Sharon Cress General Conference, Shepherdess and Pastoral Families

Spending time with the little ones may not seem to some to be as important or stimulating as the mental exercise of discussing great theological issues and doctrines with adults. But in many ways interacting with children can be even more rewarding.

Imitation is still the greatest form of flattery. The greatest compliment I ever received was from a little girl who remarked, "When I grow up I want to be a pastor just like you!" And, in the years since, her life has developed in such a way that there is a good possibility she will someday be a pastor.

As leaders in congregations, we have the burden and responsibility to place before the people the necessity of positively ministering to our children. We need to make sure the members receive proper training so they know how to relate to these precious kids so that church services and other programs leave positive, lasting impressions of Jesus, His local church, and the people who present the programs.

Teachers, facilitators, and mentors stand in the place of Jesus to these little ones. Unfortunately, many members are well-meaning but boring. Others have been known to use children as a sounding board for their own agendas. Such encounters may be quickly forgotten by adults, but they tend to be remembered by children. Last week two Junior youngsters were visiting in our home. Remarking about their Sabbath School class that morning, one boy exclaimed that it was the best class he had ever been to. I asked what made it "the best." Eyes sparkling, he replied, "Oh, we got to do things! Not just sitting and being talked to." He then proceeded to tell me all the activities, one by one, that the children had participated in with the organizer. "She did everything we did, and it was so much fun!"

Children's Ministries can provide valuable resources and training, but the key is to have people to implement these programs who are themselves teachable in the tender art of molding characters. Children have a sixth sense. They can quickly detect phony piety. They can sense in a moment if we really love them. And they will put that impression into their own little hard drives and retrieve it over and over in years to come.

Reaching children at their level

A few weeks ago my husband and I listened to the narrator of the children's story during the worship service. The story was told in adult words, not children's. The storyteller's sense of humor went right over the children's heads. And the story dragged on for 15 minutes! After the service one member lamented "taking so much time out of the worship service for these kids, and they don't even appreciate it. That's obvious because they were tickling and teasing each other, and climbing up and down the platform stairs during the story."

Neither the storyteller nor the critic seemed to realize where the fault lay. At the 14 minute mark, even I was having strong urges to pester my husband, scribble on the bulletin, or run to the bathroom. I remembered my friend Cheryl Retzer's sage advice: "Remember that children can only listen for one minute for every year of their age!" Thus a four year old can listen attentively for no more than four minutes!

Those who are invited to work with children and youth should have clearly shown a talent for this ministry, or should be provided with training to develop these skills. Having well trained, caring members working with our children can be a wonderful blessing to all, now and throughout eternity.

Sharon Cress is Associate Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and director of Shepherdess International.