We’ve been talking this month about children’s ministry. I recently corresponded with two Sojourn Network church planters, Rob Maine, lead pastor of Renaissance Church in Pittsburgh, PA, and Josh Jean, lead pastor of Sojourn Church in Beaumont, TX, about how their time serving in children’s ministry prepared them for their roles as church planters. Here is how they answered my questions:
Jared: What impact did serving in children's ministry have on your understanding of your call as a church planter?
Rob: The same needs kids have—comfort, peace, security, identity, love—are the same needs of adults. The more I was able to step into these kids' lives and explain the gospel to them in a real, tangible way, the easier it was to share it with an adult. It went from a top shelf theological explanation to telling a story that gained more traction with the kiddos and with adults who've never heard the story of grace before.
Jared: What did you learn while serving with Kids that you still use in your current role?
Josh: The main thing I learned was how important children’s ministry is to prospective attenders. Being a fairly typical male, I hadn’t thought a lot about children, what their role in the church is, and the impact an excellent children’s ministry can have on their parents. Seeing the the care and attention that went into even the smallest details helped me realize that if we couldn’t convince parents that we could adequately take care of their children, then we had no shot at reaching them, regardless of how “great” the rest of the church was. I became so convinced of this, that we brought Matt Noble with us just to implement kids ministry.
Jared: How can teaching children help you to develop as a preacher?
Josh: The biggest takeaway for me was learning to boil everything down to its simplest expression. Kids have short attention spans, limited vocabulary, and minimal knowledge about God. That forced me to get down to the heart of whatever the topic was for that week. Teaching kids also helped me develop my use of examples, illustrations, and non-verbal communication. I often found these things to be of greater importance than what I was actually saying.
Rob: I need the same gospel I am teaching. I need to explain the gospel in a way my audience (kids or adults) can grasp without diluting the message. Teaching children forces you to keep your message centered on one big theme or one main point. Everything you say or teach or illustrate or apply has to always come back to that one point you want them to take home. So that when they meet with their parents (or when adults meet with their missional communities), they can all articulate in some way, shape, or form the message you prayed from your closet that the Lord would send them home with.
Jared: How did being a volunteer in children's ministry impact your perspective on volunteers in your plant?
Josh: I think serving in children’s ministry gave me an understanding and an appreciation for what I would be calling my own church to do someday. At the time my wife and I both worked in the marketplace and we were often very tired on Sunday mornings! There were many weeks we didn’t feel like hanging out with 15-20 two year olds for roughly two hours. But there was also a belief on my part that I shouldn’t ask others to do things I wasn’t willing to do myself.
Rob: It taught me to view them children’s ministry volunteers as ministers of the gospel; not commodities. It taught me to view them as future leaders, deacons, and elders of the church. I just don't need bodies to provided a program for families; I need servants who want to be equipped so that the church can be built up and grow into the full maturity of Christ. Not just for Sundays, but for their Monday thru Saturdays. Our children’s ministry is an equipping ministry for all of life.
Josh: Working in Kids has probably shaped my view of volunteers as much as anything else I have read or personally done. The main takeaway for me is to constantly communicate my appreciation for their service in tangible ways. Each week after the service I try to make it back to the Kids area to personally thank our servants. We try to have two or three thank you meals a year for our volunteers. There are other things I’ve learned as well such as the importance of every member serving and what reasonable expectations are. But again, the main thing is communicating gratitude. The church couldn’t function without our volunteers. We would have to shut down pretty fast without them. I truly see children’s ministry servants as one of God’s greatest gifts to our church.
Jared Kennedy is the husband to Megan and the father of three girls—Rachael, Lucy, and Elisabeth. He leads SojournKids as Pastor of Families at Sojourn Community Church—Midtown in Louisville, KY. He co-authored the PROOF Pirates: Finding the Treasure of God's Amazing Grace VBS (New Growth Press, 2015), and he serves as a Children's and Family Ministry Strategist for Sojourn Network. Jared blogs regularly at gospelcenteredfamily.com. You can follow him on Twitter @jaredskennedy.