signs of mission drift in your ministry? There’s only one way to counter mission drift – to aim higher – to scrupulously and faithfully center every children’s ministry activity on Jesus.
© Scripture Union, 2021 This post is reprinted from the Children’s Ministry Basics blog (original title, “Aim High”) and is used with permission.