At the end of this great week, I want to take a few moments to reflect on the absolute necessity for gospel clarity in children’s ministry. This has been my first full summer leading a children’s ministry. That means I have experienced my first “summer slump” in ministry.
The “summer slump” is a phrase pastors and church staff use to refer to the drop in attendance and service from members in the summer. This is primarily due to the fact that most people take family vacations in the summer. This means that week after week in the summer, the number of volunteers drops. Children’s ministry is greatly affected by the summer slump. First of all, kids go where their parents go. If parents are going on vacation or spending the Sunday out in the sun, so are the kids. Kids that attend through our bus ministry often have spotty attendance because, hey, it’s summer! Sometimes playing in the water hose or going to the park is just too good to pass up. So, attendance from kids and volunteers plummets in the summer. Most children’s ministries across the country are summer slumping.
What does this mean for us? How should this reality change our approach?
It means very little and it changes nothing about our approach.
The greatest summer temptation for volunteers and adult leaders is to just go through the motions. It’s easy to get excited when there is a huge group of kids in attendance. But what about when the average number plummets? What about when it is only your son and a few of his friends showing up? Some children’s ministries wisely take some time off in the summer. They may only meet half of the time in the summer, or meet every other week. These are fine adjustments. But when it comes to the approach, mentality, and framework that is used week in and week out, nothing should be adjusted. Gospel clarity is essential when the room is full or thin.
In children’s ministry, it is not only important that you communicate the gospel, but also that you demonstrate the gospel.
Both the eyes and ears of kids function as sponges that absorb the message of our lips and life, which floods into their little hearts. In my three years in children’s ministry I have learned that you can’t take a day off. The moment I decide to be lazy with my preparation or presentation of the gospel is the an incredibly impactful moment in the life of a kid. Kids will not remember every thing you say or do. But they will remember certain things.
Kids who are regularly brought to church are across the board being taught that God is good and true and right. He is being presented as someone they should want to know. They hear it over and over again. They hear it week after week, and hopefully, day after day. So, the day they see their children’s ministry leaders talk about grace, but refuse to show grace can be a life-shaping day. If they only hear you talk about repentance, but never see you repent, slowly but surely the reality of Christianity begins to fade into fantasy. If they hear you talk about how awesome God is and how much joy there is to be found in Christ, but only see you excited and joyous over games, activities, or your job, then at least they will be confused, and at most the seeds of doubt and lack of desire for God will be planted in their hearts.
It is my sincere conviction that children’s ministry must be infused with grace. It must bleed gospel. From the time the kids walk in the room, each adult leader must do all they can to point to Christ. We clearly teach the gospel with our words and our actions. This means we must take sin seriously. Sinful behaviors should be wisely and appropriately punished in children’s ministry. It means we must show grace in all that we do. We are not after behavior modification. We are after heart change–a reality only God can create. It means we must use biblical words when we communicate the gospel. Jesus didn’t die for our mistakes. He died for our sins. Use words like “reconcile,” “mediator,” and “justified.” It means we demonstrate our passion for Jesus by using personal examples from our own lives about how he has changed us.
Whether we are in the dog days of June and July or starting fresh in August, gospel clarity is a non-negotiable necessity in children’s ministry. Leaders and all adult volunteers must prepare their hearts every week to clearly show the gospel with their words and actions with the full realization that the kids we lead absorb every word, idea, and action they receive from us. This task is daunting. But God’s grace is sufficient. If you don’t feel sufficient to take on this task, good! You are in a perfect place to join in on the greatest mission in the world–passing the torch of the gospel to the next generation.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.