At what level are you placing the children in your list of pastoral priorities?
A professor stood before his students having some objects scattered on the desk before him. Without saying a word he took a large empty pitcher and filled it with stones, each about two inches in diameter. He immediately asked the students if the pitcher were full. Evidently, all answered yes. The professor then poured a container of smaller stones into the pitcher and shook it lightly. That, in reality, made it look as if the smaller stones had filled the spaces between the larger stones. Again, he asked the students if the pitcher were full. The answer was the same as before.
The students smiled when the professor took a box of sand and poured it in the pitcher. The sand then filled all the spaces left. "Now" said the professor, consider this pitcher as your life." The larger stones represent the most important things in life: the family, health, the children, anything so important that it would be considered a great loss if it were missing. The smaller stones represent other things that are important, such as professional career, houses and possessions.
The sand represents everything else. Had it been poured into the pitcher first, there wouldn't have been space for the larger and smaller stones. Likewise in life. If we dedicate our time and energy on things that are less important and smaller, we'll never have room for things that are essential. It's a matter of learning to prioritize our assignments.
As a church facing many demands and needs, sometimes it seems impossible to be able to take time to consider whether our children's ministry is functioning properly, or are we directing it in a way that will elevate it and shape it in such a manner that it will be a definite help to the children. We run the risk of being trapped in the myth according to which if we move ahead introducing ome changes in our priorities, we will lose the approval of the people or promote chaos in the congregation. That type of thinking is no help in the light of the reality we are facing.
A vision of the present church allows us to notice that a significant number of members place themselves between 15 and 35 years of age. Those are adolescent and young parents with small children who attend Sabbath School classes. With that in mind we could ask ourselves: at what level am I placing the children on my list of ministerial priorities? Am I giving them a treatment of "sand-andstone", or am I evaluating them through the priority I assign to my ministry to them? Those children represent the people who will be leading in the local or institutional church, or perhaps they will become leaders in society.
Questions to consider
Not long ago, I was present at a great ministerial meeting, during which a lady asked some hard and difficult questions:
• Why do we choose the best teachers for the adult Sabbath School classes only?
• Why do we give the children only the old equipment discarded by the adults?
• Why do we appoint leaders for the different children's ministries in church without giving them the appropriate training?
• Why are many churches interested in building large and comfortable rooms for adults, when those for the children are small and uncomfortable?
• Why, very frequently do we ignore the children when we choose those who will participate during the worship hour?
An honest analysis of these questions makes us conclude that we could definitely arrange our priorities to accommodate our children. It's easy to reach a situation in which, like Jesus' disciples, we are tempted, in one way or another, to push the children away from Him because our minds are overwhelmed with adults' priorities.
When the Master spoke to His disciples for them not to forbid them to come to Him, He was speaking to His followers of all ages—officers of the churches, pastors, elders and all Christians. Christ is calling the children and orders us "Let them come unto Me."
As we consider this topic, we don't want to say that the church simply is not interested in the children. Perhaps many members do not clearly understand the importance of ministering to the children according to their ages. If we want to keep the youth in the church, we must pay attention to them while they are children.
We need to identify the needs of each age group and to promote a unique and appropriate environment for the children. The church that cannot provide such an environment—adequate furniture for the children's developing bodies, well-balanced and interesting programs, loving care and active participation is sending their children a negative message. That could contribute later to their emotional separation and later on to a physical separation from the church.
If we really want to see their generation involved and identified with the church we must act now. We must take attitudes that will make them look at the church, not as a place where we must go because the parents, friends and other individuals expect that of us, but as the place where we worship our Creator in a dynamic and friendly relationship.
If we really want to see our church fulfilling our children's needs, the following suggestions are worthy of consideration. Try to implement them with enthusiasm and determination.
Find specific ways to change the church environment into an attractive and secure one for the children. Inspect carefully the available resources for the project. Verify if they have been arranged with the children in mind. The environment we create will help the children concentrate on what is being done and will help reach the goal that is being sought.
Try to make the children feel welcome. Some individuals, especially young people, should welcome them during a special moment of the worship hour or as they come to church.
Include the children during the worship hour. Children learn by doing. We cannot expect for boys and girls to enjoy their church if they only sit and observe what is taking place around them. Allow them to regularly participate as readers, receptionists, speakers, helpers, masters of ceremony and any other appropriate way.
Place the equipment and bathroom facilities with the children in mind. Lower the drinking fountain or place a step so that it will become accessible to them. Invite them to the podium during the pastoral prayer. Look for responsibilities that can be performed reverently instead of requiring of the children an austere attitude.
Let us remember that the children are listening to the sermon. Catch their attention by asking them questions, showing a picture, telling a story or using an attractive illustration. Remember the power of the choruses, movements and singing. Encourage the children to participate in the sermon. Ask them questions and thank them for their participation.
The goal of the Department of Children's Ministry in our church is to help the children develop a long relationship, redemptive, spiritual and loving with God and His church. We can prepare today's children so that they can feel they belong to the kingdom of God, and that the church is their church, a place where they love to be.
Evelyn Omana is Director of the Children's Ministry in the Inter-American Division.
Translated by Antonio A. Rios.