Perhaps the most well-known verse about raising children comes from the book of Proverbs: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, ESV). As I understand it, this verse is a mandate for parents to train their children. “The way they should go” refers to them knowing who God is and what they are to do in order to serve and worship him.
Many if not most of parents in America today do not have a close relationship with God - much less one that would allow them to best be able to follow the mandate of this verse.
Fortunately, there are those who do understand the value of the children learning who God is. This is where the ministry to children that churches can provide is able to make an impact.
The primary ways that churches provide ministry to children is through a Sunday School program, children’s worship, after-school and mid-week programs (such as Awanas), week-long special programs such as VBS and Backyard Bible clubs, and one-day special programs such as harvest festivals and carnivals. All of these programs focus on the children and what they are learning and enjoying.
But that's only one aspect of the ministry.
While churches are a good place to learn about God, even when kids are regular attenders, we only get about 1.5 to 3 hours a week to influence the children. One of the places that can be of the biggest impact is with the parents.
As a children’s ministry, we cannot forget the impact we have on those parents. We are a ministry to them, and we can support them as much as we help children. After all, as stated earlier, the mandate to train up children is directed at the parents, not at the larger community within the church - even though we have a supporting role.
The first way that we are able to support parents is by keeping their children safe. A church or para-church organization should always have a child safety plan - one that makes sure that no one who shouldn't has access to the children in the ministry. This can be done in a variety of ways. One of them is by performing a criminal background check on all workers in the program. This means regular teachers as well as those who help with special programs.
The second way is to have a secure exchange of information about the child. Sadly, we live in a world of broken families, and often that break means that one or more family member is required by law to have limited or no access to the child. It is critical that this information be communicated to the appropriate parties so that the child is kept safe.
Medical information is also important for the ministry leaders to know. Perhaps the most prominent medical issue with children is allergies. Many times the allergies are related to what the children will come in contact with when they are participating in the programs, such as food or environmental factors. In order to keep the children safe, it is important to understand what can trigger a child.
This also includes mental triggers. Diagnoses of ADD and ADHD, as well as a number of other behavioral disorders, are on the rise. It is important to communicate behavioral concerns with the parents so that we are able to best support the child and the family.
Thirdly, perhaps the greatest way that a children's ministry can support parents is to be a part of the greater family ministry of the church. While children can find good examples in the church, as the church, we want to make disciples of all our members. Parents need to be shown support in their roles as parents.
There are three different ways that Riviera Baptist Church’s children’s ministry supports the greater family ministry of the church.
The first way is through their curriculum. The curriculum that we teach in the children’s Sunday School classes and the children’s worship walk alongside the curriculum that the parents and other adults of the church are learning on Sunday morning. This allows for family conversations to take place after church, when each family member has learned, at their own level, a lesson from the same section of the Bible.
The second area is through the scheduling of our mid-week Bible study program. We make sure that if there is a regular ministry for children on our church campus, we also have an opportunity for parents to grow at the same time. This allows for parents to not worry about child care when they are working on their own discipleship.
Finally, we have regularly scheduled, family-focused events. At Riviera, this is called 5th Wednesday. Each week, our children and adult ministries meet on Wednesday night for their separate programs. When there is a month that has five Wednesdays, that fifth Wednesday we come together as families and enjoy food, fellowship, and games together.
Children’s ministry is not just about children. While it is important that we provide education and fellowship for children, we need to remember that we also minister to parents and the greater family unit. At RBC, we work together to help support families and give them the tools they need to “raise up their children in the way they should go."
Children's Ministries Director
Riviera Baptist Church